Today, Singapore, 12/06/2006
The recent death of three Muslim inmates at Guantanamo Prison has again put the spotlight on what possibly is the blackest stain on America’s record, the inhuman treatment of prisoners who have no rights at all and even their suicides are considered acts of asymmetric warfare. Nothing could be more telling of the moral decline of the US that started soon after the first inauguration of George W. Bush. Inviting global backlashes, this total loss of the moral high ground is destabilizing the world order and eroding the significant soft-power the US wielded during the Clinton Administration, weakening America’s clout at a time when evermore dangerous challenges crop up globally.
From the mishandling of the 9/11 attack and its use, under false pretences, to attack Iraq while the threat emanating from that country was demonstrably far more marginal than the administration claimed, to the terrible mismanagement of the occupation accompanied by the scandalous mistreatment of POW’s, from the ongoing neglect of the conflict between Israel and Palestine to the impotent handling of the genocide in Darfur, the US has conducted itself far beneath of what could be expected, and worse, what is necessary. The strange laxity when dealing with nuclear containment vis-à-vis India, the continued non-treatment of a proliferating North Korea and the futile boycott of Cuba, albeit inherited, add to the list of foreign policy blunders, not to talk about Latin America. And this without even bringing up America’s brazen ignorance of the realities of global warming and the need to cut its wasteful energy consumption.
Having made itself enormously unpopular abroad, the US is stumbling at home as well. Its economy and capitalist system have grown excesses that hardly seemed possible only 10 years ago. Paraphrasing noted economist Paul Krugman, a hugely negative balance of payments combined with a below-zero savings rate give rise to a precarious situation where figuratively speaking, Americans now make a living selling houses to each other, financing the deals with Chinese mortgages. These aberrations, unless tackled soon will cause serious economic damage not only in America.
The Enron scandal that recently shook the US financial community is a clear symbol of the greed that has become an insidious problem even for large, publicly owned corporations.
While previously American companies shared increasing profits with their employers, those have become a burden and more and more jobs are moved outside the US to lower costs. Income inequality is on the rise, boosted by incessant tax cuts for the rich. The poor are staying poor and the present administration makes few efforts to take care of the weaker deciles of the population as government inaction before and after hurricane Katrina embarrassingly proved.
It is sad to see a proud and accomplished nation navigate in an unfriendly international environment where once intimate nations try to keep their distance since too close an association with Bush does not play well with the locals, any locals. The US is pretty isolated nowadays and with the exception of Great Britain (as long as Tony Blair is in charge) Israel and maybe, just maybe Germany under Angela Merkel, there are few countries America can really count on in a crunch.
It is outright frightening to know that just when Bush’s approval rating is at an all time low, the global challenges America has to deal with are among the most divisive and crucial since he became President. Bloodied by Iraq which continues to serve nasty surprises every day, he is preparing to deal with Iran, a country whose radical Islamic regime is seemingly hell-bent on obtaining nuclear weapons. Even a popular president would have a hard time gathering wide support for the difficult decisions ahead but a lame duck like Bush?
In a sense the world can consider itself lucky that this man is imbued with a messianic streak which lets him keep course, for better or worse, where different men would long have changed their ways. When it comes to Iran, it may just be better to have a leader who is not easily deterred even if his own record leaves so much to be desired.
As we approach the mid-term elections when potential presidential candidates profile themselves, Americans should seriously contemplate their flawed electoral system which, lest we forget, originally selected Bush in an outcome that did not reflect the majority of the voters who preferred Al Gore, indeed probably the wiser choice for President. Heeding the majority is still the best assurance for better politics, also in the US.