Repairing the Bush Disaster

With the election of Barack Obama, the United States can finally begin to dig its international reputation out of an eight-year trough of doom caused by the administration of George W. Bush, whose presidency is ending in a morass of corruption, calamity and bad judgment.

American citizens have been called dupes and idiots for electing Bush twice, but the fact is that they were largely frightened into returning Bush to office by an administration that took cynical advantage of the traumatic events of Sept. 11, 2001 to brand their opponents soft on terror.

The American writer and commentator, H.L. Mencken, wrote eight decades ago that fear is the essential force driving human beings, a force that is easily exploited in a democracy. Bush's guru, Karl Rove, so cynically exploited fear in 2004 that he was able to make John Kerry, a real war hero, seem less courageous than Bush, a draft dodger who used his father's clout to hide from the Vietnam War in the Texas National Guard.

And what did American voters get out of Bush? They got deception and trickery on global warming. They got Big Oil. They got the Bush Doctrine, a policy of asserting the right of the US to attack without provocation any sovereign nation that it regarded as a threat, a criminal interpretation of international law.

The sad part is that it is conservatives, not liberals, who should feel betrayed. They got Iraq, a war built on lies, and Afghanistan, a war handled badly. The Bush administration started off by declaring war on terror, as if it was possible to fight a global war against a handful of criminals, and basically ended up starting a war with Islam. They managed to split their forces into two inadequate commands thousands of miles apart. And all indications are that their poor preparations will result in a quagmire in Afghanistan from which it may take decades to emerge.

They also got the wholesale violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which decreed that religion and government be permanently kept apart as the White House sought to rule as a virtual theocracy on the basis of "faith based initiatives." They got torture and illegal detention at Guantanamo, spying on US citizens and environmental degradation.

Bush entered the White House with a budgetary surplus of US$250 billion and squandered it by showering the rich with tax cuts. His government violated the principles of free trade by signing bills that protected American farmers and steelworkers for no other reason than to win votes.

For decades, the right wing Republican machine exploited a politics of division that split the American people into two camps. They regarded the presidency as a divine right inherited from Ronald Reagan. And when a Democrat, Bill Clinton, was elected to office, they used every tool of slander and deception to try and get him out. The lies continued in the races against Al Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004. Their acolytes in John McCain's camp kept it up until yesterday when the voters, haunted by a true calamity – the loss of their houses, jobs and retirement plans – dumped the conservative machine from office.

And finally, the machine squandered America's standing in the world. The United States, in the 220-odd years since its founding as a republic, has committed plenty of crimes, but by and large, decade after decade the US has largely been a force for good in the world, whether it was rebuilding Japan and Germany after World War II or committing itself to a free trade regime that all nations could benefit from. Bush and his lackeys broke America's commitment to the rest of the world.

Now he is being replaced by Barack Obama, a man of mixed race who spent some of his formative years in Indonesia. He appears able to repair some of the damage.

"To all those watching tonight from beyond our shores," Obama said in his acceptance speech, "our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand... tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope."

Let's hope he means it, and that US conservatives relearn the importance of the term loyal opposition, and what their own definition of the word conservative should be. It is necessary, not only to repair the US economy, but to relieve the US from its tarnished position as a pariah to much of the world. And it couldn't hurt to frogmarch George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld and some of their other acolytes into the Hague and charge them with war crimes. They could sit between Charles Taylor and Radovan Keradzic.