President George W. Bush's administration has, on any objective basis, been a frightening thing to behold. Strident and self-absorbed by narrow partisanship, administration officials have actually betrayed the conservative ideological cause, dismantling the tried-and-tested institutional foundations of America's economic prosperity and global security.
Start with economic policy and the deliberate unbalancing of the US government's long-term finances. The aim clearly has been to sharpen the financial crisis of the social-welfare state and bring about a permanent reduction in government wealth re-distribution. But broken eggs do not necessarily make an omelet: Bush's massive (and still growing) fiscal deficits have stimulated nothing but jitters about a prolonged slowdown in capital formation, household consumption, and economic growth.
Fiscal policy is, of course, only the tip of the iceberg. Korean steelworkers might well ask whatever happened to the Republican Party's historic commitment to free trade. African farmers should wonder how it could be Bush--not some left-wing Democrat--who reversed the archconservative Newt Gingrich's proudest achievement: the partial reform of agricultural subsidies.
The security policy of the Bush administration has been worse than frightening; it has been, to borrow one of the president's most frequent utterances nowadays, terrifying. At the moment, administration insiders are trying to convince elite journalists that Bush did not deceive outsiders about Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons program. They are hoping that Americans will forget all the cocksure predictions of a military walkover and cheering crowds lobbing flowers at US and British troops.
Ignore all the lame excuses about the difficulties of assessing conflicting intelligence. No one in this supposedly conservative administration had ever heard of Machiavelli's 500-year-old warning not to trust exiles? "Such is their extreme desire to return to their homes," Machiavelli wrote, apropos of Ahmad Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress, "that they naturally believe many things that are not true, and add many others on purpose; so that, with what they really believe and what they say they believe, they fill you with hopes..."
The most terrifying aspect of the Bush administration's foreign policy is the motivating theory of the world that underlies it. The Bush administration's intellectual allies call the Clinton administration "naïve" for believing that international relations form a positive-sum game in which all sides can win. They speak explicitly about America's interest in preserving its relative , not just absolute, economic power. As the University of Chicago's Dan Drezner puts it, the logic of Bush's National Security Strategy is to "prevent other great powers from rising, in order to ensure the long-term growth of freedom, democracy, and prosperity."
But what does it mean to "prevent other great powers from rising"? What could it possibly mean other than "try to keep China and India desperately poor for as long as possible"? After all, when China and India close even half the income gap separating them from the industrial core of the world economy, the sheer size of their populations alone will guarantee that they become very great powers.
It is certainly not in the interest of China or India to remain poor. But it is not in America's national interest, either. The history of the late 19th and 20th centuries teaches us that there is something uniquely dangerous to world peace and political sanity during the two generations in which cultures pass from a poor, rural, and agricultural economy to a rich, urban, and industrial (or post-industrial) way of life. The aggressive foreign policy pursued by Wilhelmine Germany, the perverse suffering inflicted on Russia by Lenin and Stalin, the terrors of Mao, the dictatorships of Mussolini and Franco, and the monstrous Nazi regime all occurred during this transition.
So is it really in the interest of the US to try to "prevent other great powers from rising?" Shouldn't America's leaders be trying to shorten the period that other societies are vulnerable to the evils that made the twentieth century the bloodiest in the history of mankind? Wouldn't the rest of us rather minimize than maximize the time we might be faced with the problem of containing a Hindu Nationalist India, a Wilhelmine China, or a Weimar Russia?
It is long past time for a complete change of personnel at all levels of the Bush administration. The world cannot afford to have pseudo-conservatives at high levels of the US government who do not work for global peace and prosperity, but instead for a dangerously wrongheaded geopolitical strategy.
There are many potential replacements for these officials in the Republican Party--sensible, deliberative statesmen who view America's national interest as being the promotion of global economic development, multilateral cooperation, and a world in which the US leads with its principles rather than dominates with its military power. Such officials staffed the first Bush administration. Where are they now?