Magazine article The Spectator

Why We Want to See the Back of Bush

Magazine article The Spectator

Why We Want to See the Back of Bush

Article excerpt

The word 'hate' should be used cautiously, hut most British people seem to hate George W. Bush. The Spectator's YouGov poll this week - see panel opposite - suggests that only 11 per cent of British voters and about 13 per cent of MPs would welcome a Republican victory in the presidential election. A convincing 53 per cent say they would be either 'unhappy' or downright 'miserable' if the incumbent renews his tenancy of the White House.

There is exceptional British interest in this contest. About a quarter of poll respondents say they do not care about the outcome, but that leaves almost three quarters who profess to mind a good deal. There is no great enthusiasm for the challenger, simply a visceral belief that a world run by John Kerry would be a slightly less dangerous place.

Most of our rulers share this view. An overwhelming majority of MPs is rooting for Kerry, including apparently all the LibDems and Nationalists. The 71 Labour MPs who responded unanimously in favour of the Democrat do not include Tony Blair and his closest acolytes. For them, the departure of Bush would create wholly unwelcome uncertainties and embarrassments.

Yet who can be surprised by the Labour backbenchers' view? Politically, the Iraq engagement and its accompanying deceits have been a disaster for their party. These have gravely damaged confidence in their leader, and involved the government in an unpopular entanglement of which no end is in sight, and which must cost votes in a British general election.

Students of American domestic policy might express surprise that Labour MPs are so unimpressed by this US administration's profligacy, worthy of their own government. Bush has displayed a remarkable willingness to pour taxpayers' money into social programmes, some of a most unconservative kind. Since foreigners do not benefit from this largesse, however, and indeed are largely unaware of it, most Labour MPs judge Bush exclusively by his foreign policy.

The split among Tory MPs reported by YouGov seems to reflect reality in the party. We will leave aside the two flat-earthers who profess support respectively for Ralph Nader and A.N. Other. A solid body of Conservatives respects the clear direction of Bush's policies on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, as well as on taxation. Even some Tories dismayed by the administration's clumsy handling of Iraq are fearful that a Kerry presidency will prove a mandate for hesitancy and drift.

They would argue that, in the age of international terrorism, this is no time to change US leaders, to put the White House in the hands of a man who seems weak rather than open-minded, uncertain of his purposes rather than open to consultation with allies.

Yet only a small minority of the House of Commons espouses this view. Most British MPs, like the British public, perceive Bush as brash, ignorant, and recklessly simplistic in his assertion of American universalism. The distinguished American Cold War historian John Lewis Gaddis observed earlier this year, in his book on post-9/11 US policy, Surprise, Security and the American Experience: 'Within little more than a year and a half, the United States exchanged its long-established reputation as the principal stabiliser of the international system for one as its chief destabiliser. This was a heavy price to pay to sustain momentum [in 'the war against terror'], however great the need for it may have been . . . good strategists know when to stop shocking and awing.'

Here is the basis of the European animus towards Bush. The scepticism of most of our politicians, diplomats, intelligence and defence chiefs about the conduct of US foreign policy and the personal judgment of the President is endorsed by the man and woman in the street.

We know that terrorism, notably Islamic terrorism, poses a threat to Western security which is likely to persist for many years. Most thoughtful people believe that it must be addressed not by firepower but through a subtle blend of politics, diplomacy, intelligence, bribery, police work and special forces strikes. …

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