Last Friday, President George Bush called for a $150 billion dollar stimulus package to "jump start" America's flagging economy. The problem, he assured his viewers, was temporary.
"I'm optimistic about our economic future," said the president, "because Americans have shown time and again that they are the most industrious, creative, and enterprising people in the world. That is what has made our economy strong. That is what will make it stronger in the challenging times ahead."
What was the reaction of the U.S. and the rest of the world to those rousing words from the head of the world's most powerful nation?
Stock markets tanked across the globe. Tuesday's historic rate cut by the Federal Reserve has temporarily staunched the bloodletting, but no one believes the crisis is over.
Right now, in Europe we are waiting to learn if markets will plunge even further.
This is not to pin the melt-down on Bush alone. (More on that later.) But the fact is that the international prestige of an American president, his ability to reassure jittery investors around the world -- never mind his own country -- has never been lower.
From the start, Bush's vacuous promises and pigheaded policies -- at home and abroad -- have turned out to be miserable failures, bringing only disaster in their wake.
Why give any credence to this latest White House initiative?
In just about ever arena, from its attempts to sabotage the U.S. constitution, to intervene across the Middle East and Central Asia, the Bush administration has reached a dead end.
Bush and Cheney used the vague fear of terrorism to themselves terrorize the American public and a supine Congress to go along as the administration subverted what we once thought were some of America's most basic tenets. We are at the point where Americans actually debate the pros and cons of secret prisons, torture, rendition, and unauthorized electronic eavesdropping. And the administration coolly looks the other way as the CIA destroys inconvenient evidence of its brutal acts.
You can be sure that if such ruthless policies had led to any major intelligence breakthroughs they would have been trumpeted by the White House. If they weren't, it's because they led nowhere. A dead end has corroded America's image around the world.
Meanwhile, obsessed with the threat of terrorism, the Bush administration refused to deal with the growing crisis in health care and dismissed -- until just very recently and very reluctantly -- the threat of global warming.
It refused to act to curtail the corrupt and fraudulent lending practices that ballooned into the sub-prime loan crisis, which, more than any other factor, has precipitated the world wide stock market meltdown.
Though bringing about peace in the Middle East and promoting democracy in the region was supposedly central to the Administrations war against terrorism, here also Bush is at a dead end.
No sooner had Bush left Egypt last week than President Mubarak jailed more of his opponents.
Once Bush had left Israel, the Israelis killed more Palestinians in Gaza and instituted a ruthless embargo. The idea was that somehow by throttling 1,500,000 men women and children in Gaza, cutting off their electricity, threatening their supplies of food and medicines, that would bring an end to the primitive rocket attacks against Israel from Palestinian militants.
Those tactics, as scores of commentators, including many Israeli hardliners, have pointed out, are also dead-end, doomed to failure. They will generate only more hatred among the Palestinians, doing nothing to resolve the underlying problems.
Indeed, the tactics of the U.S. and Israel attempting to isolate and destroy Hamas in Gaza are as sterile and futile as America's strategy across the region.
Nothing was more pointless and tragic than Bush's invasion of Iraq. The much vaunted surge of American troops has tamped down violence, but ethnic and religious fury smolder just under the surface. Iraq is prostrate Despite the enormous waste of lives and resources, the country's leaders are still at each others throats. With American troops still there, they have no reason to work out a settlement. Now some of those leaders estimate that American soldiers will have to be stationed there for at least another decade. And then what?
Bush last week announced the U.S. would sell 20 billion dollars worth of sophisticated arms to his great friends, the Saudis, for their on going support. (as long as they're not asked too forcefully to reduce the price of petroleum) of such policies.
Ironically, the Saudi royal family, this pillar of U.S. policy in the Middle East, are divided within their own ranks. Fearful of their own armed forces, the royal family has fostered another power, the National Guard, to protect the Royal Family from any eventual upheavals the army might decide to support. For similar reasons, access to those high performance jets the U.S. has supplied the Saudis over the years is also strictly limited. Only Saudi pilots who have undergone rigorous loyalty tests are stationed within flying range of the capital Riyadh.
Meanwhile, another great U.S. ally, Pervez Musharaff is currently touring Europe, attempting to convince heads of state here that he's really still on top of things back in Pakistan, despite the fact that his domestic popularity figures at home are lower than even those of President Bush.
His own country is being torn apart by the disastrous conflict in neighboring Afghanistan which has spilled over the borders.
Afghanistan is another dead end.
The Taliban, once roundly defeated in are now revived and threatening major centers. America is dispatching thousands of troops to back up NATO forces, that the U.S. Secretary of Defense recently implied weren't up to the task. British Defense Minister, Des Browne announced that the British forces could remain there for "decades" to come.
But for what? For what are British and Canadian and German and Dutch and French forces fighting and dying in the forlorn reaches of Afghanistan?
So that, we are told, Afghanistan will not become once again a training ground for international terrorism threatening the West -- the justification given for U.S. intervention in much of the world these days.
But, as William Pfaff pointed out in a recent column, for a number of reasons the justification makes no sense. "The first is that terrorists and guerrillas need a "training ground." Why? The suicide bomber needs motivation and nerve, but training is wasted on him or her. The bomb-maker can learn the techniques of bomb-making and the characteristics of explosives on the internet, and buy the ingredients locally...
"A farm in the Midlands or Scotland (or better yet, Utah!) serves nicely as a training ground on which to do your physical training exercises. In the evening, after prayers, you can sit around the farm kitchen table and listen to ideological lectures. Or you can do the same thing in a city apartment. All Britain's bombers thus far, so far as I know, were British-bred."
What is going on in Afghanistan is a convoluted battle of shifting alliances, tribes and warlords. "None have the slightest interest in Britain, other than to be left alone (or put into power) by NATO." Says Pfaff.
It's a conflict that has been raging for decades, fed by the arms and interests of the U.S. and Afghans neighbors, all intent on maintaining their influence in the region. One would have thought, after their disastrous experience of aiding Al Qaeda and other Muslim extremist groups to attack the Soviet occupiers in the eighties, the U.S. would have learned its lesson in Afghanistan. Not so.
Though the U.S. and its Nato allies are intent on preventing "radical" powers from taking over, what their intervention is doing is only further radicalizing the situation. If that sounds familiar, it is. It's what the U.S. has been doing all over the globe for decades.
What should be done in Afghanistan? Says Pfaff, "To do what can be done in the way of peaceful reconstruction is one thing. To perpetuate foreign war on the pretext that Afghanistan in Taliban hands threatens the NATO powers is grotesque. The only serious response is NATO promotion of negotiations among the contending Afghan groups and their immediate neighbors. That would leave the future in their hands, where it should be."
Indeed, what is so remarkable, so appalling, is that so much of the havoc that the U.S. and its allies have wreaked around the globe is based on doctrines, accepted as gospel, but which, in fact, are full of holes.
Take Bush's signature War on Terrorism. The idea that Al Qaeda is some kind of monolithic evil force with tentacles reaching around the world that the U.S. and its allies can actually do battle against bears no relation to reality. The various revolutionary groups and movements and popular fronts and rebel armies that are lumped together as "terrorist" organizations "linked to Al Qaeda" are each caught up in their own conflicts, against their own local enemies, each with their own local aims.
The only reason for such groups to take violent action against the U.S. is when the U.S. joins forces with the -- often repressive -- local regimes they are battling.
Most ironic, is the havoc that Bush's policies have wreaked on the readiness of America's own armed forces. Tom Dispatch quotes from a recent editorial in Aviation Week & Space Technology :
"The fact Washington must face is that nearly five years of war have left U.S. forces worse off than they have been in a generation, yes, since Vietnam, and restoring them will take budget-building unlike any in the past."
These criticisms of what passes for U.S. strategy are not at all new. Experts have been making them for years. Yet, somehow, the illogical, dead end policies that have been driving the Bush administration have taken on a life of their own. Most of the candidates in the primaries -- even the democrats -- are fearful of questioning them -- just as the question of immigration, gay marriage and abortion have become politically radioactive.
The great danger is they will continue to guide American policy even after Bush has gone.