After Bush

Monday 15 November 2004, by Walden BELLO

There continue to be credible allegations of fraud, particularly in the vote count in the state of Ohio, but most of the United States, including the Democratic Party, has recognized that George W. Bush has been reelected to the presidency with a 3.5 million margin of victory over John Kerry.

Hegemonic Bloc?

The terrible truth, however, is that the Republican victory, while not lopsided, was solid. Another phase of the political revolution begun by Ronald Reagan in 1980, the 2004 elections confirmed that the center of gravity of US politics lies not o­n the center-right but o­n the extreme right. Now, it remains true that the country is divided almost evenly, and bitterly so. But it is the Republican Right that has managed to provide a compelling vision for its base and to fashion and implement a strategy to win power at all levels of the electoral arena, in civil society, and in the media. While liberals and progressives have floundered, the Radical Right has united under an utterly simple vision the different components of its base: the South and Southwest, the majority of white males, the upper and middle classes that have benefited from the neoliberal economic revolution, Corporate America, and Christian fundamentalists. This vision is essentially a subliminal o­ne, and it is that of a country weakened from within by an alliance of pro-big government liberals, promiscuous gays and lesbians, and illegal immigrants, and besieged from without by hateful Third World hordes and effete Europeans jealous of America’s prosperity and power.

There are, indeed, two Americas, but o­ne is confused and disorganized while the other exudes a confidence and arrogance that o­nly superior strategy and organization can bestow. The Radical Right has managed, with its vision of a return to an imagined community-a pristine white Christian small-town America circa 1950—to construct what the Italian thinker Antonio Gramsci called a "hegemonic bloc." And this bloc is poised to continue its reign for the next 25 years.

The future of democracy, economic rights, individual rights, and minority rights seems bleak in the US, but it is perhaps o­nly through a second shock therapy-the first being Reagan’s victory in 1980-that progressive America will finally confront what it will take to turn the tide: an all-sided battle for ideological and organizational hegemony in which it must expect no quarter and it must give none, where it can no longer afford to make mistakes.

Crisis of the Empire

But while America marches rightward, it fails to drag the rest of the world along with it. Indeed, most of the rest of the world is headed in the opposite direction. Nothing illustrated this more than the fact that in the very week Bush was reelected, a coalition of left parties came to power in Uruguay, Hugo Chavez, Washington’s new nemesis in Latin America, swept state elections in Venezuela, and Hungary served notice it was withdrawing its 300 troops from Iraq. Although the American Right is consolidating its hold domestically, it cannot halt the unraveling of Washington’s hegemony globally.

The principal cause of what we have called the crisis of overextension, or the mismatch between goals and resources owing to imperial ambition, is the massive miscalculation of invading Iraq. This crisis is likely to continue, if not accelerate, in Bush’s second term. The key manifestations of the imperial dilemma stand out starkly:

o Despite the recent US-sponsored elections in Afghanistan, the Karzai government effectively controls o­nly parts of Kabul and two or three other cities. As UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has said, despite the elections, "without functional state institutions able to serve the basic needs of the population throughout the country, the authority and legitimacy of the new government will be so long as this is the case, Afghanistan will tie down 13,500 US troops within the country and 35,000 support personnel outside.

o The US war o­n terror has backfired completely, with Al Qaeda and its allies much stronger today than in 2001. In this regard, Osama bin Laden’s pre-election video was worth a thousand words. The invasion of Iraq, according to Richard Clarke, Bush’s former anti-terrorism czar, claims, derailed the war o­n terror and served as the best recruiting device for Al Qaeda. But even without Iraq, Washington’s heavy handed police and military methods of dealing with terrorism were already alienating millions of Muslims. Nothing illustrates this more than Southern Thailand, where US anti-terrorist advice has helped convert discontent into an insurgency.

o With its full embrace of Ariel Sharon’s no-win strategy of sabotaging the emergence of a Palestinian state, Washington has forfeited all the political capital that it had gained among Arabs by brokering the now defunct Oslo Accord. Moreover, the go-with-Sharon strategy, along with the occupation of Iraq, has left Washington’s allies among the Arab elites exposed, discredited, and vulnerable. With the death of Yasser Arafat, Tel Aviv and Washington may entertain hopes of a settlement of the Palestinian issue o­n their terms. This is likely to be an illusion.

o The Atlantic Alliance is dead, and in the coming period, trade conflicts will combine with political differences to push the US and Europe even farther apart. Europe is key to the sustainability of the American empire. As the neoconservative writer Robert Kagan notes, "Americans will need the legitimacy that Europe can provide, but Europeans may well fail to grant it." But the widening Atlantic gulf is not o­nly o­ne based o­n different approaches to securing global stability; Europeans increasingly fear that the an aggressiovely militaristic US is the greatest strategic threat to their regional security.

o Latin America’s move to the left will accelerate. The victory of the leftist coalition in Uruguay is simply the latest in a series of electoral victories for progressive forces, following those in Venezuela, Ecuador, Argentina, and Brazil. Along with electoral turns to the left, there may also be in the offing more mass insurrections such as that which occurred in Bolivia in October 2003. Speaking of the turn towards the left and away from the empire, o­ne of the US’ friends, former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda, assesses the situation accurately: "America’s friends...are feeling the fire of this anti-American wrath. They are finding themselves forced to shift their own rhetoric and attitude in order to dampen their defense of policies viewed as pro-American or US-inspired, and to stiffen their resistance to Washington’s demands and desires."

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