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December 2004 - January 2005

Political News

America re-elects George Bush

by Sashanka Sekhar Banerjee

The polls that really mattered in the US Presidential elections of November 2, 2004 have finally spoken, revealing the secret. Belying most poll predictions - including exit polls which filled the air with the expectations of a Kerry win - from such eminent pollsters like Zogby, Gallup, Mori and others , some of whom were persistently predicting a neck and neck race ending up in a messy and litigation-ridden result, President George W Bush was re-elected as the President of the United States of America for a further term of four years. He scored 51 percent of the popular vote against his challenger Senator John Kerry who had to remain content with 48.5 percent. Bush won by a margin of 3.5 million popular votes. Out of 538 electoral votes, Bush secured 274, four more than the minimum of 270 required for a win. It was not a landslide majority but the victory was decisive and the win clear-cut. 10,000 lawyers were recruited by each side to contest claims of wrong-doing in the event of a tie. Fears that it will not be the people but the lawyers who will have the privilege of electing the President did not materialise. The campaign was long and bruising but the contest did not degenerate into an exchange of personal insults.

There were 10 crucial swing states on whose voting patterns depended the fate of the candidates. They included Ohio, Wisconsin, Florida, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota and New Mexico. The 20 electoral votes of Ohio gave Bush his final victory.

Predictions that the high turnout of 60 percent at the polling stations comprising young newly registered voters, blacks, Muslims, Hispanics and others drawn from the working class background – the traditional support base of the Democrats – would help Senator John Kerry, proved untrue. Kerry’s promise of a strong economy, a first class health care system for the less well off, job creation, better public school education, an attractive pension scheme, investments in science and discovery including stem-cell research failed to convert into winning votes for him.

A Harvard University professor of political science, Michael J. Sandel, lamented: The Democrats have ceded to the Republicans the monopoly on the moral and spiritual sources of American politics. They will not recover as a party until they again have candidates who can relate to those moral and spiritual yearnings and turn them to progressive purposes in domestic policy and foreign affairs.

Terror and economic threats were the twin themes of the election campaign of 2004. John Kerry found it hard to decide where the strength of popular feeling ran highest. George Bush suffered from no such doubt. His greatest strength was clarity of thought and purpose.

In his book entitled America Right or Wrong: an Anatomy of American Nationalism Anatol Lievan, formerly a columnist at The Times of London, tries to find answers to the question of why it was possible for the Bush Administration to extend the war on terrorism to Iraq and still retain the support of a majority of Americans. His answer: nationalism. American nationalism has complex roots. One part comprises evangelical conservatism of the so-called ‘White’ Southern States. It is characterised by self-doubt and defeatism. There is on the other hand the idealism of the “American Creed”: the set of great democratic, legal and individualistic beliefs on which the American State and the Constitution are founded. These contradictory impulses lie at the root of a sense of insecurity in parts of America today. The domestic anxieties which this feeling of defeat generates spills over into attitudes to the outside world with 64 percent of Americans believing, as in 2002, that the American way of life needs to be protected against foreign influences. 9/11 accentuated this sense of anxiety among large sections of American society. The fact is that Americans are far from comfortable with the war in Iraq, its planning and its execution. But many felt loyal to the President and were uneasy about changing horses in mid-stream. Anatol Lievan’s conclusion is that the policies adopted by the Bush Administration did not spring only from the convictions of George W. Bush, but were embedded in tradition.

Never before in history have the people of the US ousted a Commander-in-Chief from power in the midst of a war. George W. Bush was the beneficiary of that time-honoured tradition. His strong leadership in the ongoing War on Terror after 9/11 proved a winning strategy for him. President Bush, true to his style, pledged in his acceptance speech to pursue the War on Terror with unceasing commitment and forge ahead with stabilising Iraq and Afghanistan which would “advance freedoms” in these countries and allow US troops to return home with honour.

Senator John Kerry, withdrawing his eviction notice on Bush’s White House, conceded defeat in a tearful but a gracious statement made in Boston, his home-town, that he had genuinely expected to win and spoke of the desperate need for unity and healing the damaging divisions in the country.
Simon Jenkins, writing in The Times on November 4, 2004, said “America should offer a formal status to the ‘good loser’. Kerry, and not the victor, is the true glue of American democracy. It is the loser who declares peace”. Earlier in the head-to-head TV debates with Bush, Kerry had come out on the top looking all the way Presidential with an intellectual bearing and a statesmanlike composure. Yet he lost. He certainly needs to be rewarded.

More importantly, in the background of repeated failures to get its leader elected to the White House, the Democratic party need to undertake deep introspection and evolve effective ways to connect to the voters. It has to come down from its high horse of elitist left- liberalism and transform itself into a middle-of-the- road party with a mass appeal. It has a lot to learn from Tony Blair’s New Labour Party in Britain. The alternative is stark. It may reduce itself to being the natural party for the opposition benches for a long time to come. The person who should take the initiative in this direction should be no less than Hillary Clinton, if she is serious in running for the presidency in 2008.

In his victory speech President-elect George W Bush spoke of “one country, one constitution and one future that binds us all” and promised to reach out to all Americans including the people who had voted for his opponent.

The US is the last surviving superpower in the contemporary world, founded on the most advanced scientific and technological base, having global economic and military reach, with a GDP of USD 15 trillion (compare this to China’s USD 1.3 trillion and India’s USD 750 billion). What the US president does or does not do affects the lives of the people in the whole world. The unprecedented worldwide interest shown in this year’s US presidential election is a testimony to the importance of America to the rest of the world and an acknowledgement that the world outside the US has a stake in what goes on in America.

President Bush had started his first term in office with a handicap. Following from the confusion in counting popular votes in Florida in the 2000 presidential election, quite a few world leaders felt that Bush was a ‘minority’ President and therefore not quite deserving of high respect. This year’s election has given President Bush a convincing majority which may perceptibly change the attitudes of these nations towards him. Russia, India, China, Germany, France and the Muslim world, had one thing in common: they all opposed President Bush’s war in Iraq, although in varying degrees. The Muslim world particularly wanted John Kerry to win the 2004 US Presidential elections because they were uncomfortable with ‘Crusader’ Bush in power. There is now already a discernible trend at least among some of these nations to patch up their differences with the US under President George W Bush’s second watch. He is no more a minority President.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, welcoming the re-election of President Bush, said that the fight against terrorism must involve not only bringing democracy to Iraq but also renewed commitment to peace in the Middle East and alleviation of poverty in Africa. He exhorted European leaders to grasp the opportunity and work with America in pursuing these goals. He wants America and Europe to rebuild their traditional alliance afresh.

Bush won the 2004 presidential elections even without the benefit of having Osama bin Laden in US custody. President Bush had relied heavily on General Parvez Musharraf to capture the terrorist leader in time before November 2, 2004. The Pakistani president failed to deliver what was expected of him. Will there be a re-assessment in Washington of Pakistan’s position as the most trusted strategic ally of the US? Only President George W. Bush can answer that question.
One thing is certain. If Senator Kerry had won, it is quite possible that Osama bin Laden would have thought that he had achieved “regime change” in the US without doing a “Madrid” in the US. It could have created its own momentum of terrorist violence.

What does a second term for President Bush mean to India ?
President George W. Bush had presented a policy document to the US Congress in September 2002 entitled: The National Security Strategy of the United States of America. In this important foreign policy document India was described as a ‘growing world power’ with which the US has common strategic interests and noted that ‘the US has undertaken a transformation of its bilateral relationship with India based on a conviction that US interests require a strong relationship with India’. President Bush pointed out, “We are the two largest democracies committed to political freedoms protected by representative government. India is moving towards greater economic freedom and we have a common interest in the free flow of commerce including through the vital sea-lanes of the Indian Ocean”. The document concluded that “the US and India share a common interest in fighting terrorism and in creating a strategically stable Asia”.

After President Bush won a second term in White House, David Mulford, the US Ambassador in India said in Mumbai on November 4 that Indo-US ties will blossom with his re-election. He added that the US will not impose any more sanctions on India. The relationship is running at an all-time high and the best is yet to come.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh lost no time in conveying his warm congratulations to President George W. Bush on his re-election and extended India’s total support to the US-led war on religious extremism and terror. In a significant shift in policy on Iraq, the Indian PM offered to contribute to the election process in Iraq and went on to invite the US President to pay a state visit to India at a convenient date. Dr Manmohan Singh also hoped that the strategic relationship developing between India and the US will go from strength to strength under his second watch.

In line with his policy projection on India, President Bush lifted the technology-denial sanctions on India imposed by President Bill Clinton after the nuclear test on 1998. The controversy raised by Democratic candidate Senator John Kerry against outsourcing of service sector jobs to low-cost countries like India was in the main ignored by President Bush. His re-election produced wide-spread jubilation in the IT and other related sectors of the Indian industry. According to US Embassy sources in New Delhi, 150,000 to 200,000 jobs are outsourced to India from the US every year.

Senator Kerry had warned India that if New Delhi wanted a permanent seat in the Security Council of the UN, it would have to sign the NPT as a first pre-condition before it could expect support from the US. While it is true that President Bush has not so far given any public commitment of support to India on this issue, he has refrained from placing any conditions, which arguably augurs well for India.

A matter which must be of some concern to India is that both Bush and Kerry had emphasised the need to accord the highest priority to “Counter-proliferation”. This is just another name for non-proliferation of nuclear material and technology, except that it is strengthened by a proactive and coercive thrust. Measures such as technology denials, threats of economic sanctions, cut-off of capital flows combined with blandishments of a UN Security Council seat or a place at the high table at the G8 Summits are some of the carrot-and-stick policies that could be employed to put pressure on India on non-proliferation issues.

Already there are indications that India’s nuclear force has been frozen below the thresholds where it could pose a strategic threat to the US. Which means India may not be allowed to build ICBMs and in return the US will not place India under watch for WMDs. It is a cosy quid pro quo.
Strobe Talbot, former US Deputy Secretary of State who served under President Clinton, in his recent book Engaging India has claimed that under Atal Behari Vajpayee, India had agreed to a “Strategic Restraint Regime” which capped India’s nuclear force and weapons programme, limiting its capability adequate enough to serve as deterrents against China and Pakistan but not threaten the US. Talbot warned India that it should not be over-optimistic about securing super-high-technology from the US except up to certain limits. It seems to me that Talbot is speaking out of turn on this issue.

Technology denial regimes imposed by the US in the past have created problems for India’s advancement in science and technology. Ironically such denials have also benefited India helping it to develop its own indigenous technology particularly in defence-related areas. India is already a partner of the US-formulated extension of the NPT (Nuclear non-Proliferation Treaty) called PSI (Proliferation Security Initiative). It is an important building block in the developing strategic relationship between the two nations. Shipping on high seas, maritime ports, airlines and airports will be open to intrusive inspections at any time. The aim is to reduce the risk of WMDs falling in wrong hands.

The full version of this article is available in the print edition.

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