Finally, some good news for the planet. President Bush is so unpopular at home that this is hampering his effectiveness abroad.
A recent poll conducted earlier this month has Bush’s popularity at the lowest of any president at a comparable stage in the presidency since Richard Nixon was mired in Watergate. (And we all know how that story ended.) Bush is performing badly even on his previous strong suits, such as the war on terror and his own integrity.
Leaders and populations in other countries pay attention to domestic happenings in the United States, and have been quick to grasp his unenviable situation. Not that he was ever very well liked globally, but people were forced to pay heed to him for a period after his reelection. Now all of that has dissipated, and for the better.
Most visibly, Bush’s plan for a hemisphere-wide free trade deal met with disaster during his trip to Argentina, both at the official and the public level. Not just Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, but even host Argentinian President Nestor Kirchner was openly disdainful of Bush’s agenda. To make matters worse, a supposed ally like Mexican President Vicente Fox appeared dismissive when asked about why he didn’t meet Bush. “He wasn't interested, and I wasn't either,” he remarked.
But this isn’t the only setback the Bush Administration has recently received. It has not managed to cajole the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer Iran’s case to the U.N. Security Council, which Bush would need to legitimize any form of U.S. military action targeting the country’s nuclear program. It has faced problems in its talks with North Korea. And differences have cropped up with Europe in even something relatively minor such as who will administer the Internet.
What does all this portend?
First, the Bush Administration’s weakness will quite surely act as a further brake on its bellicosity. Certainly, global resistance to the Iraq War didn’t deter it from launching an invasion, but, remember, this was in the pre-sub-40-percent-ratings era.
Second, international skepticism will also serve to restrain Bush’s global economic agenda. His domestic unpopularity has made the chances even slimmer during his current trip to East Asia that he will be able to strong-arm countries to shape their economies in accordance with the preferences of the United States.
“Bush is preoccupied with Iraq; he is preoccupied with Afghanistan, with the war on terror. He is preoccupied with his White House difficulties as well as collapsing poll numbers and alarm among his partisans in the Republican Party who desperately want a new direction,” remarks John Tkacik of the Heritage Foundation.
And, taking a broader view, Bush’s domestic vulnerability will curb his unilateralism. From the moment his Administration has assumed office, one of its hallmarks has been to tear up international agreements, be it the ABM Treaty, the Bioweapons Convention, or the Kyoto Protocol. Maybe the knowledge that the American people are tired of its shenanigans will make it less prone to do this sort of thing and more willing to try the path of international cooperation.
One can only hope.
Amitabh Pal is the Managing Editor of The Progressive.
© 2005 The Progressive