Does it really matter who wins?

From a Lebanese and Middle Eastern perspective the outcome of the US elections is unlikely to bring about a policy change

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By the time of this publication, and barring any confusion á la Florida, or a major 9/11-type ‘event,’ the new president of the US will be known. But while in the US the presumed majority will be celebrating and the others put up a good face to it, we in the rest of the world can ask if the decision will change anything. And we can also ask if such an exercise of democracy meets the standards of reason.

In attempting to guesstimate the winner of the race for the White House, the most rational approach should be to evaluate performance of the incumbent, meaning to lay down some form of report card for George W, and try to measure how he has fared in relation to his stated objectives. Before embarking on this though, let us address the issue from a Lebanese and Middle Eastern perspective.

To put it bluntly, the outcome simply does not matter. At least not in the sense either one man or another will have a different aerial view of the region. They do not. Their policies in this area are driven by pure US national interest, and unfortunately, and until we bring to the table viable alternatives, this means heavy support for Israel and selfless interest in oil. So, before you delay something on the account of the elections in the US, please bear in mind that we are unlikely to see any US president don a keffieh!

More relevant is, at this stage for our region would be the subtle hints from Kerry that he will attempt to reassemble all or part of the shattered international consensus. This is not negligible, but not money in the bank either. It is better than the bloodthirsty imperial neo conservatives, but again, election promises are made to be diluted. So, if either of the men does reach out to the world in attempting to bring the region to a more stable framework, and try to build bridges, it may be a good thing. The problem is that it may be too late.

My contention is that Kerry, given Bush’s record, would by all rational measures have to be poised to win. Before you think to yourself that with three weeks to go the polls were dead even, it is worth remembering that polls are not very accurate, especially when the polarization is so high. Meaning, they don’t always capture the undercurrents of society. The most relevant example of poll inefficacy is the French presidential elections of April 2002. Not one poll had predicted that extreme right wing leader and 1930s nostalgic Jean Marie Le Pen would make it to the final round. Almost every poll showed in fact that Jacques Chirac and his socialist rival would face off in the second and final round.

Sometimes, when a country is angry, the polls don’t show that. And without falling into Michael Moorism, it seems that most Americans had plenty of reasons to be dissatisfied with Bush. Let’s look at a point-by-point assessment of his term.

? On the most pressing issue for Americans, national security, Bush, having exhausted the mileage out of 9/11, has in fact destabilized one of the most fragile regions of the world and exposed Americans and American interest to great danger. He has also exacerbated the tensions in the region by fueling the extremist argument that the US is an overreaching empire with no morals. Bush has done little to bring the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to the forefront despite many smart people in Washington, including Colin Powell urging him to do so. In fact, many, including myself, feel that the fuel for extremism comes from the massacre and dislocation of the Palestinians. Now you can add Iraq to the mix. And although most sane observers agree that the removal of a tyrant is a good thing, the new Iraqi chaos may be an impossible price to pay. There is no conceivable way that the Americans can consider that the Bush brand of democracy did very well in Iraq so far, and his ability to export this notion has been as ineffective as his drive to export goods and services to China! As a corollary to his “smoke ‘em out” foreign policy, Mr. Bush also vowed to secure the oil. Well, let’s just say that for the layman on the street, and in his car, he has done exactly the opposite as oil, and thus gasoline prices have more than tripled since he got anointed by the Supreme Court. One would think that with 150,000 troops on the ground, supposedly spreading democracy, oil would have been at least stable. Not so.

? The US economy has seen a slight uptake, but no real improvement. Mr. Bush has had the worse record in job creation since Truman, and his tax cut, aimed at the wealthiest 5% and top corporations, has had no real aggregate impact if not to polarize even more the majority of the population trying to make ends meet. For the purists, Bush took office with the Dow at 10,800, and has presided over steady erosion toward 9,800 today and quite a few scandals to boot – Enron being the most prominent. Bush also turned a fiscal surplus into the worse deficit (even when taken as a percentage of GDP) ever.

? Bush has alienated many layers of society, increased the dislike of US policy abroad and placed both the perception and reality of the American dream on a collision course with historical reality. He has little to offer to the world, and little to offer to the unhappy families that have seen over a 1000 of their loved ones killed for no legitimate reason, suffered increased energy bills, and mortgaged US fiscal safety for generations to come. As change in the current global environment could not be bad and the economic facts speak for choosing a new president, my pre-election guesstimate is that Kerry will squeak through. Will I have to eat my words?