Abroad, even though many of us have written critically about US foreign policy, it seemed just so wrong to beat America last year. Most of us deeply shared its agony, and the likes of Arundhati Roy, for all her high-voltage diatribe, were a minority. Despite all its faults, America remains a role model in sustaining liberal ideals of freedom, justice, equity, plurality and self-fulfillment.
In the past, if at all we have tended to set a higher standard for the US, it came from what we knew America to be at home and hence what we expected America to be abroad. Following 9/11, there was hope that the dissonance between these two Americas would narrow, just as there was overwhelming and spontaneous support for the US across the globe, especially in Europe. It seemed that the terrorists who struck the twin towers had unwittingly recreated Western solidarity loosened by the end of the cold war.
A year later, that hope and Western solidarity have diminished, with growing cynicism about what the US is fighting for, and rising anger at its unilateralist positions on environment, security and international treaties. Gerhard Schroeder of Germany, Jacques Chirac of France, Romano Prodi of the European Union, John Manley of Canada and Vladimir Putin of Russia its a long list of leaders who have said no to an Iraq invasion. Not to mention Qatar and Kuwait, the very people who have much to fear from Saddam. Americans are not convinced that Iraq poses a grave threat and, in fact, want to know what happened about capturing Osama bin Laden. Osamas popularity remains strong in Arab countries, while the Afghan people are visibly turning against the US.
These are multiple quagmires and strange outcomes, and in one year President George W Bush has isolated himself like no president before him, and has divided a nation previously so unified. Richard Reeves, a reputed columnist for The New York Times, notes that Over the past year, when I have criticized the president, my mail has shifted from about 20-to-1 calling me a traitor to about 10-to-1 complimenting me for my obvious common sense. I realize that those numbers indicate I may be preaching to a liberal choir, but the change is striking.
In the coming US mid-term elections, much of this will emerge. US economic growth has slowed sharply, to just around 1 per cent, while stock markets have collapsed more than 60 per cent. Republican proximity to rogue corporates like Enron is hurting. While Bushs personal popularity is still 65 per cent, its down from 90 per cent a year ago. At the current rate of decline, his popularity on Election Day will be 55 per cent, a level where historically the ruling party loses about 20 House seats. Demographic and economic trends stack the odds even more: according to a recent study, new voter groups, such as women and minorities, are growing very fast as a proportion of the electorate.
On the first anniversary of the tragedy, the original US poser is still a work in progress. While we on the outside expected greater clarity that normally results from a shock so huge, American response so far has regrettably been schizophrenic. Internally, there is some honest appraisal of the US past role in creating its own monsters, but externally the administration continues to pursue oil interests with abandon, and coddle known bad guys. It may be decades before we know the meaning of 9/11, but one impact slowly becoming discernible is that there may be an important regime change in 2004: President Bushs.
The author is an analyst of Indian political and business trends and the editor of India Focus, a political risk report for international investors