By The Daily Star Lebanon
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Thursday, April 10, 2008
Every few weeks a story emerges from the heartland of the United States that serves to dispel the myth of an idyllic America. Mass shootings shatter university campuses, drug overdoses ruin lives, and, occasionally, religious fanatics convince dozens or even hundreds of people to do crazy things to themselves and their children. The latest example of the latter phenomenon comes from something called the "Yearn for Zion Ranch" at a place called Eldorado - just a few hours' drive from US President George W. Bush own famous spread in Crawford, Texas. Among other things, it seems, the "yearners" were forcing young girls to marry - and be raped by - much older men as soon as they reached puberty. The details of this particular cult are not important. What matters is that while successive US administrations have long assumed the right to judge the goings-on in far-flung nations - and to send troops to "fix" matters - all is far from well in America itself.
The problems are not limited to either Texas (although that state does seem to produce an inordinate number of social oddities) or religious extremism. As the continuing crisis stemming from the over-use and fraudulent reselling of a quintessentially American financial product, the "subprime mortgage," indicates, at least some of the stuffed suits on Wall Street are out of control, too. And where might they have got their inspiration for recklessness on such a gargantuan scale? Perhaps from a federal government that has borrowed so much money to avoid taxing the wealthy that its crumbling currency has helped stoke inflation around the world, one that has connived to saddle future generations of its own citizens with the multi-trillion-dollar bill for a botched war in Iraq, one whose studied disregard for international law has undermined America's reputation everywhere.
It is too late for Bush. His presidency will be over, thankfully, in less than a year, and he has never been the sort to learn from his mistakes, especially since he has never had to pay for any of them with his own money. He might be convinced to preach a little less and to at least acknowledge some of the problems created and exacerbated on his watch, but he will not have much input on fixing them.
That task will fall to his successor, and it will not be an easy one. Apart from having to clean up various messes in America, the next occupant of the White House will have to start rebuilding the country's international reputation. Thanks to Bush and the neoconservative miscreants who concocted so many of his most corrosive and destructive policies, allies have been alienated, enemies have been emboldened, and multilateral institutions have been gutted. Foreign governments and their citizens are far less likely these days to give the United States the benefit of the doubt, and their questions go beyond mere matters of method: There is less confidence than ever in America's basic intentions, largely because of the contempt and mendacity that have been the true pillars of the "Bush Doctrine." Rarely has one leader's legacy forced his successor to start with so many handicaps.