The US midterm elections in November 2006, in which the Democrats took control of the House of Congress for the first time in twelve years, was perhaps the moment when most commentators in the US realised that the country had turned decisively against Bush and the neo-cons. As analysts dissected the implications of the results, Bush took himself off for a tour of friendly countries in south-east Asia, to generate pictures of himself appearing powerful and statesmanlike and counter the bad political news at home.
Last month, as American political attention focused on the caucuses to select candidates for the presidential elections in November, which most commentators reckon the Republicans have already lost, thanks to Bush’s disastrous administration, he took himself off to the Middle East, for his first tour of the region which will forever define assessments of his period in office. This pattern suggests that Bush — who had never even had a passport until his election as president in 2000 — may be spending a good deal of time abroad over the next few months, as Americans and the world increasingly look past his lameduck administration to a future without him or his discredited neo-conservative cabal. All significant candidates for the White House are claiming to offer change of some sort, from Barack Obama’s promise of a return to some idealistic vision of America, to Hillary Clinton’s promise of a return to the economic success of the Bill Clinton years.
It is not only Americans who are being offered change, moreover. In foreign policy, too, all the candidates are promising to reverse the unilateralist tendencies of the neo-cons, and to re-engage with America’s traditional allies in order to pursue international policies that are based on consensus and in everybody’s interests. With former British prime minister Tony Blair, Bush’s main ally in Europe for most of his presidency, having left office last year, there is a feeling that prospect of a new era of US-European cooperation in international affairs, with universal ideals such as fighting poverty and inequality, will be restored to the forefront of the public agenda.
As the politicking leading up to the presidential election warms up, there will no doubt be some Muslims in the US and some in the Muslim world who are taken in by this talk of change, who will begin to believe that the end of the Bush era might mean some significant change in American policy and in the US’s relations with Muslims and the Muslim world. This is particularly likely to happen if Barack Obama is selected as the Democratic candidate, with his pattern of representing a completely new start for America. Few American Muslims like to be reminded of the fact that, less than a decade ago, many of them supported George W. Bush against Bill Clinton, whom they regarded as the most pro-Israel and anti-Muslim president ever. Unfortunately this wilful amnesia means that many Muslims in the US are likely to make precisely the same mistake again this year, particularly if Obama wins the Democratic candidacy and reaches out to all Americans, of all colours and creeds, to stand together against extremists of all types and hues.
What Muslims, inside America and elsewhere, must not forget is that any candidate elected to the White House is bound to pursue the same global agenda, however he may choose to present it; and that that agenda involves securing American interests, by hegemony and exploitation, over as much of the world, and as many of the world’s peoples, as possible, regardless of what those peoples might have to say on the matter. This is the basic objective of all imperialist missions; and it is US/Western imperialism, not just neo-conservatism, that is the problem that all Muslims face.