Montag, 19. Januar 2009

George W. Bush`s dismal legacy

There might still be some pig-headed neocons und religious fundamentalists in the United States and Europe who think George W. Bush was a good president. But the vast majority of Americans und the rest of the world have long made up their minds: Bush was a terrible president and the worst one can think of. 9/11 was the watershed of his presidency. Bush did not only started an indefinite „war on terror“ against Afghanistan and Iraq but also repealed major democratic rights through the „Patriot act“. His foreign policy created international chaos and led the US into a mess. Domestically, the economy of the country lies in ruins. Bush´s presidency was “faith-based”. His cabinett lacked any “high-powered brains”. Bush was guided and strongly influenced by his Vice-President Dick Cheney who was the strongest member of his team. With all his shortcomings Bush did something good for Africa, where he lauchned a 15 Billion Dollar anti-Aids programme. At least, he maintained good relations to Japan and India.

The election of Barack Hussein Obama was heralded as the coming of a messiah. To heal the wounds, correct the political mistakes, and restore the faith in US foreign policy may take some years. Gripped by Obamamania, Europeans think Obama is a left-wing liberal. According to American standards he is centre-right. What he should immediately do is suggested by Elizabeth Holtzman in “The Nation”: “President Obama, on his first day in office, can make a number of changes that will mark a clean break with the Bush presidency. He can, and should, issue an executive order revoking any prior order that permits detainee mistreatment by any government agency. He should begin the process of closing Guantánamo, and he should submit to Congress a bill to end the use of military commissions, at least as presently constituted. Over the coming months he can pursue other reforms to restore respect for the Constitution, such as revising the Patriot Act, abolishing secret prisons and "extraordinary rendition," and ending practices, like signing statements, that seek to undo laws.” According to her, the United States just cannot move on as if nothing happened. She cites law professor Dawn Johnson from Indiana University: “We must avoid any temptation simply to move on. We must instead be honest with ourselves and the world as we condemn our nation's past transgressions and reject Bush's corruption of our American ideals.” Bush and other members of his administration should be held accountable. Since when are good intentions a defense to a criminal prosecution? David Cole writes in “The New York Review of books: “The United States has never taken full responsibility for the crimes its high-level officials committed and authorized. That is unacceptable. In the long run, the best insurance against cruelty and torture becoming US policy again is a formal recognition that what we did after September 11 was wrong—as a normative, moral, and legal matter, not just as a tactical issue. Such an acknowledgment need not take the form of a criminal prosecution; but it must take some official form.”

The expectations of the Europeans were formulated by the British foreign secretary David Miliband. He sets the right tone in the British Daily “The Guardian” when he called for an end of the “war on terror” because it caused more harm than good. And called upon the United States to take note of a democratic implicitness when he wrote: “We must respond to terrorism by championing the rule of law, not subordinating it, for it is the cornerstone of the democratic society. We must uphold our commitments to human rights and civil liberties at home and abroad. That is surely the lesson of Guantánamo and it is why we welcome President-elect Obama's commitment to close it.” The US-President should close Gitmo at once, transfer the 250 inmates to the United States and put them on trial before regular and not “Kangaroo courts”, so that Justice can take its course. But if they did not commit any crime, they cannot either be tried. Thus they have to be released and compensated for innocently being kept imprisoned for seven years.

But what about the 700 inmates at the U. S. air base in Bagram/Afghanistan? Or the detainees held in Iraq? These prisoners have no right to see a lawyer, nor an opportunity to review the evidence against them. Former detainees stated that they had now idea why they were detained, nor why they were later released. For all of them there is neither a rule of law, nor a due process. Instead of closing the prison camp in Bagram the U. S. is expending it to a capacity of 1.100 inmates. The public should not focus only on Gitmo but also on the camps in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Robert Dreyfuss in “The Nation” gives three reasons for ending the “war on terror”. Obama can declare victory against Al Qaeda. The organization is “dead and buried”. No other than Dell Dailey, the State Department's counterterrorism coordinator, said: "We see Al Qaeda, in a centralized role, (as being) totally controlled. Bin Laden can't get an operational effort off the ground without it being detected ahead of time and being thwarted. Their ability to reach is nonexistent." Secondly, the United States should play according to democratic rules. Thirdly, Obama´s administration should talk to all Middle Eastern actors except al Qaeda.

To get rid of Bush´s dismal legacy the Obama administration should abandon major aspects of Bush´s perception – self-sufficiency, unilateralism and pre-emption. Hegemony and nationalism are outdated concepts. The new administration has to rely more on diplomacy (soft power) than on military means in order to get its way. The ideological obsessions and the neconservatives concepts of enemies must be abolished. This holds true especially for the Middle East and towards the Muslim world. Eight years of Bush´s foreign policy has been a great disaster for American interests in the Islamic world. Obama has to meet the Muslim world with respect and dignity. The crusade against them must be over. Nobody knows Obama´s concerns. So far, his talk about change was nebulous. Fundamental change must come in fields like the environment, the economy, the foreign policy, the rule of law, and the liberalisation of the political rhetoric. But viewing Obama´s political personnel there will only be little hope for a radical change in U. S. foreign policy. What is sure is that there will be a change in rhetoric and style.