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Bush Presidency bodes ill for the South

by Martin Khor

Penang, 19 Dec 2000 -- And so, after five weeks of extraordinary political and legal wrangling, George W. Bush has been ‘elected’ by the electoral college as the next United States President.  From obsessive analysis of what the Bush-Gore fight has meant for American democracy, the focus has now shifted to what kind of policies Bush will institute during his term.

While the tenuous Republican control over a deeply divided Congress, may put some curbs on the Bush presidency, in many areas of policy towards outside world, the power of the executive to initiate or block actions may be considerable and could have a negative impact on the rest of the world, especially the South.

The popular wisdom has been that there isn’t much difference between Bush and Al Gore. So a Bush Presidency may not bring any big changes compared to the Clinton years.

However, there are at least three aspects on which the developing world should be concerned about.

Firstly, Bush is likely to be aggressively against environmental issues or interests. That bodes ill for the future of international cooperation on environment and development. This is unfortunate, especially since another major UN Summit on the Environment (dubbed Rio Plus 10) is scheduled in 2002.

It is true that Gore himself has been a big disappointment; after sounding the warning bells on the need to act on ecology in his book “Earth in the Balance”, he achieved little or nothing for the environment as Vice President.

And the United States in the last eight years has been a stumbling block to good global environmental agreements. At the Hague last month, US refusal to do more domestically to reduce carbon dioxide emissions sank the Climate Change Convention’s attempt to operationalise the Kyoto Protocol.

The US had also opposed an international biosafety protocol, and when it could not stop one, worked very hard to water down important provisions.

If the US performance under Clinton in these areas was bad, the policies of a Bush administration will probably be worse. It is expected to try to dilute existing environmental laws domestically, attempt to limit the implementation of existing global treaties and block new global initiatives to save the environment.

When Bush’s father was President, he had fought to ensure that major structural issues (such as the need to regulate transnational corporations and the need to change wasteful consumption patterns), were deleted or watered down from the declaration and action plan of the Earth Summit of 1992.  “Our lifestyles are not up for negotiation” was his famous response to the initiatives to have the rich countries review their wasteful consumption of world resources.

When attempts were made to reduce deforestation, Bush Senior again resisted them with the infamous remark that logging the forests actually helped to increase biodiversity.

Bush Junior as the new President is expected to challenge the need for the US to cut its emissions of Greenhouse gases, perhaps even questioning the scientific evidence of climate change, thereby making it even more difficult (or impossible) to have an internationally agreed response to combat climate change.

This would be devastating, because many scientists believe that climate change is the most important environmental problem.  It requires a drastic cut in emissions today to even begin to have an impact on stopping the rate of global warming many years down the road.

It has already proved most difficult to get the developed countries to agree on even small (and inadequate) action.  With a Bush administration, any meaningful action at global level would be near impossible.

Secondly, Bush is expected to usher in as his top administrators and advisors people who are from or very close to big business.  According to a recent article in the London Sunday newspaper, The Observer, two of Bush’s prominent business supporters are Don Evans (the oil executive from Bush’s home state of Texas who was his presidential campaign chairman, and who represents the oil industry’s interests); and Richard Rainwater ( a billionaire with interests in oil companies and the health-care industry, and a contributor to the Bush campaign).

Big industry will be the biggest winner of the Bush victory.  Whilst a major assault was launched against the tobacco industry during the Clinton years (with hundreds of billions of dollars of law suits), Bush as Governor of Texas decreed it impossible for the civil lawsuit against tobacco companies to proceed in his state.

“The prospect of Clinton gone and a Bush presidency makes the tobacco industry almost giddy,” a tobacco industry analyst Martin Feldman was quoted as saying in The Observer.

This is bad news for consumers not only in the US but also the developing countries. The World Health Organisation is trying to set up a global treaty on tobacco control to prevent the promotion of tobacco to the developing world, which has now become the main victims of cigarette-related death and diseases.  A Bush Presidency is likely to block or dilute the Convention.

According to the Observer, the core political philosophy of Bush is called “tort reform” in Texas, and under his Presidency, it will translate into “grand-scale dergulation of business, services and industry... This is the manifesto the newcomers to Washington will be determined, and likely, to accomplish.”

A senior White House aide described the core of the Bush agenda as “bringing the business special interests into politics so they can take over the regulatory bodies of government and regulate themselves.”

With a Republican President and a Republican-controlled Congress, the environment and social concerns (such as making companies more accountable to society) are in for a very bad time.

The Republican’s chief whip in the House, Tom Delay, has called the Environmental Protection Agency the “Gestapo” of government. The leader of the House, Dick Armey, has attacked “government shackles on enterprise.”  Both are close allies of Bush.

With business and political interests so closely intertwined in both the White House and Congress, the US can be expected to be even more aggressive in pushing developing countries to open their markets to US companies, products and services, through the World Trade Organisation or other means.

This may damage local firms in developing countries that are unable to compete with the giant US companies.

Finally, a Bush administration is also likely to partner with Congress to further reduce US commitment to the United Nations and other agencies that try to promote more balanced and equitable forms of “partnership” between countries of the North and the South.

It was under Republican Presidents, Ronald Reagan and George Bush Senior, that the spirit of “North-South dialogue” was killed, and instead a new phase of intensified bullying of the South by the North was initiated.

It was Bush Senior, after the merciless bombing of Iraq, that coined the term “New World Order” to signify the emergence of the one-superpower world.

Clinton also played an important role in strengthening US hegemony.

But Bush Junior is now likely to accelerate to a higher degree the trend of ignoring the legitimate interests and rights of developing countries, and of punishing those that do not willingly accept the view from Washington.

Generally, the prospects of the next four years of a Bush presidency are not good for developing countries.  While it would have been an illusion to believe that under Gore the prospects would have been good; under a Bush Administration, prospects seem likely to be even more gloomy.

The hopes of people in the South must thus lie with strengthening mutual cooperation and linking with American civil society groups. As these latter move to defend their own public interests such as environment and health from being eroded by the corporate-driven agenda of the new administration, they may find it useful to join with groups in the South.

Only if American public opinion moves more strongly for the US to be a partner with the rest of the world will there be some constraints on the Bush administration in its international policies.-SUNS4809

About the writer: Martin Khor is Director of the Third World Network.

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