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Volume 2, Number 43               December 1 - 7, 2002            Quezon City, Philippines

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Bush's Desire To Be the New Churchill is a Threat to Us All
A Republican Electoral Victory Has Opened Up the Road to Iraq. But at What Price?

by Paul Kennedy
The lndependent/UK

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In the White House or Camp David – wherever President Bush and his entourage have gathered today – there must be much rejoicing, mingled with great relief. At the beginning of the week, the American mid-term elections really did seem capable of going either way, and who of us would have been surprised had the Democrats retained control of the Senate and picked up a few seats in the House? Again, who was confident a week ago that the Security Council would actually reach a compromise that would produce a unanimous vote in favor of a tough resolution over Iraq?

Now, the fogs have lifted and the landscape ahead looks a lot clearer. On Bush's domestic front, the obstacles of a Democratic-dominated Senate are no more; committee agendas fall back into Republican hands, as the new chairmen take over, and the Democrats lie around in confusion. Will this shift in the Congressional power balances make for a super-activist conservative agenda at home, as the Right desires? One doubts it, for two reasons.

The President is honing himself to be a national and historic figure, not a mere, divisive politician. The Homeland Security Bill will be a shoe-in now, not just because of presidential popularity but mainly because of the sharply increased fears of the American people – fears which the Director of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, and Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, cannot help but increase every time they testify before Congress and warn of future deadly attacks upon America. But the tax-cut idea may not go so easily, or actually be pushed all that hard. The Federal Reserve will not like it, nor will Wall Street bankers, nor much of the American public, battered as it is by the revelations of corporate greed.

But the greater reason why we may not see much new domestic legislation, which would be strongly ideological and partisan, is that the President's gaze is upon the outside world – towards Iraq and terrorism, in that order. It is there he will be found, clothed in the mantle of a national and world leader, a Lincoln, a Clemenceau, a Churchill, a Ben-Gurion.

The mid-term election results – miserably low though the voter turnout was, and miserably weak though the Democratic leadership was –have given him the go-ahead to devise policies for nailing Saddam Hussein. Perhaps those electoral victories helped to push wavering Security Council members to support the Anglo-American resolution, or perhaps they would have fallen in line in any case.

What is clear is that Friday's Security Council vote came as a relief to Washington. If any public-opinion poll finding has been consistent this past year, it is that the majority of Americans do not want to fight abroad without allies and without United Nations approval. The hawks may not have liked that fact but, heck, it doesn't matter now. These two large hurdles, as they appeared at the beginning of the week, have been cleared – and pretty easily.

There must be, one supposes, a million-to-one chance that Saddam Hussein will elect to go into quiet retirement now that he has received the unanimous approval of a grateful people in his elections. And pigs might fly. The odds must be almost as large that he will hand over his entire weapons-production empire to an entirely open inspection by the UN team, and that there will be a clean bill of health, without obstruction. Frankly, it seems hard to believe that the US will not find a cause for the stiffer consequences implicit in the new Security Council resolution. So the prospect of American-led military action is high – quite a bit higher, perhaps, than it was last week, despite the White House threats.

And the military campaign itself? Well, most of the pundits got it wrong before both the Gulf War and the Taliban War. All the talk of fanatical defense, of house-to-house fighting, of impossible mountain terrains, ignored the fact that the Pentagon was planning to use a truly awesome amount of air power and missile power to blast the enemies' troops into surrender or oblivion. Week after week, reports come in of more and more US units being sent to Oman, of bomber squadrons flying east, of gigantic vessels for carrying tanks gathering north of Diego Garcia. These people take no chances. Why spend nearly half of the world's entire defense expenditure if you can't guarantee victory?

So there is a strong chance that President Bush will do what his father decided not to do: that is, he will cross his Rubicon and enter Baghdad. Should victory happen like that, all his presidential reputation will then rest upon a successful rebuilding of that unhappy land, not just in the arenas of its economy and infrastructure but, even more, in its social fabric, democracy and rule of law. That is what the US did a half-century ago in Japan and West Germany, although in recent decades it has shown an aversion to "state building", preferring to leave that to the UN or helpful Scandinavians. One suspects that this time, however, there will be very few Norwegians, Canadians and Germans who volunteer for civic duty in Iraq. The country may well become the new mandate of esopotamia, but the mandatory power will be the US, not Britain. American right-wing strategists are now talking about this with complacency.

But this complacency – about the outcome of the war and the making of the peace – strikes me as extraordinarily risky. The military aspects may be tempting, but as a grand strategy it lacks serious consideration of the political, diplomatic and economic elements. The US balance-of-payments deficit is unprecedented, and really not sustainable. The federal budget deficit is ballooning, just as a "double dip" recession threatens. A Middle East war will send more American airlines scuttling into bankruptcy courts. Lord knows where oil prices will be. And all this is happening at a time when Japan trembles on the brink, most of Latin America is in desperate trouble, a laggard Germany slows any European recovery, Sharon is looking to punch his way out of his own induced crisis, North Korea wobbles between collapse and a mad-dog action, and India and Pakistan – well, never mind.

Then there are the other trade-offs, almost all negative. In gratitude for their endorsement of the Security Council resolution, Russia and China can do what they like with their own regional problems. A dreadful state such as the Sudan will have a blind eye turned to genocide in the south because its regime has promised to root out al-Qa'ida cells. Another million or two people may soon be slaughtered in central Africa, but the CNN cameras will be in Baghdad, so we won't notice. Palestine will again go on the back
burner. The world's human rights organizations must be bracing themselves to deal with the impossible demands upon them that lie ahead. Latin America, even Mexico, will find it hard to get Washington's attention. Egypt and Saudi Arabia may totter. Central Asia may have to fend for itself. What will be the next case before the Security Council, and who will want to push for it?

It is hard not to worry about the risks that might follow from a decision by Bush to march upon Baghdad. If it goes peacefully, or a campaign is brief and without great reverberations, we should all be grateful. But the odds, I think, are against. Crossing the Rubicon to gain control of Rome, and all that Rome possessed, was one thing and involved great risks. But entry into Baghdad would have wider consequences. Many of them are as yet unforeseen. Who of us knows where our world might be even by next summer?

Paul Kennedy is professor of history at Yale University and author of 'The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers')

© 2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

November 2002 Bulatlat.com

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