Global Trends by Martin Khor

Monday 11 October 2004


Last week’s second debate between the US Presidential candidates showed up their contrasting views and styles.  George Bush said the world is safer without Sadam Hussein, but Kerry replied the world is a more dangerous place.  Meanwhile, Israel intensified its attack on Palestinians in Gaza and an Israeli official reveals a plan to freeze the peace process and remove Palestinian statehood from the agenda.

The United States Presidential election campaign heated up last Friday when President George Bush faced off his opponent Senator John Kerry in their second televised debate, which showed up the two men’s contrasting views and styles.

Both went on the offensive, with Bush taking the familiar line that Kerry is a “flip-flopper” who changes his mind often and cannot be trusted to lead.

Kerry hit back, that Bush with his disastrous foreign policy and bad domestic record is not fit to have a second term.  He described the results of the war on Iraq as “catastrophe” and said Bush’s policies had made the world “more dangerous today.”

Watching the debate, one could easily find that Kerry more well rounded, intellectually deeper and more oriented to multilateralism, with the US needing to win over other countries rather than be a go-it-alone bully.  

Expectedly, he attacked Bush’s domestic policies which has been a boon to the rich but increased unemployment and resulted in huge budget deficits.  His answers to questions from the audience were confident, articulate, polished.

But Bust didn’t do too badly either, as far as performance went.  He didn’t say anything new, but kept trying to puncture Kerry’s credibility by recalling his alleged changing views on the war in Iraq and his voting record.  

Kerry, however, answered back quite credibly, at one stage saying that Bush made the big mistake of going to war wrongly whilst he had made the small mistake of not adequately explaining the reason for one of his votes in the Senate.

Initial polls suggest this second debate did not make a significant difference to the way the vote would go, unlike the first debate which gave a boost to Kerry. The last remaining weeks of the campaign can swing the result either way.

It is a result that will have great consequence for the world.  For whilst there may not be that much difference between Bush and Kerry in their conviction that the US is the natural leader of the world and no other country or institution should stand in its way, there are also significant differences in approach and in policies ranging from the domestic economy, the environment, military action and the role of the United Nations.

Meanwhile, the election campaign and the uncertainty of which candidate will win has resulted in a suspension of initiatives or even responses in American foreign policy.  

This has allowed some governments to take advantage of this policy paralysis to carry out aggressive actions, knowing that there will not be an American response.

The Israeli government last week intensified its biggest military incursion in the Gaza Strip, with many Palestinian deaths.   Whilst there was widespread condemnation from many countries, there was no reaction from the US. 

On the fifth day of the military offensive, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said he did not have enough information and that it was up to Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon to decide when to end it.   Other US officials merely asked both sides to “exercise maximum restraint.”

Another of last week’s significant events was a frank revelation from Sharon’s close advisor, Dov Weisglass, that the Sharon plan to “disengage” from the Gaza Strip is a tactic to end the peace process and the possibility of a Palestinian state.

“When you freeze the process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state,” said Weisglass in a press interview.  “Effectively this whole package called a Palestinian state, with all it entails, has been removed indefinitely from our agenda.”

Whilst the Palestinians and most of the developing world have been skeptical about the real objectives of the Israeli premier’s motives for withdrawal from Gaza, it was nevertheless shocking to read of the Israeli premier’s intentions from his close aide.

The establishment paper, the Financial Times, was moved to comment in its editorial:

“So, now we know for certain.  Ariel Sharon’s plan to ‘disengage’ from the Gaza Strip is a gambit  to freeze the Middle East peace process indefinitely, hang on to nearly all the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, deny the Palestinians a state, and set aside forever the future of 4 million Palestinian refugees, the status of occupied Arab east Jerusalem and where Israel’s final borders are to be drawn....

“It is hard to understand how this injustice serves the interests of Israelis or their US backers.  It is grist to the mill of the massing ranks of their enemies in the region and the wider Muslim world. The Sharon strategy is to grab as much as possible of the geography of the West Bank with as little as possible of the Palestinian demography.  It will not work.

“Whoever takes over in Washington next year needs to explain to the Israeli leadership that the world can no longer afford this running sore, this renewed contract for conflict now set to run for at least another generation.” 

Last week also saw the release of a devastating final report by the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), which had been set up by the Bush administration to investigate weapons in Iraq.

The ISG ‘s 1000-plus page report found that Iraq did not have any chemical or biological weapons at all on the eve of the start of war in March 2003. Saddam Hussein had disposed of any stockpiles 12 years previously and the last factory able to produce unconventional weapons were destroyed in 1996.

Iraq’s ability to produce nuclear weapons were also found to be decreasing, not increasing.

This report confirms and extends the findings of an interim report last year.  When it was clear there were no weapons of mass destruction, the British prime minister Tony Blair changed his argument to say that even if Iraq did not have stockpiles of the weapons, Saddam Hussein had programmes to develop them.

But last week’s ISG report confirms that there were also no programmes for developing the weapons either.

Thus, the ISG report has now revealed that the justification for war against Iraq had no basis at all and that the criticisms against the war were justified.

Yet last week, both Bush and Blair, were still absolute in their public proclamation that the war was justified and necessary, as the world is safer with Saddam Hussein removed.

Many of us indeed believe that the world would be safer if many leaders and regimes are changed. Each person can have his or her own view on which leaders and regimes should be changed.

If the leaders of those countries that have military power are allowed to launch military attacks against regimes they don’t like and to occupy other countries to “make the world a safer place”, it would be the end of international law and a return to the law of he jungle.

That reminds me again of the Bush-Kerry debate.  Whilst Bush boasted that the world was safer with Saddam in jail, Kerry in another part of the debate said the world today is a more dangerous place as a result of the Bush policies.