Battered and Bruised America Looks Beyond the Bush Warriors

By Erich Follath

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 Laura’s 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

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mrwarmth 11/03/2008
1. Ein Titel
Zitat von sysopIn his two terms in the White House, US President George W. Bush has presided over a precipitous fall in America's reputation around the world. History is likely to judge him a failure. Now, his successor will have to dig the US out of a deep hole. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,587786,00.html
I think we have to discuss and analyze this "precipitous fall" in terms of a political analysis that is itself internally consistent. Unfortunately, the analysis in referenced Spiegel article is hopelessly self-contradictory. The article states that the US reputation in the world is at rock bottom, because of its human rights abuses. The article then contrasts the US with China, a country the author believes is "rising" in the world. Yet China is a far greater, and far more flagrant, abuser of human rights than the US is or could ever be. So if human rights abuses diminish a country's greatness on the world stage, then China's reputation should be falling, not rising. Right? Conversely, if human rights abuses have no effect on such things, then American missteps in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib are meaningless for an analysis of America's standing in the world. It's clear Germany's view of the US is based on double standards, but do you really want to be so obvious about it? In any event, the reputation and standing of the US will recover quite nicely, and very quickly, for two very simple reasons: Bush will be gone. And he was such a spectacularly bad president that his successor will only have to do nothing to seem a huge improvement. And Obama will be a very much better president to begin with. Secondly, Europe needs the US, for many reasons. They can only afford to hate us so much, for so long, until their own intrinsic dependence on American power forces them to put the past behind them and move forward. Heck, if Germany can rehabilitate itself after the Nazis, then I don't think the US has anything to worry about in that regard.
plotinus 11/03/2008
2. Where are the Meae Culpae? (or should that be Mae's culpae)
Zitat von mrwarmthI think we have to discuss and analyze this "precipitous fall" in terms of a political analysis that is itself internally consistent. Unfortunately, the analysis in referenced Spiegel article is hopelessly self-contradictory. The article states that the US reputation in the world is at rock bottom, because of its human rights abuses. The article then contrasts the US with China, a country the author believes is "rising" in the world. Yet China is a far greater, and far more flagrant, abuser of human rights than the US is or could ever be. So if human rights abuses diminish a country's greatness on the world stage, then China's reputation should be falling, not rising. Right? Conversely, if human rights abuses have no effect on such things, then American missteps in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib are meaningless for an analysis of America's standing in the world. It's clear Germany's view of the US is based on double standards, but do you really want to be so obvious about it? In any event, the reputation and standing of the US will recover quite nicely, and very quickly, for two very simple reasons: Bush will be gone. And he was such a spectacularly bad president that his successor will only have to do nothing to seem a huge improvement. And Obama will be a very much better president to begin with. Secondly, Europe needs the US, for many reasons. They can only afford to hate us so much, for so long, until their own intrinsic dependence on American power forces them to put the past behind them and move forward. Heck, if Germany can rehabilitate itself after the Nazis, then I don't think the US has anything to worry about in that regard.
Yes, but Germany actually changed itself, and created a better society and outlook. Will the USA recognize the evils it has committed, and reform itself? The obstinacy of our resident American jingos, Mae and Warmth, represents fairly well the resistance Americans demonstrate when they are shown to be in the wrong. America still has not made amends for the Vietnam War, where it committed obvious and monstrous war crimes. God help them, Many Americans try to convince themselves that they were the winners in Vietnam! Until Americans can admit and confess their errors and crimes, I don't think you can compare them to Germans. -
mrwarmth 11/04/2008
3. Ein Titel
Zitat von plotinusYes, but Germany actually changed itself, and created a better society and outlook. Will the USA recognize the evils it has committed, and reform itself? The obstinacy of our resident American jingos, Mae and Warmth, represents fairly well the resistance Americans demonstrate when they are shown to be in the wrong. America still has not made amends for the Vietnam War, where it committed obvious and monstrous war crimes. God help them, Many Americans try to convince themselves that they were the winners in Vietnam! Until Americans can admit and confess their errors and crimes, I don't think you can compare them to Germans. -
Wrong. Germany had change imposed upon itself by the US. Indeed, if one compares the occupation of Germany after WWI and after WWII, and their respective historical outcomes, I think the record shows that Germany was given entirely too much freedom after WWI, which led to its descent into Nazi barbarism. After WWII the Germans basically had their constitution dictated to them and forced upon them. They certainly didn't do it themselves.
plotinus 11/04/2008
4. Warmth wants to have it both ways
Zitat von mrwarmthWrong. Germany had change imposed upon itself by the US. Indeed, if one compares the occupation of Germany after WWI and after WWII, and their respective historical outcomes, I think the record shows that Germany was given entirely too much freedom after WWI, which led to its descent into Nazi barbarism. After WWII the Germans basically had their constitution dictated to them and forced upon them. They certainly didn't do it themselves.
More weaseling by Warmth. The fact is, Germany changed, and changed individually, German by German, and in the hearts and minds of each German, into a nation which is far more virtuous than the USA. Or are American brainwashing techniques so powerful that they can force this transformation against the will of Germans? And if they are so powerful, what have they done in the USA itself? -
marianna2008 11/05/2008
5.
Whether someone agrees or not with the article has more to do with which side of the coin is more obvious to the reader every time. Someone who lives in the US has certainly a different perspective than someone who lives in Germany or someone who lives in Greece like me. But facts cannot be ignored. And facts shout out loud the Bush administration was a failure in total. The main issue here i think, and the first question that came up to my mind when reading was: How can someone so extreme in his leadership could hold a liberal nation like America into what seemed to the rest of the world as "complete mind control" for so long? Maybe the fact and only he was so extreme in his twisted political perception made people feel too numb to react or even too weak to go against it. Today's elections, not marked by the result but by the way the process itself developed, show serious signs that America "breaths" again after being "on stand-by" for at least the past 4 years. When 62% of the voters stated their main motivation to participate in the elections is the economy problem and only 9% is still under the fear of the "terrorism ghost", it is quite clear Americans gain back their political concience. This time without any kind of a "mass revolution", almost silently - and in this sense it is worth more. We can be sure the Bush "new - western - fundamentalistic era", a fiction with no political basis, fell apart as abruptly as it rised. Some may even have the opinion this was anyway a predetermined course and i would gladly sign it. How the new administration will handle the concequences which inevitably followed this groundless and even dangerous "experiment" and the ones that are still to come is pretty blur right now. But we certainly have a "clean" victory today and the winner is not called Obama. It is called realism. Well, this is always the first step into the right direction, isn't it?
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