The world changed on November 2, 2004. Until then, ordinary citizens of the United States could claim that our foreign policy, including our invasion of Iraq, was George Bush’s doing and that we had not voted for him. In 2000, Bush lost the popular vote. This time he won it by more than 3.5 million votes. The result is that Bush’s war has changed into America’s war.
Regardless of what the American people intended, they are now seen to have endorsed torture of captives at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, at Bagram Air Base in Kabul and at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba; a rigged economy based on record-setting trade and fiscal deficits; the greatest reliance on secrecy of any postwar American government; the replacement of international law with preventive war; an epidemic of nuclear proliferation; and many other aberrations that can only elicit hostile and defensive reactions in all other nations of the world.
It makes no difference that a majority of U.S. voters seemed to regard November 2 as “An Electoral Affirmation of Shared Values,” the title of a front-page article by Todd Purdum in the November 4 New York Times. According to a survey that a consortium of all the major news agencies in the country conducted on Election Day, the American public put “moral values” ahead of the economy, terrorism, Iraq, healthcare, taxes and education as the “issue that mattered most.”
This signifies to the rest of the world that Americans are not so different from the jihadists surrounding Osama bin Laden. Both groups are Paradise-seeking fanatics beyond the appeals of reason. They are totalitarians in the strictest meaning of the word. The only sensible thing to do is to try to hold them at bay with the threat of nuclear retaliation, as Iran, North Korea and many other nations are doing today. The thought that American policy is being made by religious fundamentalists may well drain all legitimacy from virtually everything the United States tries to do in the world.
The last significant check on the imperial presidency was the electorate, and on November 2 it failed. Neither the Congress, nor the courts, nor the federalist system of state governments is any longer able to balance the presidency and the forces of militarism. We now know that something more than the working of the political system will be required to save the American republic. The catastrophe of November 2 may mobilize the people to act directly. In the coming months I expect to see an anti-war movement in the United States that will dwarf the demonstrations of the Vietnam era, and I expect to contribute to it in every way I can.