US President-elect Barack Obama (1961- ), he is promising “change”, shall he deliver?
The stunning and humiliating defeat of incumbent President George W Bush through his Republican proxy, John McCain, not the Democratic victory, was the main result of the 4 November vote in the USA. I saw a dejected Richard M Nixon walk out of the White House on 9 August 1974. The bugging of Democratic headquarters and, as a result, the threat of impeachment forced Nixon out of the White House before the end of his presidential mandate. The combined weight of the erroneous moves that sank the USS George W Bush reduces the Watergate affair to a fairly-insignificant development in the political life of the United States. What happened at the Watergate Hotel comes nowhere close to the developments that spelled a political death sentence to the 43rd President of the United States. No outgoing President placed as heavy a burden of unsettled problems on his successor’s shoulders as George W Bush is placing on the shoulders of Barack Obama.
Clearly, George W Bush inherited a budget surplus from his predecessor in January 2001. The arms race of the Cold War had come to a virtual standstill; the Pentagon was put on a diet. However, for no apparent reason at all, with two years to go before the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, the Bush-Cheney Administration boosted military spending, which, as it would become clear years later, placed an unbearable burden on the American economy. The positive difference between budget revenues and budget spending squandered, the Republican Administration got into the habit of borrowing money. The Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Paulson, said the other day that the fiscal year, which closed on 30 September, showed a record-high 455 billion dollar negative difference between budget revenues and budget spending.
Last year’s budget deficit topped 3 percent of the gross national product and it played a not unimportant role in the collapse of the American financial system. Strange as it sounds, it was never mentioned in Secretary Paulson’s plan for anti-crisis action. Nor was it mentioned by the man who chairs the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, Ben S Bernanke. That public servant took the floor in hearings of the House budget committee, on the eve of the presidential vote. He directed some solemn words of warning to the man who would win the presidential race. America was entering a difficult period, he said, and Americans had to brace up for an economic slowdown, a housing credit crisis, and sweeping layoffs. This outgoing Administration sure knows what gifts to give to the man who won the right to bow it out of the White House.
A floundering foreign policy is another thing that Barack Obama will inherit from George W Bush. The lost war in Iraq, the ineffective moves for a military and political accommodation in Afghanistan, the backsliding anti-terrorist effort, the differences between the standpoints of America and Europe, and, come to think of it, lots of other things, explain the negative balance in the foreign policy of today’s America. The Bush administration may be held to blame for what is likely to leave a negative imprint on the global situation, a new setback in Russian-American relations. With slightly more than a year to go before the planned dismantlement of one of the main pillars of Russian-American relations and global security, a Treaty on the reduction of strategic nuclear weapons, immediate action must be taken for the normalisation of relations between Russia and the United States. The continuance of the START Treaty is to be discussed twelve months before that Treaty stops being a legally-binding document. The American reluctance to open this discussion may really backfire.
President-elect Obama and his yet-to-be-formed Cabinet will have to untie a tight knot of domestic and international problems. I can predict, without waiting until after 20 January, that the Obama Administration has little chance to find life easy. “Yes, we can!” was the battle-cry of Barack Obama’s supporters in the recently-won election. Whether they really can, remains to be seen.
14 November 2008
Voice of Russia World Service