Here we are, with ringside seats–far too close for comfort–at the Great Global Crash of ’08. Nobody’s quite calling it that yet, but what else could it be? All over the world yesterday stocks plummeted; the Russian and Brazilian stock indexes went down so precipitously — 19% and 13% — that exchanges in both countries were closed for parts of the day; the Indonesian index tumbled an unprecedented 10%; the Paris bourse, 9%; the London FTSE 100, a historic 8%; and the main German index 7%; while, at the New York Stock Exchange, the Dow Jones dipped under 10,000 on its wild ride toward the depths.
In moments like this, if you’re an American, you look for ironies. And here’s one to consider. In the last year, the Bush administration’s top officials have sunk much of their increasingly lame-duck energy into pacifying Iraq, and so getting it out of the news and the spotlight at least long enough for election ’08 to happen (and undoubtedly long enough as well for them to get out of town in January). And then what happens? The administration is ambushed, not by Sunni militants or Shiite radicals but by its own people: investment bankers, lenders, hedge-fund managers, financial management types–the very people for whom they organized the world and who had long been playing fast and loose (and profitably) with our economic system. The ambush, of course, took the form of a financial meltdown of massive proportions for which, as in Iraq in 2003, the administration had clearly done no significant preplanning or war-gaming. And, as with the insurgency then, so now they operated by the increasingly worn seats of their pants. Their attempted $700 billion "surge," as stock exchanges around the world indicated yesterday, wasn’t likely to pacify a global financial system near cardiac arrest.
And I’m getting to that irony, if you’ll just hang on. But first recall the administration’s dreams only five years ago. Then, they were convinced that they would create a Pax Americana globally and a Pax Republicana domestically that would last generations. Now, "Bush’s brain" Karl Rove is talking about an Obama November victory, while what Iraq started, the economic meltdown looks to be ending.
Here’s a sure thing: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney won’t make it out of town in time, their wars will remain disasters, their imperial dreams so much smoke, and domestically, they may have created the conditions for a turning-point election that could bring to Washington not only a resurgent Democratic Party, but the first black president of the United States. Quite a record for one "commander-in-chief" presidency. The question is–as Chalmers Johnson wondered in his most recent piece, "Voting the Fate of the Nation,"–in the ruins of Bush’s financial Katrina, are an Obama victory and a reconfiguring election possible, or will deep-seated racism and embedded regional party loyalties prove too much even for this catastrophic moment?