US elections reveal much about the state of US society and politics

Developing Just Leadership


Shawwal 18, 1425 2004-12-01


by Editor (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 10, Shawwal, 1425)

So now it’s official: George W. Bush and his policies are supported by the majority of those Americans who choose to engage in US politics.

So now it’s official: George W. Bush and his policies are supported by the majority of those Americans who choose to engage in US politics. For the last four years, apologists for the US have claimed that Bush and his neo-conservative clique did not truly represent the American people, and were an aberration in American democracy. The results of last month’s elections, despite the incredible revelations about the true nature of the Bush administration and its dishonesty and duplicity over the previous four years, are highly saying a lot about the moral state of US society and the state of American politics.

The 59,064,087 people who voted for George Bush constitute only 28 percent of the eligible voters. In a “massive” turnout (according to the American media), only 60 percent of all eligible voters cast their ballots, of which Bush got 51 percent. It is pointless to go into details about vote-rigging, voter-intimidation and other such activities, which are all common in the modern US. The more interesting aspect is that, although US$1.2 billion got spent on the election, which was branded as “extremely polarized”, still only 60 percent of the electorate voted at all.

There is now a wide gulf between the rulers and the ruled in the US. Even worse, the US is run in effect by and for various lobbies; the neo-conservatives, a tiny minority, have grabbed the lion’s share of power and influence during Bush’s presidency. The US political system is held hostage by the military-industrial complex (MIC), an expression coined by former president Dwight Eisenhower, who warned his people against allowing it too much influence. It is interesting to note that Eisenhower himself was a highly decorated general who fought in the second world war. Other lobbies – especially the Jewish lobby – also wield enormous influence. Of the 120 or so political action committees (PACs) that exist in the US, the Jewish community either controls or finances 90 percent (more than a hundred of them). They operate under various innocuous-sounding names to disguise their real backers. Then there are the gun and tobacco lobbies; to this toxic brew must now be added the Christian right, which has come roaring from the rear to stake a claim for political influence in the world.

The new ascendancy of the Christian right worries many Americans. They are concerned that Evangelical Christians will impose their brand of thinking on others: curtail access to abortions on demand, push back the acceptance of ‘same-sex marriages’, and so on. This obsession with matters sexual actually obscures the even more serious non-sexual problems (or indirectly sexual problems, such as HIV and AIDS) afflicting America. There is little or no concern for the millions of homeless; at least 4.5 million more people dropped out of the list of those who could afford medical insurance (in the US everyone pays for his or her medical insurance, or goes without) during Bush’s first term. Forty million American children, most of them African-Americans, live below the poverty line in the country that has the largest gross domestic product in the world.

Such disparities can be partly explained by the US’s disproportionate military expenditure. The US spends more on its military than do the next 20 countries on the list of military big spenders, combined. This poses an interesting question: why is the US military’s performance so dismal in Iraq against ragtag bands of lightly-armed resistance fighters, despite the US’s heavy defence spending? American soldiers are heavily protected by bulletproof vests, ride in heavily-fortified hummvies, wear night-vision goggles, and communicate with each other by wireless telephone; it is difficult to imagine how anyone can still shoot and kill them. True, Americans kill large numbers of people, but these are mainly civilians, butchered in indiscriminate firing from planes or helicopter-gunships, or by long-range artillery. US soldiers seldom hang around for face-to-face fights; they lack the motivation that often determines the outcome of a conflict.

The question uppermost on everyone’s mind, especially Muslims, is how Bush will behave now that he thinks that he has a mandate from the American people. The broad contours of his approach are already clear: Colin Powell, supposedly a “moderate”, is gone already; Condoleezza Rice has taken over at the state department and can be expected to pursue the hardline agenda that Bush and his supporters prefer. The US has intensified its propaganda campaign against Iran, making bellicose noises about Iran’s nuclear programme. There is even talk of a possible strike not only at Iran’s nuclear installations but also on its leaders. While nothing can be ruled out, given the quagmire into which the US has sunk in Iraq, it is unlikely to open other fronts just yet. Perhaps Bush and his neocon allies might consider a strike at Iran as a way out of the Iraqi quagmire, but although it is easy to start a war, it is much more difficult to control its duration or determine its outcome.

Foreign adventures are not cheap, either. The Iraq and Afghanistan operations have already cost $200 billion; much more will be needed if the US stays in either (or both). Given the parlous state of the US economy – it is indebted to the tune of $2 trillion – more military adventures may well bankrupt it. Because of the sharp drop in the value of the US dollar relative to other currencies, China and Japan (which have vast dollar holdings) are eyeing the US economy nervously. One or both may decide to move their reserves into euros. Should that happen, it would put the US economy into a tailspin from which it might never recover. Only a few months ago, the Chinese finance minister lectured US officials about improving their rate of domestic savings.

Some defenders of the US argue that this is selfless and altruistic expenditure that proves that the US is acting out of genuine idealism rather than self-interest. The point this argument misses is that much of this expenditure comes from the American tax-payer and goes, directly or indirectly, into the pockets of the corporate elites that dominate US politics for their own interests. The risk for the US must be that if the neocons are foolish enough to launch other adventures for their own interests, they are likely to bankrupt the country as the Soviet Union was bankrupted by its Afghanistan adventure. While the US military is so thinly stretched that it is unlikely to take on any new operations in the near future, whether the Bush administration has any comprehension of this sort of reality is far from clear.

The sight of Bush and the neocons actually leading the US to economic ruin in pursuit of their financial interests is one that many in the world would certainly relish.

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