The other day, I was watching Newshour with Jim Lehrer on SBS, which was covering the midterm elections for US Congress. I saw a short exerpt of an ad for the Republican party. I didn’t pick up exactly what was said, as my baby daughter was bashing her favourite plastic blocks on the coffee table at the time, but I could see that the ad featured stills of the horrific September 11 World Trade Centre bombing and Osama bin Laden. The message seemed to be that only the Republicans would continue the “war on terror”. I was struck by the realisation that the Republicans were using terrorism as political capital.
I suddenly had a vision of George W Bush and Osama bin Laden as yin and yang. Do you like my lovely Photoshop effort? I would have liked to have made it a circular picture, but that’s beyond my capabilities.
Let me explain what I mean. Paradoxically, although each is diametrically opposed to the other and all that he stands for, they have a weird symbiotic relationship. After 9/11, Bush’s popularity ratings were at their height. Bush then invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. By making such a ham-fisted mess of it, Bush enabled Osama to appeal to other Islamist radicals (“look at this guy, what a typical American, arrogantly striding in and presuming he knows what’s best for the Middle East“). Osama’s popularity and standing in the Arab world was boosted as a result. And so the cycle goes on… Images of Osama bin Laden and 9/11 are used to boost the popularity of the Republicans, as evidenced by the ad I saw on the Jim Lehrer hour.
I read in the paper today that Britons voted that Osama bin Laden was the highest threat to world peace, followed by George W Bush. I think this is because of the weird symbiosis between them: Bush is feared because he is perceived as provoking Islamists such as bin Laden. Also Bush has started a war in Afghanistan and Iraq to try and stop bin Laden and other terrorists, with no lessening of the threat. If anything, as the study showed in Britain, Canada and Mexico, I suspect many people would think that the threat of terrorism has increased since the “war on terror” started.
Apparently Kim Jong-il didn’t rate as much of a threat in the eyes of the Brits. I suspect his bouffant hairstyle and high-heeled shoes mean that most Westerners don’t take him at all seriously, but I was speaking to a Japanese friend the other day who told me that Japan takes him extremely seriously. After all, Japan has to live practically next door to him.
The important thing to remember, however, is that Bush was democratically elected, and fortunately, he can be influenced to change American policy or be removed from office in the next election. Indeed, it seems as though the Bush administration is already having to backtrack with respect to the war in Iraq. Unfortunately, Osama bin Laden and Kim Jong-il are not elected and there is no easy way of removing them from power.