–With luck, the era of red-mist foreign policy is nearing an end
By Mathew Carr
Sept. 12, 2021 — George W Bush was angry.
“One thing on the ‘to do’ list is to kick their ass,” he said he was thinking minutes after jetliners smashed into New York’s World Trade towers and Washington’s Pentagon building, two decades ago.
His anger built through the rest of that fateful day.
And it kept building into Sept. 14, when he helicoptered to ground zero and tapped into the psychology of rescue workers, where the mood was vengeful, according to the “9/11: Inside the President’s War Room” documentary.
Bush then said in an unplanned speech right there that the people who had knocked down the towers would be hearing from the United States …and soon. “U S A … U S A …U S A …” came the chant from the workers, like at some sort of weird football match. Yet the locker-room chanting was understandable in that moment given the country’s aggressive, schoolyard view of itself.
Within a month, the U.S. had started a war with Afghanistan and a couple of years later one with Iraq.
A white, male leader made a catastrophic schoolboy error or two, in hindsight. Teachers will tell even kindergarten kids to count to 10 to avoid doing something bad while losing their temper.
“I’m really not a very angry person, but I was angry that people killed Americans. But, you can’t make rational decisions when you’re angry. And I made some big decisions” (after speaking to smart people), Bush said in the documentary.
Later in the film he denies he acted in anger, but it does not ring so true.
The troubling insight into presidential — and American — psychology goes a long way to explain how the world has come to be in such a fine mess, 20 years later.
‘Red mist is the notion that
anger clouds good judgement’
The aggressive decision making back then (while understandable on many levels) was based on ego. You hurt me! I’ll kill you.
It was based on short-term threats.
It was based on domestic, rather than global needs (while being couched as a global war on terror).
The decisions were made without much real, measured, global consultation.
Almost 3,000 Americans died that day. Horrific and tragic, for sure.
Yet, the overreaction has been spectacular.
The War on Terror displaced 38 million people, killed about 900,000 and cost $8 trillion, according to data compiled at Wikipedia.
For each American killed, that’s 13,000 others displaced, 300 others killed and a cost of $2.7 billion …for each.
From what I can read here in the U.K., the media seems to care almost exclusively for the 3,000 Americans.
What happened before Sept. 11, 2001 and then after that date seems to get swept underneath the carpet of much of the mainstream news site commentaries.
It’s a deeply troubling narrative. Did editors not learn from black lives matter? Are the 3,000 killed on American soil really worth so much more remembrance? Indeed, even the 3,000 were from scores of different countries.
Bush’s “strong man” overreaction spawned copycat leaders around the world, from Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil to Viktor Orban in Hungary …and then of course there’s Donald Trump.
And here’s the thing…those strong men have been less concerned with serious long-term problems like climate change. It does not play to their base.
The $8 trillion would have gone a long way to getting the U.S. and the world to a net-zero emissions economy, so the opportunity cost was huge. It’s interesting wonder about an alternative reality where instead of “Red Mist” Republican Bush, climate-loving Democrat Al Gore was instead handed the presidency by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000. Bush was probably unlikely to ever take up Gore’s climate mantel.
Unless the west drops its racist prejudices — it’s view that some lives matter more than others — the world is not going to be able to agree a Paris climate rulebook deal later this year.
There’s some hopeful evidence that the “strong man” narrative is giving way — to embrace at least SOME long-term thinking and much stronger, inclusive global institutions — which will hopefully become a permanent counterweight to overly short-term policy making, self interest and corruption.
To be sure, let’s make most of these counterweights women.
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at the World Trade Organization. Patricia Espinosa at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Kristalina Georgieva at the International Monetary Fund. Tedros Adhanom at the World Health Organization (a man).
These institutions are apparently strengthening. And an even more hopeful element is that the world’s strongmen are embracing them, on paper at least.
The leaders above last week published a series of plans for the Brics group of countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
They included making the multilateral institutions stronger — that is, even more sympathetic to the needs of emerging countries and representative of them.
While parts of this might be lip service, the five countries can be held to account to an extent if they take actions outside the 28-page plan, including the commitments to free trade rules, the Paris climate deal and sustainable development. They are already making similar statements under the G20, anyway. That they are are doing so voluntarily in their own group at his time is significant.
The Glasgow climate talks is a looming big test of how determined the countries are. It’s not looking good, on the other hand, because rich nations are so far still not deploying their fair share of climate action. That includes the new Biden administration in the U.S.
Still, it does makes sense that many of countries’ biggest concessions in the climate negotiations probably won’t come to light until near the end of the negotiations in Glasgow. So we should know by the middle of November.
You can’t blame the war on terror for the U.S. failure on climate change, protests a former U.K. diplomat, who didn’t want to be named. “Governments always leave things to the last minute.”
This has been true until now. Only time will tell whether the multilateral women (and men) can help encourage the strong men (in both developed and developing countries), and especially the U.S., to do better on multi-decadal problems like climate change and the pandemic.
With luck, though, the era of red-mist foreign policy at least is becoming history.
(Updates with context on Al Gore)
Brics declaration: https://brics2021.gov.in/brics/public/uploads/docpdf/getdocu-51.pdf