An IDC Analysis 


New Delhi, 08 February 2003

Mohan Guruswamy was recently in New York and has this to say about President George Bush.

Lets not misunderestimate him!

By Mohan Guruswamy


I have a somewhat different take on George Bush bin George Bush. I heard his speech intently and even more intently to the talking heads that crowded the airwaves with their take on what he had to say. Bush’s speech was a cleverly crafted Clintonseque statement of vision, bold and at the same time addressing all major national concerns and constituencies. True, it is focused mainly upon US concerns, but then he is just the President of the United States and not the whole world. He announced a tax plan to stimulate the flagging US economy. He announced major healthcare and education reforms. He announced a major funding program to drive us into an era of marginal dependence on fast depleting fossil fuels by making the development of hydrogen fuel cell powered cars a national goal. He announced a USD 15 billion funding program to combat the AIDS epidemic raging in Africa. And lastly but mostly his speech was devoted to Saddam Hussein whose laboratories are still apparently incubating deadly bacillus, devilish nerve toxins and nuclear weapons, a full cornucopia of weapons of mass destruction. Quite clearly if Clinton had his Milosevic dragon to slay, Bush has found one in Saddam Hussein.

It was a well paced speech that suited his manner of speaking that made its points with rapier precision and at times it even made politics seem a higher calling. It’s a tough act to follow Bill Clinton, unarguably the most gifted politician the US has known in recent times and a man with a magical way with words and phrases. George Bush will hate this; he was almost like Clinton at his best, but without his effusive charm and personal warmth, and zeal to deploy public policy for the general good. Like Clinton he stole new political ground while sounding the old bugle toot to the faithful. And like Clinton, he too will be reviled by the clearly partisan and implacable. For America is which is extremely divisive and fractious even at the best of times, gets especially divided and raucous at the worst of times. And these are bad times here. The economy is in the pits. The Democrats who were badly beaten in the last Congressional elections think of George Bush II as an impostor who stole – a he possibly did – the White House from them. The word on the street here is that Bush is going into Iraq for the oil. On the other side there is a part of America that loves a good fight bringing to mind words from a Pete Seeger song: “we fought in Germany, we fought in France, and someday I’ll get my chance.” 

The dominant opinion in India is to revile him, poke fun at him and make him seem like the daddy’s little boys who inherit political, business and even newspaper empires. One editor less newspaper has even concocted a witless cartoon strip with Bush as the main character. But we are making a mistake for this is quite a talented, clever and above all determined US President. You might make it to Yale as daddy’s little boy, but getting through the relentless grind and punishing regime of two years at the Harvard Business School requires intelligence, application and stamina. It tests you against the best and pits you against the run of the mill. Ask P.Chidambaram about it. Or even Rahul Bajaj who will only be too happy to tell you how wonderfully unique he is! George Bush was elected governor of Texas and you don’t get to be that if you have not has successfully transplanted your inherited east coast tightassedness with a Texan penchant for the hyperbole and Stetson hat induced low brow. Lets not get fooled by appearances. Even going by them he is a long way ahead of the longwinded and wobbly-footed statesman who occupy our political center-stage. This man belongs there with Putin as a determined and clearheaded leader of a superpower and he is no Tony Blair yipping and yapping at his master’s behest. This George Bush is leading a posse and when the pace picks up Saddam Hussein will have no place to hide. To this extent he is not his fathers son. You are looking at a two-term President and lets not, as Bush would say, misunderestimate him.

There is a certain perversity in our public discourse that elevates a bloodthirsty and bloody-minded dictator to an iconic status. This is a man who is obviously afflicted with megalomania and is an international pyromaniac to boot. We seem to have a problem seeing him for what he is. When he occupied Kuwait in 1991, our then Foreign Minister went to the extent of publicly bussing Saddam’s ample cheeks. Some people put up posters on our streets. We got it wrong then and we seem to be getting it wrong again. Oil and terrorism are the only exports from the Middle East. We pay with enough blood and sweat for tanker loads of one, and we don’t need the other. And let us also not forget that as surely as the Saudi’s financed Osama bin Laden and the terrorist gangs who have plagued us for the last decade, they just as surely financed Pakistan’s nuclear program. If somebody is willing to do the cleanup for us, the least we can do is not get in the way. The only Arabs who deserve our support and sympathies are the long-suffering Palestinians and we must not confuse their cause with the rest of the lot.

But to me the highpoints of Bush’s speech were the announcements to give the Hydrogen Fuel Cell development programs underway a financial stimulus. The proton exchange membrane fuel cell technology has been around for a few years now. Last year Daimler-Chrysler even introduced the Mercedes Sprinter a commercial vehicle with the new power pack. Ford Motors has been testing 200 Ford Focus cars with these power packs since mid 2000. The pioneering work in developing this technology has been done a Canadian company, Ballard Power Systems based in Vancouver, British Columbia. In this technology by an electro-chemical process hydrogen and oxygen are converted into energy with only water as the sole emission. This technology is now well proven. The challenge now is to bring down fuel cell costs to a tenth to make them competitive with the internal combustion engines. When that happens it will soon be goodbye to the Saudis, Iraqis and the rest of the bunch who have made life miserable for the poorer countries by their eye gouging prices and support for terrorism. The USA has pledged 1.2 billion dollars to speed this up. We should look forward to some good coming out of this.

The other big item on Bush’s speech was the pledging of 15 billion dollars to help sub-Saharan Africa cope up with the AIDS epidemic that is sweeping across the continent. Out of the 42 million afflicted by AIDS world over, as many as 30 million are Africans. In countries like Zambia and Botswana as much as 20% of the adult population is now afflicted with AIDS. Even in a relatively prosperous country like South Africa, 10% of all adults are carriers. Most of sub-Saharan Africa is in economic doldrums and ecologically devastated. A combination of famine and floods, and civil war has made most of these countries incapable of even feeding themselves, let alone combat AIDS. For all his extravagant talk on the need for a compassionate foreign policy, Bill Clinton never put his money where his mouth was. He did nothing to help Africa. Bush has promised big. While we can wait a while to pass judgment on him, let us also not misunderestimate him!

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