"America our nation has been beaten by strangers who have turned our language inside out who have taken the clean words our fathers spoke and made them slimy and foul…" —John Dos Passos, USA
In the wake of state and national elections last November 2nd the Right has proclaimed the end of an era that began with the New Deal 70 years ago and informed us that United States of America is going to become the conservative God fearing nation is was always meant to be. This triumph of the right wing will smacks of hubris, but we have to look at it squarely.
The Domestic Agenda
In most respects, this election provided a mere distraction from the very real crises facing the majority of Americans in the here and now: the ongoing war, lack of health care, low-income jobs and massive budget cuts. These crises are not going away without a fight from below.
Elections are not the whole of politics, only a tiny part. The whole is, or should be, mostly the development of consciousness and commitment and the exercising of social pressure. Those citizens who don't buy this conservative program for the nation's future will have to get right back to that. And they will have to do it immediately. And they will have to do it more wisely than in the past.
Like Newt Gingrich a decade ago, Bush will face opposition. If he gives into the Right's social agenda and decides to re-launch a federal ban on gay marriage, he will anger the majority of people who continue to oppose discrimination against lesbians and gays. If he tries to outlaw abortion, he will ignite the women's movement. If he calls for a draft in order to expand his military ambitions, he will anger millions of people opposed to the war. In short, the possibilities for many hitherto quiescent Americans to become activists will be immeasurably multiplied.
The Foreign Agenda
Since 1947, the foreign policies of the Democrats and Republicans have been essentially consensual on crucial issues—"bipartisan" as both parties phrase it—but they often utilize quite different rhetoric. The Bush Administration, through ineptness and a vague ideology of American power that acknowledges no limits on its global ambitions, and a preference for unilateralist initiatives which discounts consultations with its friends much less the United Nations, has seriously eroded the alliance system upon which U. S. foreign policy from 1947 onwards was based. With the proliferation of all sorts of destructive weaponry, the world will become increasingly dangerous.
Bush's policies have managed to alienate, in varying degrees, innumerable nations, and even its firmest allies—such as Britain, Australia, and Canada—are being compelled to ask if giving Washington a blank check is to their national interest or if it undermines the tenure of parties in power. The way the war in Iraq was justified compelled France and Germany to become far more independent, much earlier, than they had intended, and NATO's future role is now questioned in a way that was inconceivable two years ago. Europe's future defense arrangements are today an open question but there will be some sort of European military force independent of NATO and American control. Germany, with French support, strongly opposes the Bush doctrine of preemption. Tony Blair, however much he intends acting as a proxy for the U.S. on military questions, must return Britain to the European project, and his willingness since late 2003 to emphasize his nation's role in Europe reflects political necessities. To do otherwise is to alienate his increasingly powerful neighbors and risk losing elections. His domestic credibility is already at its nadir due to his slavish support for the war in Iraq. In a word, politicians who place America's imperious demands over national interest have less future than those who are responsive to domestic opinion and needs.
Without accurate information a nation can believe and do anything, and this is the predicament the Bush Administration's allies are in. It is simply not to their national interest to pursue foreign policies based on a blind, uncritical faith in fictions or flamboyant adventurism premised on false premises and information. It is far too open-ended both in terms of time and costs. Thanks to Bush's election, America's allies and friends now have to confront such stark choices, a painful process that will redefine and perhaps shatter existing alliances. But America will be more prudent and the world will be far safer only if the Bush Administration is constrained by a lack of allies and isolated. Foreign policy scholars like Chalmers Johnson (see his comments in the previous issue) believe that ultimately the American Empire will suffer a collapse along the lines of the collapse of the Soviet Union with much economic suffering but without the ethnic strife. The American eagle will have to remove its talons from large parts of the world, and many people think that will be to the general good of all.