Time to celebrate
So utterly obsessed is the Indian media with the nuclear deal with the United States that it has reduced its coverage of the Democrats’ impressive capture of Congress solely to a discussion of its implications for the agreement’s passage before the end of the year. It has thus missed the domestic and global significance of the mid-term elections, which represent a huge defeat for the Republican Party.
The Democrats’ victory in both the House of Representatives and the Senate leaves George W. Bush a lame-duck president mid-way through his second term.
The election turned into a referendum on Bush’s leadership. The American public resoundingly rejected him. It’s an eloquent comment to Bush’s popularity that almost half the 58 candidates he campaigned for lost. Of the 18 candidates whom he visited more than once, only four won.
Important to the Republicans’ defeat were their elitist domestic policies, their corruption, and the Iraq war. The Democrats campaigned for alternative policies on healthcare, education, minimum wages and social security. However, the public’s reaction to the Iraq quagmire formed "the driving factor" or turning point in the election.
The Republicans obviously miscalculated the domestic unpopularity of Iraq’s occupation, which has caused the death of 655,000 Iraqi civilians and almost 2,000 US soldiers.
The election results have wrecked the Republicans’ plans to build a long-term Right-wing hegemony over the US through ultra-conservative pro-business domestic policies.
They have also loosened the stranglehold of the Neoconservatives over Washington’s foreign and security policies. The "Project for a New American Century", which was meant to create a long-lived Roman-style Empire, has suffered a well-deserved drubbing. Especially humiliating for the Neocons was the sacking of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who was responsible for many policy blunders that led to Iraq’s slide into civil conflict, bloodshed and chaos.
Rumsfeld’s replacement by former CIA director Robert Gates, a member of the "Iraq Study Group" headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, is expected to recommend a change of direction in Iraq. Baker is an old-styled Republican "realist", who believes in managing the world, not aggressively reshaping it through "regime change" in "Axis of Evil" states and by spreading democracy.
The neocons’ ascendancy under Bush made for a particularly malign, militarised and bellicose America.
The US walked out of arms control agreements and intervened in different countries while citing all kinds of false excuses: destroying "weapons of mass destruction", "humanitarian intervention" or spreading democracy. The US has only had limited success in Afghanistan. But the Islamophobic content of its "counter-terrorism" strategy has increased.
Bush has made the world more discontented, turbulent and dangerous. It’s thus extremely annoying to hear Indian policy makers say: "Bush may have been bad for the world, but he’s good for India"--as if India weren’t part of the world or had shrunk its horizons so miserably as to be unconcerned at the global consequences of Bush’s policies.
Such parochialism speaks poorly of India’s claim to emergence as a world power. They reflect the pitiable mindset of the Indian elite, which honours Bush with a 56 percent approval rating, in contrast to his under-40 percent rating in most Western countries.
What does the new political dispensation in Washington spell for Americans and for the larger world? Domestically, it’s likely to promote less Right-wing and less slavishly pro-corporate policies with fewer tax breaks for the rich but with greater social spending. This will hopefully sober down Washington’s global advocacy of "free-market" dogma too.
The US Congress is also unlikely to extend Bush’s mandate to conclude the Doha Round of world trade talks. This will benefit the developing countries, which have much to lose from opening up their markets to the developed countries’ manufactures and services.
Even more important are the likely possibilities that open up in West Asia, is the crucible in which global politics is being reshaped.
Several scenarios are possible for Iraq: first, the US withdraws in an orderly manner, leaving a credible democratic structure in place, with inter-ethnic reconciliation; second, Washington partitions Iraq into a Kurdish North, Sunni Centre and a Shia South; or third, transitional authority is vested in a UN-led multilateral arrangement which paves the way for a truly independent democratic Iraq.
The first scenario is unlikely because it demands uncharacteristic wisdom, foresight and generosity on America’s part. The second is a recipe for a historic catastrophe. A partitioned Iraq won’t be at peace with itself or its neighbourhood. The region will bleed interminably. The US must be dissuaded from this course.
The third scenario won’t happen unless many voices speak for it, including the UN, European Union, Russia, China, India, the Non-Aligned Movement and others.
However, bringing the right scenario into being will require policy independence, vision and imagination. These must also be applied to break the current Palestinian impasse-a key to healthy change in West Asia. The US must be made to abandon its strategy of supporting Zionism and Israel’s cynical campaign to strangle the Palestinian national liberation movement, massacre innocent people, and bully its neighbours.
This is a tall order, but the pressure of sane public opinion can and must be brought to bear upon the US-in international forums, bilaterally, and through civil society anti-war mobilisations.
India’s best bet lies in trying to exert sobering influence upon the US as regards its Iraq and Israel-Palestine policies. But to do so, India must jettison its own present unbalanced approach of tailing the US and developing a skewed strategic alliance with Israel.
Only by radically revising its policy orientation can India contribute to making the world a more balanced, multipolar and less strife-torn place.
India must give up its narrow-minded obsession with riding the US piggyback to global greatness. It must reclaim its broad horizon, independent and Non-Aligned foreign policy and promote an agenda based on the universal values of peace, justice and balance, not the cynical pursuit of power without purpose.
Originally published by Khaleej Times (Copyright 2006)