A HUGE groan went up around the world on Thursday of last week when it became clear that George Bush had won another term of office as US president. Even those who doubted whether John Kerry would have been much better were depressed at the thought of Bush and his gang winning another four years to pillage the planet and wage the global war they declared after 11 September 2001.
There is good reason to fear a second Bush administration. In a recent article in the New York Times, journalist Ron Suskind reported a conversation he had with a senior White House adviser in the summer of 2002:
“The aide said that guys like me were ‘in what we call the reality-based community’, which he defined as people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality’.
“‘That’s not the way the world really works any more,’ he continued. ‘We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality... We’re history’s actors...and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do’.”
It’s chilling to think of Bush and his neo-conservative advisers, emboldened by their election victory, using the military power of the Pentagon to remake the world in the interests of US imperialism.
But before we get too depressed we should remember that the past four years have actually demonstrated the LIMITS of American power.
This is above all true of the Bush administration’s main attempt to “create reality”—in Iraq. Last week’s issue of Newsweek painted an astonishingly grim picture of the situation facing the US occupation:
“The insurgents, by most accounts, are winning... A year ago the insurgents were relegated to sabotaging power and gas lines hundreds of miles outside Baghdad. Today they are moving into once-safe neighbourhoods in the heart of the capital...
“Throughout much of Iraq, but especially in the Sunni Triangle at the heart of the country, US troops are unable to control streets and highways, towns and cities... Attacks on coalition and Iraqi forces are now in the range of 100 a day, casualties among Iraqis are far greater.”
The fact is that the US is bogged down in a guerrilla war in Iraq. And occupying powers don’t win guerrilla wars by using the air power and high tech weapon systems in which the Pentagon specialises.
They win them through the combination of a political strategy that succeeds in isolating the insurgents and an army large enough to deny them territory. The US has neither in Iraq.
The offensive against Fallujah is a determined effort to destroy or disperse the largest single concentration of insurgents.
If this attack were to succeed, it might create a more favourable background for the elections planned by the US and its Iraqi puppet regime for next January. But there is no reason to assume it will succeed.
In any case, as long as the relatively small American army is tied down in Iraq, it is much harder for the US to flex its military muscle elsewhere in the world. The North Korean regime learned this some time ago.
The Bush administration has been making increasingly threatening noises at the Islamic republican regime in Iran, which, like North Korea’s rulers, is accused by Washington of developing nuclear weapons.
However, as long as the insurgents haven’t been defeated in Iraq, it would be incredible folly for the US to attack Iran, a country with a population of nearly 70 million and very strong nationalist traditions.
But even if Bush isn’t in a position to conquer the world, there is still the nagging question—why was he re-elected?
Why, with the mess in Iraq and unemployment higher in the US than when he first entered the White House, was he able to win a majority of the popular vote, something he failed to do when running against Al Gore in 2000?
The Daily Mirror put it down to the stupidity of those who voted for Bush, asking, “How can 59,054,087 people be so dumb?” But this explains nothing.
Conventional wisdom had it that the higher turnout would favour the Democrats. This proved wrong.
It looks as if the strategy devised by Karl Rove, Bush’s political adviser, of mobilising the “faith-based community”—the Christian fundamentalist right—has worked.
The 2004 election confirmed that American society is bitterly, but almost evenly, divided between Republicans and Democrats. But there is a paradox here.
Both Democrats and Republicans support big business, free market economics and US imperialism. What they fight fiercely over are so called “cultural issues”—gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research.
This contrast in fact points to the Republicans’ secret weapon. Over the past generation working class Americans have suffered a severe economic pasting, reflected in the decline of real household income.
But Democrats like Kerry have nothing to say about the problems that dominate working people’s lives. They belong to the corporate rich that have hugely profited from the triumph of neo-liberalism.
This allows Republicans like Bush—also part of the corporate rich—to displace the anger and frustration of many working class Americans onto terrorists, or the so called “liberal elite”, or other imaginary or secondary targets, and so win their support.
As the critical theorist Slavoj Zizek puts it, “The ‘moral war’ allows the lower classes to articulate their fury without disturbing dominant economic interests.”
According to an exit poll conducted by Associated Press, 22 percent of American voters said “moral values” were the main influence on how they cast their vote. And the turnout was still only just under 60 percent, which means that many of America’s poor stayed at home.
The only answer to this is class politics that seeks to focus the rage of working people on the real source of their suffering—the tiny ultra-rich business class that dominates American society, and buys both Republicans and Democrats to do their will.
This means building on the brave effort by Ralph Nader and his small band of supporters to develop a genuine alternative to both the main parties in the US.
By continuing to resist Bush’s policy of permanent global war in the rest of the world we can support the American left in taking on this huge but essential task.