THE REPUBLICAN CONVENTION; What Four More Years of George Bush as President Would Mean for the Rest of Us ; Tony Blair Seems to Be the Only Member of His Own Government Who Would like to See Bush Re-Elected

By Cook, Robin | The Independent (London, England), September 3, 2004 | Go to article overview
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THE REPUBLICAN CONVENTION; What Four More Years of George Bush as President Would Mean for the Rest of Us ; Tony Blair Seems to Be the Only Member of His Own Government Who Would like to See Bush Re-Elected


Cook, Robin, The Independent (London, England)


You have to admire the sheer cheek of the Bush image-makers. President Bush may have been a divisive, confrontational president for the past four years, but the Republican convention has confirmed that for the next eight weeks he is to be promoted as a candidate of inclusion and reconciliation. As a marketing strategy, it is more daring than any raid ever undertaken by the Pentagon's special forces.

This pitch has a couple of obvious problems. Last time round it was easier to sell George Bush as compassionate, as there was no record against which to check the sales language. This time there is the awkward problem of finding any basis in his conduct in office upon which to build a case that he cares about social inclusion.

The other problem with presenting the Bush administration as a force for reconciliation is the continuing presence of Dick Cheney. The Vice President is so little into the politics of forgiveness and understanding that as a congressman he was one of only a handful who voted against calling for Nelson Mandela to be released from prison. His speech to the Republican convention was classic confrontational politics, in which John Kerry came in for a typical Cheney assault and battery for being soft on the security of America. Objective observers might find this line of attack particularly rich, as John Kerry famously did serve in Vietnam while Dick Cheney solicited five successive student deferments to avoid the draft, but the Vice President is so armoured by ideological certitude that no moment of self-doubt can penetrate it.

There are some who detect in the Bush administration a learning curve on international relations. Iraq has certainly exposed the limits of unilateralism and the penalty for failure to build international consensus. It is much less clear that the White House has modified its foreign policy in response to that painful lesson.

Revealingly, the most pointed attack by Dick Cheney on Kerry's position was to criticise his call for America to rebuild ties with its allies, "as if the whole object of our foreign policy were to please a few persistent critics". One of the loudest bouts of booing that Cheney elicited from Republican delegates was when he caricatured Kerry for wanting to give more weight to the UN. No sign there that a Bush-Cheney team would be any more multilateralist second time round. Indeed, the only guaranteed change in a second Bush administration is that Colin Powell, its only convinced multilateralist, will have given up the unequal struggle to keep the White House in touch with international reality and left the administration.

However tough it may be to present George Bush as a healer and carer, it has to be a more attractive electoral message than the truth that he has divided Americans and isolated America. There must be a risk that it might just work. While praying for a Kerry victory, the rest of the globe needs to be prepared for the survival of Bush.

No doubt in-trays in Downing Street are full of plans for the eventuality of a Bush re-election. Tony Blair appears to be the only member of his own government who still would like to see it happen. At one level his preference is understandable. His prime motivation in cajoling and misleading Britain into Iraq was to convince George Bush that his closest ally and friend was Tony Blair. As this was a calculation based on the assumption that Bush would be there for a decade, it must be galling for Tony Blair now to contemplate the loss of a personal relationship with the White House bought at such enormous cost in political controversy in Britain.

There would, though, be no excuse for Tony Blair having failed to apply the lesson from the comprehensive failure of the strategy of seeking private influence over Bush in return for fulsome support.

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