Battered and Bruised America Looks Beyond the Bush Warriors
Part 5: The Job Ahead
On the foreign policy front, the new US president should commit himself to renewed strong cooperation with international organizations, agree to binding targets to limit greenhouse gas emissions, join the International Criminal Court and refrain from modernizing the country's nuclear arsenal. In terms of international relations, the next president's term could signal the dawning of a new age of diplomacy that requires unusual steps: a speedy withdrawal from Iraq that respects the needs of that country's population; the relinquishment of an American and British special status in the exploitation of Iraq's oil reserves; a strategy for Afghanistan that prevents it from turning into a new base for international terrorism, one that includes both punitive military expeditions and a much stronger emphasis on civilian reconstruction and ventures to take unusual steps, like the inclusion of "moderate" Taliban in the peace process.
In the worldwide ideological contest, there is much to support the idea that Bush's successor in the White House could take Europe's side in the struggle to promote the better system. And that he should use all diplomatic means at his disposal to seek a solution to the Iran conflict that would prevent or at least delay Tehran's plans to develop nuclear weapons.
But this new America could be costly for Europeans. No matter who wins the election next week, the victor will smile and invite the allies to join him at the negotiating table -- and his demands will be considerable: more money for reconstruction in Iraq, and a greater commitment to the war in Afghanistan. Can John McCain, 72, carry out America's Herculean challenges, or is Barack Obama, 47, the better man for the job?
"John McCain is a fighter. In fact, his bellicosity has increased over the past few years as he has discovered his inner neoconservative," writes Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International and author of the bestseller "The Post-American World." "He wants to keep the battle going in Iraq, speaks casually of bombing Iran and is skeptical of the Bush administration's diplomacy with North Korea. He wants to kick Russia out of the G-8 and humiliate China by excluding it from that body as well. He sees a "league of democracies" locked in conflict with an alliance of autocracies. This is cold-war nostalgia, not a strategy for the 21st century."
Inventing the Future
And then there is Democratic candidate Obama, who Zakaria sees as a man for a new beginning and as a deeply inspiring figure. "Imagine what people around the world would think if they saw America once again inventing the future," Zakaria writes.
A healthy dose of self-confidence is necessary, because America is in jeopardy of losing its greatest asset: its notorious optimism about the future. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, the number of people who believe that things will be better in five years than they are today has dropped to its lowest point since the organization first began asking this question 44 years ago -- and the poll was even taken a few weeks before the Wall Street collapse.
At the World Financial Summit in New York in mid-November, George W. Bush will be the "lame duck" among the leaders of the world's most important nations. It is possible that he will invite his successor to take part in the talks. That would make sense, because any resolutions reached at the summit, while barely affecting Bush's remaining term in office, will critically shape the next administration.
One can characterize it as tragic, comical or revealing that the president, shortly before leaving office, will face the task of participating in a new global economic order that he resisted for so long and that he must now approach in cooperation with all potential rivals in the struggle for international dominance.
Or perhaps it is simply consistent with the personality of someone who is preparing to embark on a new life without saying goodbye to his old life, someone who is only beginning to explore the contours of his life in retirement.
Crawford, Texas, is his adopted hometown, a town profiled in a recent issue of the New Yorker. This is "Bush country." He invites favored heads of state to stay there, and he repeatedly stresses that the place is his source of energy. Crawford, a town of 705 inhabitants and seven churches, is set in the midst of a flat, monotonous prairie. A Bush campaign sign leans against a grain silo on Main Street. The wind has knocked the sign from its frame, but no one has bothered to straighten it again.
There were once seven shops in Crawford that sold Bush souvenirs. Three have gone out of business and business is slow in the other four. The last time anything newsworthy happened in the town was five months ago, when the president's daughter, Jenna, was married. Tourists crowded into the local coffee shop, hoping to catch a glimpse of the bride and her groom. But they went home disappointed, where they could watch the bride, beaming in her Oscar de la Renta gown, and George W. stiffly serving up oysters and crab cocktail instead of steak and pretzels -- on television.
During the 2000 presidential campaign, George W. paid many a visit to his hometown. When he moved into the White House, a citizens' group organized local festivals and fireworks in Bush's honor. Crawford voted almost unanimously for its most famous son, even in his second run for office. In 2005, Cindy Sheehan, the angry mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, temporarily transformed the place into the headquarters of the antiwar movement. The locals were less than amused, and the community became divided.
When Bush gave a campaign speech in Crawford a few weeks ago, barely a dozen journalists showed up for the event, while many locals stayed at home. They will be seeing even less of George W. in the future, as the family looks for a condominium in the city. He plans to write his memoirs and establish a "Freedom Institute" next to his presidential library at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
The New Yorker reported on his appearance at a Republican fund-raiser in Houston. "Wall Street got drunk, and now it's got a hangover," said an upbeat lame-duck president. "And then we got a housing issue," he said, "not in Houston -- evidently not in Dallas, because Lauras over there trying to buy a house today."
The audience laughed. When someone asked why he wasn't planning to move to Crawford full-time, Bush replied: "I like Crawford. Unfortunately, after eight years of asking my wife to sacrifice, I am no longer the decision maker. She'll be deciding."
And so the small town of Crawford, Texas will like return to insignificance. Rural Texas now faces the same concerns as all of America. Because of high gasoline prices, Franklin Industrial Minerals, the town's biggest employer, is considering switching to a four-day work week. Most people in Crawford are worried about their jobs.
Little remains of the legacy of George W. Bush. Perhaps a few words carved into a slab of granite near a church. The names of Crawford residents who died in past wars are engraved in the shimmering stone. They include native sons Charles Jageler and Tommie Lee Symank, both "killed in action" in Vietnam. There is still plenty of room in the Vietnam list. Below that, the word "Iraq" is carved into the stone.
But there are no names listed under Iraq. Not yet.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan