Tuesday 3 September 2002

Bush runs out of credit

America floats on an ocean of credit. After a couple of months' good behaviour, you get overwhelmed by junk mail and calls from organisations desperate to lend you money. It is common for families to run themselves up to the maximum on a stack of different cards. It is easy to assume it will last for ever. Then comes the reckoning.

Now the government has been seduced in just the same way. A year ago, sympathy for the United States was close to unanimous across the planet. The murderous attacks raised the country's moral credit rating sky-high. But it was not limitless. And the Bush administration dissipated it all on a spending spree of ideological indulgences and hubris.

Leave aside the question of whether its Iraq policy - whatever it actually is this morning - might possibly be right. What is indisputable is that the US government has wrecked, possibly beyond repair, its hopes of persuading any other country to that effect by simple, arrogant incompetence. It is terrifying to watch. It could be the next bestseller: How to Lose Friends and Influence No One, by George W Bush.

Much of the process has been public and obvious: over issues such as the environment and the Middle East. We have also had the humiliation of Russia over nukes and the volte-face over steel tariffs, when years of free trade principles were tossed aside for a few steelworkers' votes in the Midwest. Bush is now being forced to backtrack, hacking off the steelworkers as well.

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