04 November 2004

The second coming of Mr Bush

November 4, 2004
The Hindu

Opinion - Leader Page Articles

Bush's second coming

By Siddharth Varadarajan

The world at large will look at a second Bush administration with a fair amount of trepidation.

GEORGE W. BUSH may have won the popular vote in the United States but the world at large is sure to look upon the prospect of a second Bush presidential term with bewilderment, concern and a fair amount of trepidation.

The question on everyone's mind is whether Mr. Bush in his second innings will be emboldened by his domestic mandate — and march steadfastly down the path of confrontation with those who are judged to be "not with us" — or chastened by the deep, visceral divisions he has engendered among his own people.

If it is the latter, he might just still effect a small change in the aggressive course being pursued by the U.S. globally in the name of fighting terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. For one, this course is not working. Whether we speak of Iraq and Iran, Syria, Palestine or North Korea, Venezuela or Cuba, the Bush policy has failed to rally and unite America's allies or isolate and defeat its foes.

But even if Mr. Bush were to substitute the fig-leaf of `collective action' for the unilateralism that has made Washington so unpopular around the world, the sheer weight of its accumulated strategic, military, and corporate interests will continue to push American policy in directions that are inimical to global stability. American power has already been committed; it can at best be refined or tempered, not redeployed.

Donald Rumsfeld may or may not remain Secretary of Defence but his plan for the stationing of small, highly mobile forces on a chain of `lily pads' around Asia and the world will be the defining feature of American power projection in the 21st century. Along with the weaponisation of space via missile defence.

And what if Mr. Bush and his team read the election verdict as a ringing endorsement of everything they have done since 9/11? From `pre-emptive war' in Afghanistan and Iraq to the suspension of civil liberties via laws such as the U.S. Patriot Act and the indefinite incarceration and even torture of suspects? Then it is reasonable to assume that we are entering a period not dissimilar to those in the past when legal and moral concerns and arguments are superseded by the chimera of national security.

American voters who were driven to Mr. Bush by the insecurities of the post-9/11 world will doubtless be called upon to surrender a further part of their liberties the next time terror strikes the mainland. This is precisely what Osama bin Laden meant in his video-taped election-eve subliminal endorsement of Mr. Bush, when he said his strategy is to force the U.S. into a war which would bankrupt it. Terrorism wins if democracy ends up bankrupting democratic values in its `war against terror'.

Osama fought in the CIA-funded jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and knows his history. He wants Mr. Bush to be the Brezhnev of the unipolar world.

There are, however, some things a Bush second innings will not affect. Whatever the change in American politics, Tuesday's election verdict has not altered the reality of the situation of the ground in, say, Iraq, where the limits of American power have already been reached. A re-elected Bush administration will not find it any easier extricating itself from Iraq, or pursuing a muscular policy towards Iran or North Korea either. And there are other `rogues' out there who will look at these examples and draw appropriate lessons. It is not clear how easily Mr. Bush will be able to call the shots.

In South Asia, New Delhi has been so used to looking at Washington through the limiting prism of Pakistan and terrorism that it seldom realises the very real ways in which the Bush doctrine of pre-emption is degrading the security environment in the wider Asian region.

There are conventional and non-conventional threats to the security of the Asian region but these have to be tackled collectively, through institutions and arrangements that build on the architecture of international law rather than seeking to undermine it.

India will soon be confronted with renewed pressure and blandishment on the question of assisting the Allawi `government' in Iraq, not so much with troops as with being on the ground during the impending January election. There will, in addition, be fresh feelers on some of the key policies of the Bush camp such as the controversial Proliferation Security Initiative. India will also be pressured to tone down its strategic relationship with Iran.

The Manmohan Singh Government, which has done well to dispel the notion that it is "anti-American", will have to deal with these pressures as and when they come.

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