There’s a developing consensus among US historians, academics, journalists and more thoughtful citizens that if George W. Bush isn’t the worst president the US has ever had, he’s at least among the worst.
Those of a nationalist bent, including the legions of Republicans who either voted for Barack Obama or who’re now supporting the first black president of the US, see Bush policies (e.g., the unilateralism of his first term that damaged and nearly destroyed the Western alliance) as the cause of the deterioration of US prestige across the planet, which even in usually pro-US England has sunk to historic lows.
On the other hand, those focused on domestic issues see Bush policies as responsible for the decline in US Gross Domestic Product growth, family incomes and savings, and the number of jobs the world’s biggest economy generates; the ballooning of the national debt and the making of the huge budget deficit; the increase in the number of Americans without health insurance and the rising cost of college education, etc.,etc. And of course there’s the financial and economic crisis sweeping the US and the world, which the economist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman argues Bush’s economic policies accelerated and aggravated.
The most devastating critique, however, has been from those deeply concerned with the impact of Bush policies on the lives and fortunes of the peoples of the world over much of which, as the lone superpower, and by virtue of its military might, the US has dominion.
The Bush doctrine of preemptive war, which includes the first use of nuclear weapons against countries “likely” to be a danger to the US, has brought back the threat of nuclear destruction that characterized the worst years of the Cold War.
The US war on Iraq, and its threat of attacking North Korea and Iran, have on the other hand led these and other countries to seek a nuclear deterrence (which even CIA analysts say is “not illogical”). And of course there are the hundreds of thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan, the thousands in Gaza, and the hundreds in Pakistan killed in the name of the “war on terror,” while 800 million go to bed hungry and the world’s resources are depleted by the same corporate greed responsible for global warming and the economic crisis.
In a desperate effort to win the “war of choice” on terrorism, in violation of international law the US has also put in place a system of detention centers, “rendition” (the practice of sending suspected terrorists to other countries for interrogation), torture, and trial by military courts.
The overall result has been a world in great disorder and peril, where the proclaimed US commitment to progress and democracy is largely perceived as a horrible hypocrisy, and where, in response to US aggression in Iraq, support for Israel, and the killing of civilians in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan, improvised explosive devices and suicide bombers have become the weapons of choice of the Islamic fundamentalists the Bush regime has been trying to decimate since September 11, 2001.
Among many Americans—who owe the world an apology for electing him in 2000 and again in 2008 for a total of eight ruinous years—Bush is an anomaly, a glitch and abnormality in a system basically sound, and the election of Barack Obama to the US presidency the essence of that system.
“The US,” said one American in Facebook, “is the world’s provider of freedom and democracy.” The last eight years of Bush were unfortunate, she said, but that will all change now. With Bush out and Obama in, the “service provider” of freedom and democracy’s back.
This would be both charming as well as comforting if it were true. It’s what most Americans and most Filipinos believe– which is why, if Bush did not exist, we would have had to invent him.
Bush has exposed US intentions and methods more than anyone and anything else—more than the waterboarding of civilians and combatants during the Philippine-American War (this form of torture was not used in Iraq first, but in the Philippines), more than the shooting of Filipinos in the periphery of the former US military bases in Angeles and Subic, more than US support for the Marcos dictatorship, and more than the continuing flow of US economic and military aid into the coffers of the corrupt and murderous Arroyo regime.
For all their rotten little wars, their bombings and campaigns to prevent progress, peace and democracy across Africa, Latin America, and Asia, US Presidents Clinton, Bush I, Reagan, Johnson, Nixon, all the way to Mckinley (who claimed to have been instructed by God to grab the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century) still managed to preserve the myth that the US is, indeed, the world’s provider of freedom and democracy.
Bush has done the world a great service by disabusing at least some of it of that myth. Despite the US lovefest, Barack Obama has assumed the presidency with some skepticism among those Bush burned, and they’re asking if indeed Obama will be any different.
Will he? The likelihood is that he’ll be more moderate and will rebuild the Western alliance, among other steps the limits of US foreign policy allow. But let’s face it, only a war a la World War II or a series of little wars that will restore the profitability of such US firms as General Motors (which makes tanks as well as cars) can pull the US economy out of its present dire straits, and this pretty much ties the hands of Obama.
Obama’s announced policies, in the first place, don’t radically depart from the views of people like his vice president, Joseph Biden, who as a senator was among the firmest supporters of the war on Iraq, or for that matter, his chosen advisers and cabinet members, most of them from the Clinton years, whose views on Israel, Palestine, and “the war on terror” do not significantly depart from those of the “moderates” in the Republican party. And Obama himself has kept his peace on the Israeli terror in Gaza as the corpses pile up in that desperate land.
Obama did pledge to withdraw from Iraq—but he’ll move US troops to Afghanistan, where there’s a consensus among Afghanis weary of decades of war that the military solution is no solution at all, and that what’s needed are negotiations with all armed groups including the Taliban.
Of Iran, on the other hand, Obama has declared that if it continues “its troubling behavior” (i.e., seeking a deterrence, including the development of nuclear weapons, against a possible US attack), he would “do everything in his power” (including the use of nuclear weapons) to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear capability.
Whether the US can bomb any country it wants, and use nuclear weapons has not been a debatable issue since World War II. As the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the carpet bombing of Indochina, the attack on Iraq, the bombing of Sudan and the former Yugoslavia and others have demonstrated, Yes it can.
But will the US do it again? If the stakes are high enough, and whoever’s in power–whether a loony like Bush or an eloquent sophisticate like Obama–Yes it will.