There’s no question in my mind that George W. Bush has been great for democracy. Previously, a lot of people were becoming disillusioned with mainstream politics, frustrated at having to choose between one corporate-backed rich white guy with good hair and another, slightly different-looking corporate-backed rich white guy with good hair. The feeling was: “What difference does it make if I vote? They’re all the same. What will one guy do that the other won’t?”
Thanks to Bush, now we know. He’s like a walking object lesson in the importance of voter turnout.
I’m Australian, but one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen was a rally outside City Hall in New York in 1999 to protest the police shooting of Amandou Diallo. Thousands of people voicing their grief and outrage… all quietly and competently supervised by the target of their protest, the NYPD. In plenty of countries, the cops would have been beating the crap out of those protestors. In the others, the protesters would have been throwing rocks at the cops and setting their cruisers on fire. But not in the United States. It was, to me, not just impressive but almost magical.
Then there was September 11. In the aftermath, there was a global outpouring of grief and sympathy for Americans—and more than that, of allegiance. If you lived in the US, you might not have noticed this. Your attention was, of course, focused inward. But it was there, and it was extraordinary. It was overwhelming. What I heard over and over was, “Today, we are all Americans.” Throughout the world, people wanted to stand by the US.
I wonder now what might have happened if the war on terrorism had chiefly been a diplomatic one. If the Bush administration had defined what terrorism was and called the world together to expunge it—not just in one country or two, but globally, and no matter in which cause it was employed. In 2001, with that incredible worldwide feeling of unity… maybe it was possible to take that act of great evil and extract from it a great good.
But it’s not possible now. That global unity is gone, and in its place is cynicism and mistrust. It happened because George W. Bush told the world it was irrelevant. As the war on terrorism morphed into an invasion of Iraq, Bush and his administration said it again and again: “You either agree with us or you are meaningless.” Maybe it was ignorance of the importance of international diplomacy. Maybe it was arrogance. Maybe it was even realistic. But one thing’s for sure: the world had offered its hand in solidarity and it didn’t like having it slapped away.
Opinion of the US has fallen so low that America is now widely viewed as the greatest threat to world peace—not just by people in “Axis of Evil” countries, or Muslim countries, but by majority populations in Western countries, like Australia, that are staunch US allies and have troops in Iraq right now. That sounds absurd if you live in the States, I know. But to understand it, imagine you don’t. Imagine it’s China that has more military power than the next 20 countries plus yours combined; China’s new government that rapidly cancels international treaties on everything from anti-missile proliferation to global warming; that announces it has no use nor care for world opinion; that conquers two countries in two years and hints of more to come; China that says other countries must choose to either support it without question or be “with the terrorists;” and China’s new President who describes entire nations as “evil” and his country’s military operations in religious terms.
I hate how the US is viewed by the world today. America is a truly great country, and doesn’t deserve to be considered deceitful, dangerous, arrogant, and greedy. But it is, because in the eyes of the world, George W. Bush is the US. It’s not as if we foreigners watch CNN. All we know about American politics is who’s President and how many bombs he’s dropping on other countries.
Which is why I hope like hell that John Kerry wins the election this November. If he does, people around the world won’t know it had anything to do with who had the better service record, or was more credible on jobs. But they’ll think, “Maybe Americans didn’t agree with Bush after all.” They’ll think, “Maybe they’re not all like him.” They’ll think, “Maybe we can stand together again.”