Four More Bush Years:
What Exciting Opportunities!
PressInfo # 201, November 11, 2004, By Jan Oberg, TFF director*
This is a follow-up to PressInfo 200.
With some dialectical thinking, four more years with George W. Bush at the helm of the United States Empire may turn out to be a great opportunity for something new and better to emerge. In the ying-yang of crisis, there is both suffering in the old and seeds of visions about the new. And suffering there will be the next four years; none of the arguments below ignore that. However, the one who despairs too much over Bush's re-election may contribute more to suffering than to realising the positive potentials we have at hand. Let's at least try to roll up our sleeves now.
1. Criticism and protests without constructive alternatives is a waste of energy
One lesson to be learnt from the most recent wars, the war on terrorism and the re-election of Mr. Bush is that it is not enough to protest and criticise; there has to be what Gandhi called a constructive program too. See TFF PressInfo 200 for further argument. There has to be well-informed alternatives by civil society organisations and governments critical of US policies that build on knowledge as well as new ideas and goals combined with some creative strategy for action. The next four years cannot be devoted to marches against this war today and that war tomorrow and to anti-globalisation; civil society energies must be directed toward answering the overarching question: if we don't want that, what do we want instead and how are we going to get there?
It will require more study circles, courses, training and dialogue than marches to achieve that! It will take hearts - ethics, values and hopes; it will take brains - i.e. education, theoretical understanding, clear concepts and rational planning of action; and it will take muscles - the courage to think, speak and act non-violently not against the U.S. or some issue but for the "damned of the earth" and new ways.
2. We know enough about the U.S. administration to work on changes from today
We know now what values, leadership style and violence-based policies we may come to witness ahead. We have the basics of the President's character and beliefs, among them that he is operating on the mandate of God. The good thing is that we do not have to spend time guessing and experiencing the way we would with a new administration in Washington. Some believe, hope or have to say that in Bush's second term, we may see more multilateralism and more co-operation. Nothing speaks for that prediction; it's wishful thinking. On the contrary, the stronger mandate he has now may place risk-taking and hubris even more in the foreground of his administration.
3. It won't be possible for decent governments to stand idly behind the U.S.
This is written while Falluja is being destroyed, the 14th year of destruction of the Iraqi people and their society. Decent government leaders will find it more and more difficult to openly or tacitly support or defend US foreign policy in general and interventionism and war-fighting in particular. Internal opposition in, say, Europe and the Arab world will put many government in a squeeze. The sheer lack of legitimacy and support will drive more and more policy-makers to think in terms of new alliances and of standing more on their own legs. Counter currents will emerge slowly but surely. Where such decency does not exist, there may be a rising terror threat - and that will eventually force change, although perhaps only after terrible suffering and loss of many lives. Thus, there may be other military action but a new occupation modelled upon Iraq won't happen.
4. Pro-action will substitute re-action to Washington's policies.
The convenient and intellectually lazy policy of wait-and-see what the Americans think and do in a particular situation and then positioning one's own country as a re-action to that, would sooner or later have to give way to a much more pro-active policy: we are willing to listen to Washington, but we develop our own views and policies pro-actively. The future is about dialogue between us, about pluralism and not about disciplined submission. The more countries that begin to stand on their own feet, the more balance there will be in the global order. Thus, no country should sit and wait to see what the U.S. will do vis-à-vis North Korea, Iran, Syria or some other actors; everyone, the EU in particular, should develop their own policies and get engaged in peaceful conflict-management and genuine, creative diplomacy. France and Germany cannot in the future, like in the case of Iraq, just say "no" to war and lack every alternative to it.
5. This is a tremendous opportunity for the European Union.
The EU, in particular, should be able to grasp the opportunity now. There is no way it will be able to match the U.S. in military terms. The only alternative the EU has is to get its foreign and security policy acts together - but not necessarily as one uniform policy dominated by the few big, but as flexible alliances and co-operative schemes among shifting groups of members. The EU could easily become much more attractive in the eyes of actors in the Middle East, Russia, Central Asia and Asia as well as Africa; it will depend on the extent that it becomes the credible "soft power" conflict-manager, the mediator, the organisation with well-trained dialogue experts and better analyses/diagnoses of world event and solutions to conflicts. In short, offering to the world what the U.S. doesn't offer.
The comparative advantage of the EU is potentially huge, proportionate in the eyes of the rest of the world to Washington's destruction of every potential for a legally based and just world order. Spending much more on reconstruction, reconciliation, humanitarian aid and civil conflict-management before, during and after the U.S. has ravaged the place will help the millions and make everyone see the difference!
The EU is strong in political, economic, social and cultural dimensions of power, whereas the U.S. is only strong militarily and declining on the other four dimensions. If the EU does not exploit this historic opportunity in which the great majority of the world's people strongly look for alternatives to the U.S. Empire, the EU itself hardly has a great future in the world system.
Like the U.S. won independence from Europe, it is now time for the Europeans to do the same politically and, above all, intellectually. There should be fewer Americanised brains in the European ministries of foreign affairs in the future - and a little more intellectual and ethical self-confidence and collective self-reliance, a little more compassion for the world as a whole.
The objective opportunities seem better than ever since 1945. So, be open to co-operate with the U.S. when in Europe's interest, but don't be submissive; stop believing in the Father figure, follow the example of the East Europeans who liberated themselves from their paternalistic ghosts some 15 years ago.
In summary, it is not anti-American, it is pro-everything and everybody else. It is liberation and thinking with indigenous minds, throwing off the yoke of security intellectual and other types of submissiveness and obedience.
6. No more proofs are needed: violent conflict-management is a disaster.
Both under Clinton and under the Bushes, the U.S. has practised violent conflict-management. What's left behind is a chain of fiascos and chaotic non-peace situations; the catchwords are Croatia, Bosnia, Kosovo/a, Serbia, Macedonia, Somalia, Afghanistan and, for everyone to see so sadly, now Iraq. People with little conflict literacy and a high degree of U.S. loyalty usually argue that the bombing of these places came too late or there was too little of it. Others, including score of TFF Associates, have argued long before the military actions took place that these conflicts were not of the type that could be solved - or peace emerge - by those types of military policies which, in addition, also lacked coherent strategies for the post-bombing, post-war situation. Neither was there any decent exit strategy that benefited the people living in these troubled areas.
So we are in a very fortunate situation: nobody in touch with reality (in contrast to virtual-media reality) on the ground in these places have the slightest doubt that the militarized interventionist and culturally insensitive U.S. style of conflict-management has been tested enough now to be found hopelessly counterproductive. The locals know it, the internationals there know it, the NGOs working there know it and some high-level diplomats and UN people who have been on the ground for a month - they all know it. It's only the decision-makers, the advisers in the offices of the prime ministers, the ministries of foreign affairs and the media who still don't seem to know it.
7. The great potentials of non-violence, peace by peaceful means, is right in front of our eyes.
Point 6 was a negative conclusion. Its positive side is that a huge potential for non-violent political, diplomatic, psychological, social, ecological and cultural conflict-management emerging. As a matter of fact, and pointed out repeatedly be Jonathan Schell in his seminal 400-plus page book, The Unconquerable World, there are a few things we now know about violence. For instance, we know that due to the fact that nuclear weapons, if used, could wipe out the human race several times over and destroy the earth, there cannot exist any political motives that can be furthered by their use.
Two, the changes that have worked better are those undertaken with peaceful means. Says Schell, "The English, the American, the French, the German, and the Indian revolutions all demonstrated the power of people to enervate and paralyze a regime by withdrawing support from it while at the same time building up parallel organisations." (p. 185).
Later on in his very comprehensive expose, Schell goes through the cases of the overthrow of the Greek junta in 1974, the fall of Portugal which was the last European empire in Africa, the democratization in Spain from 1975, following Franco's death. In South America in the 1980s, generals surrendered power in Argentina, Brazil and Chile. Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines disappeared in 1986, South Korea's autocracy in 1988, Indonesia's Suharto fell in 1990, a strong opposition against the mullahs in Iran developed, in 2001 over 70 years of unbroken rule by the Mexican People's Revolutionary Party was broken by the people, Milosevic fell in October the same year and Georgia's Shevardnadze in 2003. South Africa's experience - everybody had predicted terrible bloodshed - went through transition by means of trust building, reconciliation and a truth and reconciliation commission.
All this has worked, more or less, and much better than civil wars and military interventions or imperial warfare. Souls have been healed, democracies were given a chance, as was peace. Not so in the places we mentioned above in the 1990s where foreign military intervention was the main tool employed to stop wars and create peace.
It's time to see now that there is only one measure against four more years of militarist, imperial Bush policies: to criticise it less and point much more than hitherto to the efficiency and decency, the healing and freedom potential of people's mobilisation without weapons in their hands.
In short, there is so much reason for hope - if people, media and decision-makers could only see it. One basic reason they can't is their blinding loyalty with a sinking empire - that of the United States. Peace education, civic education, skills training in international affairs and civil conflict-management may turn out to be the most powerful tools we have.
8. Have patience - empires don't last forever. The US displays weakness in Iraq.
There are general, historical reasons why empires go down. Some are: militarization, overextension, i.e. trying to control too much at to many places; decreasing legitimacy in the eyes of everybody else; economic exhaustion; a perverted belief that everybody else should do things the only way, the way we do them, i.e. diminishing tolerance of pluralism and, as time goes by, an ever increasing inability to listen and learn from anyone else - and from one's own mistakes. In short, intellectual and moral stagnation, inflexibility, monolithic policy, self-aggrandizement and megalomania - series of cover-ups of the fact that the Empire is but an illusion.
It can be argued that the United States is moving rapidly in this general direction. (TFF xxxx) If so, four more years with George W. Bush will speed up the process - i.e. bring about the end of the Empire faster than would otherwise be the case.
So, while the U.S. is being weakened from within due to its drift toward exhausting, uncontrolled Empire and potential fascism, it will also be weakened from outside, by the rest of the world becoming more independent and less fearful and obedient of the Empire. One of the most important lessons to learn from the last 40-50 years of warfare is that big, technologically powerful countries with low morale and bad motives lose wars to smaller, less technologically and sometimes more moral countries: US to Vietnam, the Soviet Union to Afghanistan, Serbia to other republics, and now the U.S. the U.K. and others in Iraq.
The U.S. is history's strongest military actor, it's obsession with threats is greater than anyone else on earth, it is hated by more than others, isolating itself from its friends and destroying within what made the U.S. so attractive for people around the world. Somebody must draw the conclusions from that…
9. Boycott the U.S. economically
One such weakening factor, indeed a major one, would be a global economic boycott of the U.S. economy - first consumer goods, then successively capital goods and flows, loans and credits, U.S. dominated economic institutions, investments in and selling to the American market, stop granting the U.S. loans to finance its wars, stop travelling to the U.S. etc.
Such economic protests would be much more efficient than street demonstrations against U.S. foreign policy and would benefit the emergence of new economic relations crisscrossing the world. However, as with all other embargos, solutions must be found so the poor segments of the American society are not hurt.
"Now the rejection of American foreign policy is translating into a rejection of products with U.S. brand names. Europeans are in effect holding an economic referendum on U.S. foreign policy, voting with their pocketbooks. The effect of this can be seen in the third quarter earnings reports now coming out for several leading U.S. corporations.
Worldwide, eight of the ten leading product brands are American. More than half the sales of each of these brands are outside of the United States. John Quelch, professor at the Harvard Business School, says, "A deepening opposition to American foreign policy is threatening the long-term strength of these brands."
The Financial Times reports that some of the world's strongest consumer brands, like Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and Gap, are being hit hard. Coca-Cola sales in Germany dropped 16 percent from the similar period last year and the company is writing off $392 million "to reflect impaired business assets there."
McDonald's, a corporation with a remarkable historical growth record, has seen its sales come to a near standstill across Europe. Gap has pulled out of Germany entirely, a move that has helped to reduce its international sales by 10 percent. Falling attendance at Disney's theme park outside Paris dropped revenues to where it had to be rescued by its parent company. Wal-Mart, the world's most successful retailer, is facing heavy losses in Germany, which is the world's third largest economy after the United States and Japan.
Sales of automobiles made by GM and Ford are also suffering in Europe. With losses of $236 million in the region, GM is laying off 12,000 workers in Germany. Ford may soon follow with layoffs.
Not wanting to feed the anti-American backlash, companies typically blame economic conditions for their declining sales, but the International Monetary Fund estimated in September that Germany's economic growth this year would be 2 percent, a much better performance than its negative growth last year. In France, another country where U.S. products are taking a beating, growth is projected at 2.6 percent, compared with 0.5 percent a year ago.
The decline in sales and earnings of U.S. companies abroad is most evident with the leading name brands cited earlier, but the acceptance of U.S. brand products is declining across the board. Other well-known brands where consumer approval abroad is declining include Microsoft, Nike, and Yahoo. But much more is at stake than name brands. The economic fate of thousands of U.S. companies operating internationally will be affected.
The indirect effect of the Iraq war on the U.S. economy may soon become a major issue. Quelch shares this thinking, noting that, "the cost to the American economy could be far greater than the cost of the war."
If continued and strengthened over time, your personal boycott of American products could well be the most important single form of protest against U.S. foreign policy, its militarism and imperialism. And it's a global citizens democratic alternative to the UN Security Council; that body could never decide about sanctions because at least the United States itself, one of its five permanent members, would veto it.
But George Bush has no way to force you and I to buy American products. We have gigantic powers to express our solidarity with the rest of the world now by a worldwide economic boycott of the U.S. - but no longer than until it begins withdrawing its military from around the world and withdraws from its bases and wars. The action, again, must not be anti-American, but anti- the specific destructiveness of its foreign and security policy. And that means its nuclear weapons too.
* I am grateful to TFF Associate Johan Galtung for inspiring certain points of this PressInfo.
© TFF and the author 2004