Politically Deflated Bush Faces a Resistant World
by Leon Hadar
case you haven't noticed, it's been awhile since a top US official
has delivered one of those wordy sermons to China or Russia about
their responsibility to fix their governments, fight political corruption
and protect human rights.
President George W Bush being forced to deal with rising domestic
criticism of his administration's performance at home and abroad,
it has become much more difficult for him and the leading officials
in his administration to promote the notion that his values and
policies should serve as the standard that other governments should
while the disastrous response to Hurricane Katrina tarnished the
image of what once upon a time was supposed to be world's most powerful
and competent government, the so-called Plamegate scandal that has
already led to the indictment of one White House official has raised
the specter of Watergate-style political corruption, adding to a
long list of cases of sleaze and fraud involving Republican figures
with ties to Mr. Bush.
the Bushies could not serve in the role of the world's moral authority
in the same week that the Washington Post reported that CIA
was running secret camps in eastern Europe where it was interrogating
terrorist suspects. These news, together with Abu Ghraib, only raised
more questions about the credibility of the US in upholding human
rights and the rule of law in its conduct in the war on terrorism.
so the politically deflated Mr. Bush, with his approval ratings
at home reaching a historic low of below 40 per cent will meet Latin
American heads of state this week and prepare for his trip to Asia,
where he will take part in a summit with the region's leaders in
South Korea, followed by a visit to China. He and his aides are
probably discovering that they have to deal now with more than just
the slow erosion in American "soft power" and US ability
to market its professed values worldwide.
US reservoir of "hard power" also seems to be depleting.
The growing mess in Iraq, and the increasing signs that the administration
has failed to achieve its goals there, challenges the axiom that
has been accepted by many observers since the end of the Cold War
– that the world's only remaining military power could continue
to maintain its role as an undisputed political hegemony.
the same time, the ballooning US budget and trade deficits that
are financed by the central bankers of China, Japan and Korea are
weakening the enormous leverage that the US held over the other
major economies and which, in the past, allowed it to play a leading
role in liberalizing the global economy.
a time when he is one of the least popular figures in the hemisphere,
Mr. Bush was bound to feel the combined impact of the expanding
deficit in "soft" and "hard" power during the
Summit of the Americas in the Argentine town of Mar de Plata.
neo-liberal economic model of American-style free market has lost
its appeal in Latin America, where left-of-center governments are
in control in Brazil and Argentina and another leftist figure could
get elected as the next president of Mexico. Even more disturbing
to Washington is the growing popularity of Venezuela's populist
President Hugo Chavez, who has been using his country's rising oil
profits to promote his anti-American and anti-globalization message.
US plan of forming a Free Trade of the Americas (FTAA) is regarded
in Latin America today as nothing more than an illusion. And there
are mounting anxieties in Washington that the possible elections
of leftist governments in Bolivia and Nicaragua could help Mr. Chavez
and his ally, Cuba's Fidel Castro, in stirring up anti-Americanism
in the hemisphere that could certainly be fueled by the emergence
of indigenous Indian political parties in the region. While Mr.
Bush's America is finding itself more isolated than ever on its
own strategic and economic backyard, with China and the European
Union (EU) increasing their trade and investment links to the region,
Beijing is continuing to boost its economic and political leadership
role in East Asia – a development which will be highlighted during
the East Asia Summit in Malaysia, from which the US is being excluded.
the same time, the Chinese and Russians have been strengthening
the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as part of a strategy
to challenge American presence in Central Asia. While some American
neoconservative strategists have been toying with the idea of "using"
India and "unleashing" Japan as part of an effort to "contain"
China, it's becoming clear that while New Delhi and Tokyo are interested
in enhancing their ties with Washington, they will resist being
dragged into a US-engineered confrontation with Beijing.
the Bush administration has yet to come up with a coherent approach
towards China and its inconsistent policies reflect the opposing
pressures it faces from ideological and interest groups in Washington.
Hence the China-bashing coalition of neoconservative hawks, economic
nationalists and Christian Right activists is pressing Mr. Bush
to get tough with the Chinese while Corporate America and free-traders
are calling on the administration to engage China. The result is
a policy mess in Washington.
it's China that has become the leading diplomatic player in the
effort to help the Bushies resolve the North Korean nuclear crises.
At the same time, the Bushies have been forced to lobby for cooperation
from the Europeans in trying to manage the current confrontations
with Iran and Syria.
Washington is discovering it has no other choice but to rely on
diplomatic assistance from China and the EU is a reflection of the
constraints that seems to be operating now on American global power.
As more and more Americans recognize that reality, it's possible
that Washington could take steps to adjust to the new global balance
of power. If that won't happen, American adjustment could prove
to be more costly, as China, the EU and other more powerful and
assertive global powers choose to challenge Washington instead of
cooperating with it.
Hadar [send him mail] is
Washington correspondent for the Business
Times of Singapore and the author of the forthcoming Sandstorm:
Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan).
© 2005 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved. Reprinted
with permission of the author.