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Volume XLIV, No.49

Electoral Verdict in the USA

Tuesday 24 April 2007, by Kamala Prasad


The result of the mid-term election to the two Houses of the US Congress merits analysis around the world for its impact within the US and globally. After all, US policies and politics have influence on countries around the world in economic, strategic and political relations. Despite the prediction of Republican Party losses, it was difficult to guess that the Republican defeat will be so comprehensive. The Democratic Party has captured majority in both the Houses. What is more, its candidates have captured 28 out of the 36 Governors’ positions for which elections were held. This result is a direct snub for President George W. Bush who campaigned extensively, helped mobilise funds and did not desist from using the judicial verdict against Saddam Hussain of Iraq, pleading it as vindication of his Iraq misadventure. Evidently, the electorate was fed up and had made up its mind in advance. It was not ready to shift its position and provide the advantage of swing vote to President Bush. The verdict makes him an effective lame duck President.

The domestic implication is that American democracy has asserted itself. The verdict does not fully wash the vote of confidence in the President in 2004 that left him free to maintain status quo in policies and Cabinet positions despite the valid voices of sanity. He obstinately held on to the position that he would stay the course in Iraq despite clear signs of failure. The USA went to war without legitimacy bestowed by the United Nations. The USA and UK abrogated to themselves the authority to represent the world community. They persuaded whosoever was ready to join their campaign in the hope of getting a part of the massive reconstruction contracts in post-occupation Iraq that was the lure provided. They had truly token presence but it mattered much for the US-UK combine. But, as the first flush of easy and early victory faded with the extended period of engagement and losses of the US and UK manpower, others also became restive. They found the US assurance of a quick withdrawal vanishing in thin air. To cap it all, by the time of the election the UK and ex-US generals expressed dissatisfaction with the conduct of operation and persistence of occupation of a foreign land. The continued occupation was leading Iraq into chaos and not towards a democratic dawn as was promised. So, the US electorate found that they were getting nothing but poor image around the world for the political miscalculation made by the US leadership. The verdict shows that their tolerance level had been reduced to zero.

The Bush Presidency promised a grand vision of the American power and the American century. This was a vision based on slippery evidence. First, suspicion raised about Iraq possessing WMDs and chemicals of warfare could not be substantiated. This was belied despite the US spending more money than was allowed to the UN-inspectors for the same task. Second, suspicion was raised of the Iraqi regime being in league with the Al-Qaeda terrorist gang that posed a serious threat to American security. As it came about, no such link could be established. Finally, the US population was led into a perpetual state of panic fearing further terrorist attacks. It was mentioned jocularly that two notable developments had taken place within the USA. More people were visiting the Church and many more crowding the pubs. In effect, then, the US public became more vulnerable around the world than it ever was. But all this hammering appealed to the unsuspecting common people and they gave the President their support. The Democratic Party was also part of the league; it did nothing to dispel the false pretexts that were giving a bad name to American democracy and the American people. In a way , then, this verdict is a negative verdict against the Republicans and not really a positive verdict for any set of policies of the Democrats. The Democratic leadership will be watched how they shape up and whether they will take the message right. The next Presidential election will be the clincher.

America has a vibrant domestic democracy. The strength of democracy lies in the people asserting their judgment and preserving their rights under all circumstances. Despite biases, it is truly a multicultural society. The wealth of the nation is a product as much of its vast natural resources as of the talent it attracts from around the world. It provides them the opportunity to prove themselves. In the realm of foreign policy, however, the federal government and the President are all powerful. President Bush provided the vision of an imperial Presidency that will not countenance any resistance to its will around the world. But in the last six years, he has exposed the reality of even the most powerful nation economically and militarily facing limitations to its imperial ambitions. Iraq has become the most visible demonstration of it. It has not been able to carry its allies along in case of either Iran or North Korea despite resolutions in the UN Security Council. And the country is so badly bogged down in Iraq that it does not have the manpower to extend itself militarily into other theatres of war. Interventions in regional wars have their own logic. The American public, innocent about foreign and military policy, saw to their disadvantage being led into unnecessary loss of manpower and money. They have taken their time but given their verdict decisively.

Globally, it is too early to write off the Bush legacy. Three areas of his thinking come out prominently, all three crucial for global harmony. This relates to firstly, conflict of civilisations; secondly, pre-emptive war and regime change around the globe; and thirdly, name-calling of sovereign nations almost giving notice for war by other means. As these principles of American foreign policy unfolded, dismay was natural around the world as also among certain sections in the USA itself. President Bush and his team remained steadfast to these symbols of new imperialism. This was also an assertion that the USA was prepared to take on the world to remain the single superpower and thwart any bid by others to enter into competition. Henry Kissinger could still say that world order was in flux. This was possibly invitation for the Bush team to mould it to American design. Will the Democratic Party openly resile from these new tenets of foreign policy? Will it espouse the principles of equity and equality as the basis for displaying the will of the “world community” than has been the trend in the last six years? They did not try even to moderate the rhetoric, much less oppose it, in the so called globalising world. Globalising, as Soros noted a few years ago, implied Americanising. In its core, the Democratic Presidency earlier was no better except for not expressing itself in evangelical language as President Bush has done.

In the area of foreign economic policy, President Bush did nothing to bring the Congress around to a more sympathetic global regime to ameliorate life in the developing world. Its sight was focused on bending the emerging market economies to conform in the interest of American designs. The WTO’s Doha Round, according to its Director General Pascal Lamy, has almost collapsed with little hope of its revival. The USA is the principal hurdle. Both the USA and EEC have domestic reasons not to move ahead on reducing agricultural subsidy making life easier for the developing countries in global competition. The EEC moved a little but not the USA. As one US academic noted during the 1980s itself, agriculture was part of US strategic policy. American agriculture is not as competitive as is normally made out to be despite its technological advantage and its large landmass. It supports the life-style of just about three per cent of its population. But it needs huge subsidies in a variety of ways to sustain it. President Bush has pushed these subsidies to a higher level during his tenure rather than taking steps to scale it down to a globally competitive level. Trade in services is another area of contention. The USA has advantages already but it would like that to be further enhanced. Finally, while the USA preached peace to others, it did not dare to reduce its own expenditure on armaments or control the growth of the international arms bazaar. The USA is the main proliferator of arms that find their way to the terrorist groups as well. The US arms industry is the mainstay of its global military might. Let it be recalled that the Taliban in Afghanistan built its strength on the basis of left-over American arms brought to quell the then USSR’s influence/control over Afghanistan. The USA has no hesitation in competing with China to arm Pakistan beyond its domestic needs despite claims of a new found love for strategic partnership with India! It is well known that Pakistan arms itself for parity with India and its policy is to contain India through its two principal alliances with the USA and China. Arms supply enters strongly in its calculation in its bilateral economic policy. The USA talks of globalisation but it is subject to US domestic laws that need not necessarily conform to global agreements.

This election has no significance for critical global interests. It was fought really on domestic issues with the emotive issue of the increasing deaths of American soldiers in Iraq being added on. What are those domestic issues that are central to American policy-making? First and foremost, in all critical areas policies must give to the public the impression of being bipartisan. The Bush Presidency overrode that principle. The Republican control over the Congress made the Congress seem subservient to the President above national interest. As time passed, its implication for authoritarianism in US politics dawned on the public. This vote is against that trend. Secondly, US politics functions on the basis of limited mandate of the three principal arms of the state. Limited mandate implies that the principle of checks and balances must operate for a congenial balance of power among the institutions of the state. This is unlike in the parliamentary system that operates on the basis of absolute mandate. The European system is midway but that is not in discussion. The Bush Presidency tried to convert in practice the spirit of the US Constitution to the design of a parliamentary system. This has evidently been disfavoured in this verdict. Thirdly, the Bush Presidency did not care to fully convince the public that it was strongly against political scandals. The defence contracts in Iraq were cornered by high level functionaries in the Bush team. Books were written about it with no impact. Fourthly, the US economy/ finances have not reverted to a virtuous cycle in the last six years. The fiscal deficit has mounted in contrast to a surplus that the administration inherited. Finally, a doubt was also created that all facts about national security were not shared even with the 9/11 Commission, not to speak of the public. That the US voters are much more alive to such critical domestic issues added to the doubt about the conduct of the Iraq war.

There is a message in the outcome. The US voter is swayed more by domestic rather than foreign policy issues. Foreign policy influences it but only in its domestic consequences such as the death of American soldiers or their long absence from home. It is a dress rehearsal for the Presidential election two years hence. Both the parties in the contest have been given the alert signal. It is insignificant in terms of individual country interests in their pet projects/agreements with the USA. Restoration of bipartisan principle will merit scrutiny but not denial of agreements. In the economic sphere, both parties have almost similar concerns and it is too early to see any change of course. The real interest is in watching the management of the American democratic processes that will shape the outcome of the Presidential election in 2008.

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