Is This the Most Dangerous Man in the World? ; George W Bush Poses the Greatest Threat to Global Stability since Reagan, Argues Andrew Gumbel
Gumbel, Andrew, The Independent (London, England)
The last time the wider world was quite this appalled by the actions and policy agenda of a new American president, international relations were buried deep in the Manichean logic of the Cold War, the postwar consensus on the welfare state was about to blow apart and market-driven greed, that defining characteristic of the Eighties, was well on its way to being considered good.
The new president then was, of course, Ronald Reagan, a man who unveiled himself to the world by denouncing the Soviet Union as an "evil empire", laboured under the misconception that nuclear missiles could be recalled once they had been launched, and cracked jokes into open microphones that "the bombing begins in five minutes".
Reagan looked like terrible news all round. He bumbled. He couldn't get his facts straight. He was virulently anti-communist. He was so in thrall to the religious right that his secretary of the interior, James Watt, argued in public that there was nothing wrong with ravaging the environment since the end of the world was nigh anyway.
And yet things didn't work out quite as badly as some people feared. Granted, Reagan sponsored a succession of bloody wars in central America, pounded Libya and Grenada, propped up violent and corrupt dictatorships across the Third World, and ratcheted up military spending so far that it created massive deficits and knocked the world financial system for a loop, largely to the detriment of developing countries.
But at least he didn't blow us all up. In fact, he and Mikhail Gorbachev came within a hair of agreeing on the destruction of whole classes of nuclear weapons in Reykjavik in 1985 and created sufficient detente between East and West that, when the communist regimes of eastern Europe collapsed a year after Reagan left office, they did so peacefully.
Now comes the new bogeyman, in the form of George W Bush. To the protesters massing outside the G8 summit in Genoa this weekend, as well as quite a few commentators in European capitals, the new President is as bad as Reagan, and possibly even worse. He has been in office barely six months, and already wants to rip up the landmark Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty - the cornerstone of all arms- control negotiations during the Cold War and since - so that he can build the "star wars" defensive missile shield that Reagan flirted with and ultimately rejected. And he has reneged on the United States' commitment to halt global warming by rejecting the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on emissions reduction.
With his dogged "America first" attitude and refusal even to broach discussion on the key planks of his foreign and security policy, he has antagonised just about every major player on the international stage - Russia, China, France and the rest of the European Union - as well as a number of smaller, potentially threatening countries such as North Korea. Like Reagan, Bush seems woefully underprepared for the rigours of high office. He, too, bumbles, and makes train-wrecks of the English language. He, too, owes much of his grassroots support to gun lobbyists, religious conservatives, polluting industries and defence contractors.
But, unlike Reagan, Bush can't claim to be acting on a popular mandate. In fact, there is still considerable argument over the legitimacy of his rise to power following last November's nail- biting presidential election and the 36-day recount battle in Florida that followed. Having waged a centrist campaign, the sharp veer to the right he has taken on every aspect of policy, from environmental protection to military spending, has struck many people, both inside America and outside, as a betrayal of the voters' trust.
There is a blitheness and arrogance about this new White House - another striking departure from the Reagan style - that has touched a particularly raw nerve. The Bush administration has ignored repeated warnings from scientists that a missile defence system can never work; yet the immense logistical and strategic problems are apparently no obstacle to pumping hundreds of billions of dollars into the pockets of defence contractors over the next several years. …