Power, terror, & leadership
We reprint Revd Ken Russell's As I See It . . . column from the Parish Bulletin 0f May 30, 2004
At my 70th birthday party, for a lark, I gave away a small number of Bush/Cheney campaign stickers we had souvenired in the course of our 2month visit to USA in 2000. We did some 9000 miles during that time, and left just 2 weeks before the election that saw George W. Bush "elected." I put "elected" in quotes because the whole world knows the results of the election were suspect, with tens of thousands of votes in Florida and other states disallowed in a desperate strategy by highly placed Bush supporters to distort the true result of the election and ensure their man's election. In retrospect, how might subsequent events such as 9/11, and the war in Iraq, have been different if the real winner in that election had become President? We will never know.
But to get back to the campaign stickers. Quite by chance they were given to a friend from Christchurch who came down for the party. I said at the time they could not have gone to a more deserving guy! Brian vowed revenge, and in due course he got it. I have so far received two letters, each bearing the stickers, and addressed to the Chairperson of the Bush/Cheney Support Committee, P.O. Box 5076, Dunedin. What a friend!
What kind of a man is George W. Bush? If I were to take the word of many good friends in the United States I would believe he is the best President since sliced bread. They reverence him as a man of prayer, a devout (Methodist) churchgoer, one who makes time for individual people, who has reformed the White House in short, one who makes them proud to be American. They find it hard to believe that the image of Geo W. in a friendly country like New Zealand does not evoke the same admiration. Indeed, friendship has become strained in some cases as I have politely tried to portray their President through other than American eyes.
Perhaps it is the kind of Texan Republicanism in which he was nurtured, of total self-sufficiency, privileged piety, and harsh suppression of miscreants. Perhaps it is the people behind his presidency, a rightwing coterie for whom the interests of American big business, above all else, are those which drive foreign policy. Likely it is other things as well.
However it may be analysed, the effect is that the Bush administration has driven America in a direction that has deeply disturbed many in this and other countries. His leadership against international efforts to really attack global warming has been the source of international dismay. His stance against strong initiatives in support of free trade has been hugely damaging. Above all else, Bush's self-appointed role as the world's sheriff, pursuing terrorists and terrorism anywhere, everywhere, has made the whole world measurably more terrified, and has further provoked the terrorists, including the American military, to new levels of brutality. Iraq was not a good place to live under Saddam, but American intervention has turned it into a hell-hole of indescribable terror and misery, with nothing better in sight.
Many erstwhile Bush supporters are at last beginning to see the other side of their President's influence, but it has taken an endless flow of the most graphic pictures of abuse from Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison to get the message through. Al Qaeda have no monopoly on terror.
The latest indictment of the Bush administration has come from Amnesty International in a statement released this week. It needs to be widely read and is available at www.amnestyusa.org It describes the US-led war on terror as "bankrupt of vision and bereft of principle which has made the world more dangerous." Amnesty says the war on terror "has evolved into a global street brawl, with governments and armed groups duking it out, and innocent civilians suffering severely." Who could dispute it?
We are told that everything motivating the White House these days is the reelection of Geo W. Bush, and that the powers behind his presidency will stop at nothing, nor spare any expense, to secure that objective. What is it about absolute power that makes so many of those who have it abandon every standard of truth and decency so as to retain power and popularity? Nixon did it, Clinton did it, and Bush looks iike his record will eclipse them both.
By way of contrast, look at Sonia Gandhi, Italian-born leader of India's Congress Party. Swept to unexpected victory at the recent election, she has shocked India and the worid by declining the position of Prime Minister. Why? Because an "inner voice" told her it would be wrong to divide the country in a bitter controversy over her non-lndian birth. Despite enormous pressure from millions of supporters who felt she was "more Indian than the Indians," she declined the lure of power to follow the lead of conscience, and the wider interest. She has laid her mantle on a man of another religion (a Sikh) so that by doing so he may lead a unified nation. What a model. Was it not Jesus who exemplified humility and self-effacement as the measure of true greatness? By that standard, maybe Sonia Gandhi and her adopted Indians are "not far from the kingdom of God."