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CONTROLLING Mr. BUSH

GEORGE W. BUSH appears determined to carry the adventurism that characterised his first four years in office into the second term. In his State of the Union Address, he followed up on the theme that formed the core of his speech at his second inaugural — of spreading liberty to benighted corners of the world. This statement of intent must be read along with the United States President's skewed understanding of the idea of freedom. The repeated invocation of the term `liberty' is grotesque when juxtaposed against the reality of the U.S. invading and occupying sovereign nations — and devastating the lives and livelihood of their people — with little compunction. With Iran and Syria apparently marked out as the next targets of Washington's drive to promote democracy, there is understandable apprehension that these two countries could be attacked in the next few years. However, concern on this score might turn out to be overblown since the U.S. military forces are so overstretched by the ongoing operations in Iraq that they are not likely to be available for action anywhere else. In a recent interview, Vice-President Dick Cheney aired the thought that Israel might be tempted to take out Iran's nuclear facilities. While this statement could be interpreted as signalling prior approval, even Mr. Cheney was apparently aware of the disaster that would follow if America's most faithful ally were to act in the belief that the task has been outsourced to it. For the moment at least, the U.S. might have no choice but to let the European Union go ahead with its effort to persuade Iran to abandon plans to acquire nuclear weapons.

The Bush administration might also need to give up its penchant for adventurism overseas, for the simple reason it is likely to be caught up in an intense domestic battle over plans to revamp the system of Social Security. While Mr. Bush did touch upon the various items on his domestic agenda in his State of the Union address, he clearly perceives Social Security `reform' as a priority. Many American politicians and economists seem to believe that flaws in the system must be corrected so as to ensure that future generations are not deprived of post-retirement benefits. Right-wing ideologues close to Mr. Bush take the view that the crisis in the system warrants a radical overhaul. One of their major proposals is that working people below the age of 55 should be given the option of depositing a part of their Social Security contributions in personal investment accounts. The funds so deposited could be invested not only in Government bonds, which are preferred instruments under the existing system, but also in the shares of private companies. Critics argue that this route is fraught with risk since the intended beneficiaries will be left at the mercy of the share market and its vagaries.

Mr. Bush has displayed unbelievable chutzpah in defending policies that have gone horribly wrong. He appears further emboldened to follow this approach since he could get away with it in the presidential election campaign. At present, the Democratic Party is significantly weaker than it was before the November 2 election; its numbers are down in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. However, Democrats, stung by the triumphalism of their adversaries as much as by their own reverses, seem to be more alert to the dangers of the President's ideology-driven approach. Republican moderates also fear the public will turn against them should the Bush administration unthinkingly tinker with a key component of the welfare state. Democrats will look for help from sober elements of the Republican Party as they try to rein in a President on the rampage.

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