As if it didn’t know, the New York Times last week wondered in an editorial what John McCain was thinking when he chose Sarah Palin to be his vice-presidential running mate.
At 72, Republican Party presidential nominee McCain is only a year younger than Ronald Reagan when the latter won a second term in 1984 at the age of 73. Given the vagaries of time and red meat-eaters’ clogged arteries, Palin’s ascension to the US presidency is at least within the realm of possibility. As the Times put it, “If he (McCain) seriously thought this first-term governor — with less than two years in office — was qualified to be president, if necessary, at such a dangerous time, it raises profound questions about his judgment.”
What was McCain thinking? Primarily two things: getting the 18 million votes Barack Obama rival Hillary Clinton got during the Democratic Party primaries, and getting the votes of the right to lifers, the anti-abortion crowd that’s played such an inordinately big role in US politics for decades.
Conclusion: he wasn’t thinking of the consequences of his choice should he get elected and die in office, but of winning on November 4 this year, when the US electorate goes to the polls to choose between him and the Democrats’ Barack Obama.
Among the possible consequences of McCain’s choice is getting a US President who obtained a passport only two years ago, a foreign policy ignoramus who can’t tell the difference between the Bush doctrine and George W. Bush’s “world view,” a throwback from the days of the Scopes Monkey Trials who denies the validity of the theory of evolution and believes in teaching creationism in US schools, and a shoot-them-up hunter and member of the National Rifle Association who hasn’t hesitated to lie about her own efforts to obtain federal funds for Alaska, whose first and last response to questions about how to deal with the rest of world is to assert that “we mustn’t blink.”
US policies are a global concern, the United States being the most powerful country on earth whose actions can have profound implications for either good or bad on the rest of the world. (Mostly it’s been bad.) The US electorate doesn’t elect merely a US President every four years; it also elects the world’s overlord—a commander- in- chief who can bomb developed countries back to third world status as Clinton did the former Yugoslavia, invade countries like Iraq and Afghanistan for oil, and put in place the economic policies that nowadays condemn 300 million people to hunger, war, and misery.
The US empire is the closest humanity has ever had to a world government. That would be good news if, because the US electorate is well-informed, global in outlook, and imbued with a democratic worldview that respects the sovereignty and the rights of other peoples, it habitually elected governments equal to the responsibilities of the power history (and capitalist greed) has thrust upon it.
The bad news is that it isn’t any of these things. It is incredibly ill-informed. A poll taken in 2003 had most respondents saying that Iraq was in Europe, in the same way that, over a century ago, when the US seized the Philippines, many thought these isles “canned goods”. It is focused on neighborhood concerns. The closest to global awareness it has is the belief that the US should “kick ass” all over the world. (In 1980 that very electorate elected grade B movie actor Ronald Reagan to the US Presidency because it thought incumbent James Earl [Jimmy] Carter should have “nuked that chicken-shit country Iran” during the hostage crisis that year.) Whatever potential for good US hegemony may have has been far, far outweighed by all the bad, as is evident in the horrible shape the world order it commands is in.
And yet every four years the rest of the world—at least the thinking part of it—watches the US elections with fear and trembling, hoping against hope that the US electorate would elect someone, anyone, with an IQ higher than a burning Bush’s.
Not that they haven’t done so, William Jefferson (Bill) Clinton, for example, being bright enough (although his being a lawyer may not have had much to do with that). Unfortunately the results have been the same for the rest of the world. Brighter than George W. Bush he might have been, but Clinton’s foreign policy wasn’t much different from that of his predecessors.
US war historian Gabriel Kolko points out that “Regardless of whether the Republicans or Democrats were in office, since the 1890s the US has intervened in countless ways in the Western hemisphere,” and that “it was the Democratic Party that created most of the pillars of postwar (US) foreign policy,” which include “the illusion that weapons and firepower are a solution to many of the world’s political problems.” Indeed, continues Kolko, “the Democrats share…equal responsibility for both the character and dilemmas of (US) foreign strategy at the present moment.”
The wait for a rational, humane, truly global US foreign policy is as futile as the hope that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will resign before 2010 or even meekly leave office by then. The basic planks of US foreign policy have long been laid, the difference between the Democrats and the Republicans being a matter of method and approach. A comparison between the foreign policy statements of McCain and Obama reveals little difference in substance, whether they be on the Middle East, Africa, Europe or Asia. Behind them all is the assumption of maintaining US global hegemony and protecting US economic interests—the bottom line that drives US foreign policy.
Those suffering sleepless nights from Angola to Somalia over the outcome of the November 4 US elections should pop a sleeping pill: whoever wins won’t matter much, except that the Democrats are far more subtle in their approach to world domination than the Republicans.
Kolko thinks that makes the Democrats more dangerous to peace in that they can seem to be both multilateral and humane while making war, while Republican unilateral clumsiness makes war and US disdain for other nations look exactly what it really is. We should be cheering for McCain and Palin. At least they’ll spare us from Democratic Party-induced illusions.