The Bush years may be all but over, but the lunacy lives on — even in Finland.
For reasons beyond me, my hometown newspaper Helsingin Sanomat has repeatedly chosen to allow its op-ed space be abused by Markku Ruotsila, a Finnish scholar whose views on the Bush presidency and its global consequences represent what can only be described as the nuttier fringe of neoconservative thought.
Ruotsila is a leading Finnish expert on the American religious right, so I guess it’s only natural that the ideological irrationality of his research subject has rubbed off on him. I’ve never met him, but judging by what I’ve read, he’s a true blue Straussian neocon, a fervent believer in the United States’ moral superiority and its god-given right to mold the world in its own image, to impose, by whatever means necessary, its Christian values and free-market ideals (‘Good’) on those deemed to be its enemies (‘Evil’).
In true neocon fashion, Ruotsila has invariably labeled those criticising Bush as anti-American, those trying to assess the neoconservative influence on his administration as anti-Semitic, any account of his failures as “myth”, and any effort to analyse those failures as “intellectual cowardice”.
Ruotsila obviously has the right to express his opinions, as does a newspaper to choose its contributors. But apart from being a prolific commentator he also happens to be an adjunct professor in two Finnish universities — a fact he never fails to advertise — , so his views, obscure as they may be, carry inordinate weight. In fact, in this intellectually most barren of lands, he at times seems to be about the only scholar of modern America.
For a historian with such an impressive resumé, Ruotsila is almost uncannily clueless. In 2007, for example, he wrote that the United States never lost the Vietnam war and that “most of the American anti-war activists were communists” who “openly advocated revolution”. In another op-ed, he predicted Hillary Clinton would never be elected president since the Christian right — “perhaps more than half of the adult population” — “believes she is a witchcraft-practising lesbian”. Clinton, Ruotsila wrote in Helsingin Sanomat, could only win if her Republican opponent was someone the evangelicals couldn’t identify with — and if half of the voters stayed home on election day.
Of course, he was right. The Americans didn’t elect Clinton. They elected a black dude.
Yesterday, Helsingin Sanomat published Ruotsila’s final defense of the Bush legacy, an astoundingly arrogant attempt to rewrite history even before it’s written.
In what he smugly offers as an “open-minded an unbiased review”, Ruotsila portrays the president as a man of grand purpose, “a bellwether” whose “vision is immense in its ambition”. Bush’s “mistakes and failures may therefore also seem immense”, Ruotsila writes, but “one shouldn’t seize upon them if one wants to understand the larger context”. Ruotsila then proceeds to commend Bush for “a comprehensive program to fight terrorism”, and as proof of its success, he says, the president’s “successors [sic] agree with him and are not planning to discard any essential elements of the program”.
And so, with the flick of his pen, showing no sympathy for the victims and apparently believing that Barack Obama will just pick up where his predecessor left off, one of the most prominent Finnish experts on present-day United States dismisses as mere distraction policies that are now almost universally condemned as catastrophically misguided.
The dismal failure of emergency response after Katrina, the warrantless wiretapping of Americans, the disregard for human rights and international law, the torture and consequent radicalisation of terror suspects, the invasion of Iraq and its mishandled aftermath, the poorly executed war in Afghanistan that resulted in seven years of misery, the bungling of efforts to capture bin Laden, the 100,000 Iraqi war dead, the thousands of Americans killed and tens of thousands maimed, and the near-total loss of respect for the U.S. — in Markku Ruotsila’s wacky world, mere footnotes of history.