Al-Ahram Weekly Online   11 - 17 November 2004
Issue No. 716
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The Bush prophesy

Gamil Mattar* voices hopes, and fears, for the second Bush term

Whatever our feelings towards Bush we will not be spared the ramifications of his domestic and foreign policy. Nothing improved in the Arab world during his last four years in office -- not in Palestine, not in Iraq, or in any other country subject to US influence. But the future need not be a repetition of the past. President Bush and his colleagues can no longer take us by surprise anymore. We know who they are and what they are up to, and hopefully we will be able to contain the damage they are capable of inflicting.

Some Arab governments misjudged things, capitulating too far and too soon. Some succumbed to "fate", while secretly hoping that fate would last for four years only. Now there is another four years, perhaps even more should Bush alter US institutions irreversibly during his second term.

There is no point in anger or frustration. Such emotions can have no effect on US policy. Some Arabs wanted Bush to win. Some donated to his campaign and even voted for him. They will receive nothing in return. The Arabs were not an issue for either of the presidential candidates. The Democrats made their position on Arab issues clear the day Kerry announced his nomination. Over the past few months Bush has not made a single attempt to reassure Arab officials that things will improve were he to win a second term.

We hope that Bush and his associates will not do more of the same. We hope that they will not act arrogantly and aggressively, that they will not insist on interfering in Arab affairs, stifling all hope for the Palestinians to secure their rights and the Iraqis their stability. But unless we change our ways things are unlikely to get better.

The man who won the US elections is someone who lies and tells half-truths, has dodged military service and is ready to divide his own nation. He is a fear-monger who has started two regional wars in less than three years. He is loathed in most world capitals and has inflamed anti-US sentiments worldwide. And yet a majority, however modest, of Americans voted for him.

What do the Americans see in Bush? We have to use our eyes and minds, not our hearts, to find the answer. It is not in the interest of global stability for the nations of the world to continue to refuse to understand the US public that elected Bush. I am not suggesting that we should see eye to eye with the American public. But what we must do is to understand the American mood, for we will be dealing with it for at least four years, and quite possibly longer should Bush and his cronies have their way.

Bush's victory came as a shock -- simply look at the reactions in the European and Arab press. This shock is totally understandable, and is something we can use in our favour. Bush now has political capital and will use it in whatever way he sees fit. Likewise, we have a "capital" of sorts, a capital that has accumulated through US and Israeli policies of humiliation. Just as Bush may use his political capital for good or evil, we may use ours either way.

There is a likelihood that Bush may seek to improve the US image abroad and mend rifts in the Western alliance. Bush and his associates may tone down their arrogance if that will ensure European help on the global scene. Bush is likely to tone down the clash of civilisations rhetoric and alter policies accordingly, and he may try to extinguish the fires that have erupted in many parts of the world as a result of the confrontational approach his associates have adopted.

I would like to see Bush encourage dialogue and do something to prevent religious and racist extremists in Israel and the US from igniting conflicts in other parts of the world. In the same vein, I hope that Bush may use his immense political capital to mend the damage done by US initiatives concerning reform in the Middle East. Reform could have made great strides had it not coincided with a war in Iraq and a global war that unfolds on all fronts. Should the Bush administration continue to address the issue of reform in the Middle East in the same manner as before more time will be wasted. Bush and his administration have to think again. The way the Americans called for reform has added to existing obstacles. The public, and many rulers, are silently resisting the pressures to reform, particularly on religious matters.

The danger is that Bush will spend his political capital consolidating neo-conservative thinking and extremist policies. And if this happens it will be pointless for Arabs and Muslims, peoples and governments, to change their attitudes. If this happens Europe and China will remain alienated. The memory of Vietnam is still alive in Asia and Europe as much as in the US. During the Vietnam war Nixon and Kissinger thought that the best way out of Vietnam was to incinerate two of its neighbours, Cambodia and Laos. With the US embroiled in Iraq with no exit strategy, the future is anybody's guess.

I fear that Bush's prophesy about a world divided between good and evil may come true. Bush has so far followed a foreign and domestic policy based on this black and white view of the world. This policy has divided the American people, turned the world against America, and created a three-way international alliance with Israel and Russia, an alliance based on expansionism and occupation. No one can call this alliance good, nor can anyone call the rest of the world evil.

* The writer is director of the Arab Centre for Development and Futuristic Research

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