In my opinion the single greatest issue arising from the immoral and inept and illegal Bush/Cheney misadministration is the blowback likely to be generated by the disasters we’ve wreaked around the world. We’ve made enemies of literally millions of people in Iraq alone; five million refugees, internal and external, plus a million dead, and who knows how many lives and bodies left shattered, most of them not initially predisposed to despising us. An economy and social structure in ruins; existing political instabilities exaggerated throughout the region; American and Israeli strength increasingly intertwined, and thus suspicion and guilt increasingly collective in nature.
How will Americans process that knowledge?
My guess is they’ll start with denial, but that river ain’t flowin’. We try to follow our beloved President down the cherry-blossom path, but like him we keep finding ourselves bewildered and deserted. Dana Milbank lists the countries whose governments have changed hands in one sense or another as polities around the world reject the Cheney approach. Spain, Italy, Poland, Japan, Britain, and Australia have all substituted Bush doubters for the Bush promoters who helped, or at least didn’t complain about, the war.
Bush’s pariah status has turned his Coalition of the Willing into a retirement community and given the president an unusual role in the domestic affairs of other countries. In Australia, one of Rudd’s predecessors as Labor leader, Mark Latham, got the top job after describing Bush as “the most incompetent and dangerous president in living memory.” He further described members of Howard’s government as a “conga line of suckholes” to Bush.
Howard, in turn, expressed a view that al-Qaeda terrorists would be praying for a 2008 victory by Democrats in general and Barack Obama in particular.
Bush enjoyed this mutual affection. “I can tell you, relations are great right now,” he said last year in Sydney, which was all but shut down by security measures needed to keep him safe.
Relations are perhaps not quite so great now, but Bush put on a brave face as he welcomed Rudd to the White House Friday. He called the 50-year-old premier a “fine lad” and even praised Rudd’s decision to pull out of Iraq. “I always like to be in the presence of somebody who does what he says he’s going to do,” Bush reasoned.
Rudd, touched by Bush’s manner, said he was designating the president as “an honorary Queenslander,” after the prime minister’s home state.
Will international hostility toward us decrease, as we flush the Bush presidency down the memory hole at top speed while people around the world continue to suffer from our latest war of aggression? Probably it will; there seem to be signs in international polls that the current political campaign has helped our image abroad, if only in showing a lot more engagement by Americans than the world has recently seen from us, and in reminding us all that the nightmare will soon end.
Now the question is, what do we do about it? By “it”, I mean the whole shebang. The Bush wars and the disasters they’ve created, not confined to Afghanistan and Iraq. The loss of honor involved in the revelations of systematic and institutionalized torture. The direct assaults on privacy and civil liberties. And perhaps most disgusting and frightening of all, the attempts to rob us of our most basic American right, to cast a vote that counts toward the decisions we as a nation must make.
If at this transitional moment we succumb to the ease of the remote and switch to another channel, we’ll miss a tremendous opportunity. We could recoup a large amount of the global goodwill that flooded our way after 9/11 if we were to repudiate the conduct and aims of the previous presidency. This to my knowledge the US has never done, but we need to make explicit public record that Bush, Cheney, et.al., violated both the letter and the spirit of our national institutions, and many cases our laws as well.
By default, those institutions will remain in their current configurations, ready for use by the next occupant of the Oval Office. Doubtless, the three most likely occupants will all employ the office with greater reverence for tradition and international coöperation than the current one. But will the next President agree to make warrantless wiretaps illegal? Or will we just agree to define “warrant” and “wiretap” so that whatever we’re currently doing is now okay?
The real question is whether the November election will bring the US to a realistic operating posture with respect to the rest of the world. We no longer dominate. We never should have tried. We can still lead by example, if we admit our mistakes and try to fix them. Or we can hunker down and wait for the incoming, hoping to be raptured.