Originally Published 2004-11-08 04:51:13 Published on Nov 08, 2004
America is different: different in its impulses, in its terms of debate, in its responses. A young country, struggling to acquire an identity, moving away from a melting pot approach to a multicultural one¿in theory if not always in practice; religious in traditional terms despite trappings of post-modernity,
Bush's task: peace by human foresight or by another catastrophe
America is different: different in its impulses, in its terms of debate, in its responses. A young country, struggling to acquire an identity, moving away from a melting pot approach to a multicultural one-in theory if not always in practice; religious in traditional terms despite trappings of post-modernity, riven over issues pertaining to sex, abortion and gay marriage, essentially religious and conservative despite East Coast liberals and scattered bohemians; predominantly insular despite its global reach and desirous of being something in the world by doing something with it.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> In this frame of mind, the outside world is outside the paradigm of its electoral debate except to the extent that this debate, and the policies emanating from it, has an impact beyond its shores. Future historians of the American Republic would consider 9/11 the beginning of an era and the election of 2004 as representative of public perceptions generated by it, more so because the electorate in the year 2000 had focused on a different set of issues and had been somewhat surprised by the eventual outcome.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> That election conferred no particular mandate on George Bush, nor had he, till September 10, 2001, undertaken many steps to implement the agenda of the ideologues of the New American Century. The new vision of the world thus arose from the debris of World Trade Towers, from the spectre of ''catastrophic technologies in the hands of the embittered few'', to turn adversity into opportunity and to bring forth ''a distinctly American internationalism'' by forsaking accepted canons of international law and proclaiming American specificity with regard to-as Robert Kagan put it-the efficacy of power, the morality of power, the desirability of power. The political establishment and the media uncritically lapped up this perception in its simplistic version-the global war on terrorism. Now, a little more than half the voting public has endorsed it. The same segment of the public has also decided upon a set of norms pertaining to what may be regarded as moral.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> On the other hand, the percentage of votes polled by John Kerry-despite his pusillanimity about the Iraq war-does uphold the view that 18 months after the invasion of Iraq, the United States remains a deeply divided country. Fifty-one per cent of the popular vote constitutes a thin majority, not a mandate, more so when compared with the 80 per cent approval ratings obtained by the President two years earlier. Reports on the voting pattern indicate that President Bush received 22 per cent of the Jewish vote; his share of the Muslim and Black votes, according to pre-election projections, would have been under 10 per cent in each category. The mandate the President talked about came from the White evangelical and born-again Christians and those segments of the conservative majority concerned about the sexual mores of American society. A moral trinity of faith, flag and family thus took precedence over issues of economy, employment, Medicare, social security and others. Would this impact on the conduct of policy? If so, how would this happen, and to what extent?&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Fervour may prevail in the short run but rarely does so when confronted by hard facts. It is of course an article of faith with the Republicans that budgetary deficits do not matter; as a result, the federal budget plunged from a surplus of $236 billion in 2000 to a deficit of $413 billion in 2004. The amount spent on the Iraq war, and a recurring expenditure of $4 billion per month on the US forces in Iraq, would add to it considerably. This, along with a balance of payment deficit reaching $540 billion in 2004, has led a former Secretary for Commerce in the Nixon Administration, Peter Peterson, to assert that the present administration (and the Republican Congress) ''have presided over the biggest, most reckless deterioration of America's finances in history''. The number of Americans living below the poverty line grew by 4.3 million to 35.9 million and the projected cuts in spending on domestic programmes are therefore unlikely to further public welfare except, perhaps, in the narrow sense of the ''ownership society'' visualised by the President. His press conference on November 4 was nevertheless indicative of a determination to pursue the domestic agenda as perceived by him.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Would it add to the divisiveness of American society? How would he restrain the constituency that voted him? The outside world would await the next moves on the global agenda pertaining to Iraq, the West Asian peace process, Iran, North Korea, the Proliferation Security Initiative, global warming, approach to matters multilateral. Henry Kissinger, who supports Bush, has offered some sane advice: ''The United States cannot tackle (the Bush) agenda except in the context of a commitment by all sides to healing.'' More specifically, he proposes a ''meaningful internationalisation''-going beyond security and NATO-of the quest for longer term stability in Iraq, ''a new approach to the Palestinian-Israeli problem'' within the framework of a renewed dialogue on the Atlantic alliance, a focus on the need to elaborate a security system for North-east Asia rather than negotiations merely on the technicalities of non-proliferation, a similar exercise in relation to Iran, and a permanent strategic dialogue with China. Each of these would necessitate a realistic adjustment of the post-9/11 policies. Would the President be inclined to concede the need for a correction? Would he subscribe to the possibility that ''military strength and moral clarity'' sought by his ideologues does not necessarily translate into ''the sense of justice'' (as John Rawls would define it) that is the first virtue of social institutions, local or global? Kissinger cites Immanuel Kant's dictum that peace in the world would come either by human foresight or by a series of catastrophes that leave no other choice: ''Which it will be is the ultimate question the new...President will have to face.''&nbsp; <br /> <br /> <font size="1">The writer was India's Permanent Representative to the United Nations and Vice Chancellor, Aligarh Muslim University. Presently, he is Distinguished Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi</font> <br /> <br /> Courtesy: Indian Express, New Delhi, November 8, 2004. <br /> <br /> <em>* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.</em> </font> </p>
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