Winds of change in the US

Written by Subhash Agrawal | Updated: Oct 29 2005, 06:39am hrs
Left alone to themselves, and in a world magically bereft of big power games, India and the US would perhaps be natural friends. Maybe not great buddies, given how much both love to preach, preen and pout, but they would be there for each other in times of need. Most certainly, they would be on the same side of the fence on major issues.

Coming out from the shadows of the past, that possibility has become more real in the aftermath of 9/11 and its attendant geopolitical ripples, leading to the recent Indo-US civilian nuclear energy agreement. But just about when nuance and pragmatism on both sides were finally working their way into the system, there are increasing signs of political change in America, winds of change that may, just may, undo this new-found level of ease and predictability.

For the first time since 9/11, the Republican leadership is in trouble, the neo-conservatives in retreat and President Bushs ratings in dangerously negative territory. The Iraq war, the basis of which the whole world now knows was faulty, if not deliberately false intelligence, has already cost over $200 billion and over 2,000 US military casualties, with no exit plan or US strategic gain in clear sight.

For the first time since it began, more Americans disapprove of the war effort and its attendant costs than those who support it. Gasoline prices are touching record highs of almost $3 per gallon. Horrible images fromand public outrage againstthe apathetic handling of hurricane Katrina are still fresh in public memory.

Quite separately, the Republican Party is beginning to seriously come unstuck, with new and grave corruption charges every day against prominent right-wingers or White House insiders. This includes House majority leader Tom DeLay, already indicted for criminal campaign practices, and Senate majority leader Bill Frist, under investigation for insider trading. As this column goes to print, it appears likely that Vice President Cheneys chief of staff and Bushs key political adviser will both be charged by a special grand jury investigating the exposure of covert CIA officer Valerie Plames identity. If so, this may even unravel the key role played by Cheney in building a false case for an Iraq invasion.

The political fallout is threefold. One, serious cleavages within the Republicans are now bubbling to the surface, with Bush being forced to withdraw the Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers after it was tenaciously attacked by the right wing of his party. On other issues, including the Iraq war, veritable heavyweight, like Brent Scowcroft, former national security advisor and a close Bush family friend, are now speaking out. John Danforth, ex-Senator from Missouri and who once served in the first Bush administration as ambassador to the United Nations, has recently criticised how Republicans have transformed our party into the political arm of conservative Christians.

These are unprecedented blows from within the family, reminiscent of the break-up of the Reagan revolution after the Iran-Contra scandal. Second, the Bush honeymoon with the US media is over. The same news outlets who once put so much faith amazingly enough, to the rest of us in rather incredulous evidence about Saddams WMD, have re-entered, apologised or, in some manner or another, shown that they have been had. The reverence to anything related to the war on terror is gone, and the pointed questions are back.

Third, Democrats now have that extra swagger. It is still too early and anything can happen in the ensuing three years before the next election. And, of course, the Democratic leadership is known for its self-goals and self-implosions. But yet, they can smell a whiff of blood in the air. Its called Plamegate, which may well turn out to be the biggest sleeper in recent US political history, as it reignites a new debate about the deceptions that led to war in Iraq, with possibly huge political consequences.

In this scenario, the decks have been cleared for leading Democratic presidential contenders to seize the moment, especially Hillary Clinton, who remains the top choice among Democrats. In fact, with that combination of name recognition, energy, toughness and political savvy, she may be hard to beat. So strong, at least at this point, is the likelihood of a Hillary nomination, and so worried are the Republicans about this, that disparate moves to draft Condoleeza Rice as the Republican candidate is all over the blogsphere. A new book, Condi vs. Hillary: The Next Great Presidential Race, is already climbing the charts.

So what is Hillary like The lady is tough, feisty, smart and articulate. And insiders talks about how deeply driven she is, far more than her husband. The rest are patchwork clues to her positions on global issues. But one place to start looking for answers is the recent Clinton Global Initiative, a brains trust of sorts for the Clintons. However, we should not hold any outdated romantic notions about Democrats being more sincere or soft on issues to do with Kashmir, NPT or CTBT. As America undergoes a belated political correction after 9/11, it would be silly for us to deviate from a preciously gained pragmatism in our relationship with them.

The writer is editor, India Focus