Life after Bush

The next US president must first dampen the fires Bush ignited before deciding foreign policy writes

Sadly, the world after Bush will still be Bush’s world - plagued by the Iraq War, faltered alliances, terrorism unabated, and anti-American violence. Many of these phenomena began to crest in the 1990s, but over eight years Bush has done little but inflame them – the proverbial arsonist in the firehouse. The next U.S. president will not be able to hit the ground running, for he (or she) must first dampen the fires.

The next president – whether Hillary, Obama, or Huckabee – might be granted some global goodwill, but there will be no lengthy suspended animation. Geopolitically, the world is already moving on: the European Union is expanding and building a post-NATO, Euro-centric order stretching from Ireland to Azerbaijan, connecting pipelines to North Africa, signing free trade with the Gulf oil sheikhdoms, and dealing on equal terms with the Chinese.

China, too, is a post-American superpower, constructing a “Greater Chinese Co-Prosperity Sphere” across all of East Asia and even Central Asia through the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). All the countries in the middle are building foreign exchange reserves, establishing sovereign wealth funds, and either buffering themselves against the sliding U.S. dollar or buying up America because of it.

In this context, the task of the next American leader is not to pretend that America can or will ever again run the world, or even singularly lead it. America is a world unto itself, and the president’s first task is to deal with the home front: immigration, healthcare, education, infrastructure – all areas lacking in political consensus, budgetary funding, and competent leadership.

Initially, in terms of foreign policy, there are messes to clean up, meaning exiting from Iraq while attempting to negotiate a continued troop presence (the Pentagon will demand it), shoring up Afghanistan, and keeping Pakistan stable.

Then there are relations to normalize: with Latin America and Europe most of all. If the above go well, and they may not no matter who is president, he or she could consider “bold, new, fresh” initiatives which are always over-promised and under-delivered. But many of these really can wait – the world has had enough of America’s bright ideas for a while. So the aim is modesty in all things, and calibrated strategies for each issue and region, not a blanket global doctrine.

There are countries where America’s ability to support even progressive change is slipping: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, and others. These are the first bilateral strategic priorities — but they are also tests for strengthening cooperation with the key geopolitical leaders of Europe and China.

Iran’s combustible mix of oil, terrorism, nuclear weapons, technology and investment needs sorting out, and only European sticks, American carrots, and China either getting off the fence or out of the way can untangle it.

Maintaining stability in the Saudi kingdom and the quasi-monarchic Egypt under the frail Hosni Mubarak also requires greater European involvement rather than more American meddling. Can the transatlantic partners create a meaningful division of labour to create jobs and also encourage political liberalization in the Middle East?

Then there is the geopolitical personality management of entrenched leaders like Islam Karimov and Musharraf in Pakistan, who need serious help to change course before their countries become even graver threats to regional security. If America can’t find ways to get Europe and China on the same page on the above, its own regime change won’t mean much.

America will still be America on January 20, 2009 – it will still be the country that bungled Iraq and can barely manage Hugo Chavez. It will not suddenly become a nimble multi-tasking soft superpower. The next US president must rebuild bridges with key countries around the world not because it will improve America’s image, but because it has to in order to remain relevant as a global leader.

Parag Khanna will be a speaker at the Fabian Society Change the World conference on 19 January

Parag Khanna is Senior Research Fellow and Director of the Global Governance Initiative at the New America Foundation. He is the author of The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order, to be published by Penguin U.K. in April
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“It was the most traumatic chapter of my life”: ex-soldier James Wharton on his chemsex addiction

One of the British Army’s first openly gay soldiers reveals how he became trapped in a weekend world of drug and sex parties.

“Five days disappeared.” James Wharton, a 30-year-old former soldier, recalls returning to his flat in south London at 11pm on a Sunday night in early March. He hadn’t eaten or slept since Wednesday. In the five intervening days, he had visited numerous different apartments, checked in and out of a hotel room, partied with dozens of people, had sex, and smoked crystal meth “religiously”.

One man he met during this five-day blur had been doing the same for double the time. “He won’t have been exaggerating,” Wharton tells me now. “He looked like he’d been up for ten days.”

On Monday, Wharton went straight to his GP. He had suffered a “massive relapse” while recovering from his addiction to chemsex: group sex parties enhanced by drugs.

“Crystal meth lets you really dig in, to use an Army term”

I meet Wharton on a very different Monday morning six months after that lost long weekend. Sipping a flat white in a sleek café workspace in Holborn, he’s a stroll away from his office in the city, where he works as a PR. He left the Army in 2013 after ten years, having left school and home at 16.


Wharton left school at 16 to join the Army. Photo: Biteback

With his stubble, white t-shirt and tortoise shell glasses, he now looks like any other young media professional. But he’s surfacing from two years in the chemsex world, where he disappeared to every weekend – sometimes for 72 hours straight.

Back then, this time on a Monday would have been “like a double-decker bus smashing through” his life – and that’s if he made it into work at all. Sometimes he’d still be partying into the early hours of a Tuesday morning. The drugs allow your body to go without sleep. “Crystal meth lets you really dig in, to use an Army expression,” Wharton says, wryly.


Wharton now works as a PR in London. Photo: James Wharton

Mainly experienced by gay and bisexual men, chemsex commonly involves snorting the stimulant mephodrone, taking “shots” (the euphoric drug GBL mixed with a soft drink), and smoking the amphetamine crystal meth.

These drugs make you “HnH” (high and horny) – a shorthand on dating apps that facilitate the scene. Ironically, they also inhibit erections, so Viagra is added to the mix. No one, sighs Wharton, orgasms. He describes it as a soulless and mechanical process. “Can you imagine having sex with somebody and then catching them texting at the same time?”

“This is the real consequence of Section 28”

Approximately 3,000 men who go to Soho’s 56 Dean Street sexual health clinic each month are using “chems”, though it’s hard to quantify how many people regularly have chemsex in the UK. Chemsex environments can be fun and controlled; they can also be unsafe and highly addictive.

Participants congregate in each other’s flats, chat, chill out, have sex and top up their drugs. GBL can only be taken in tiny doses without being fatal, so revellers set timers on their phones to space out the shots.

GBL is known as “the date rape drug”; it looks like water, and a small amount can wipe your memory. Like some of his peers, Wharton was raped while passed out from the drug. He had been asleep for six or so hours, and woke up to someone having sex with him. “That was the worst point, without a doubt – rock bottom,” he tells me. “[But] it didn’t stop me from returning to those activities again.”

There is a chemsex-related death every 12 days in London from usually accidental GBL overdoses; a problem that Wharton compares to the AIDS epidemic in a book he’s written about his experiences, Something for the Weekend.


Wharton has written a book about his experiences. Photo: Biteback

Wharton’s first encounter with the drug, at a gathering he was taken to by a date a couple of years ago, had him hooked.

“I loved it and I wanted more immediately,” he recalls. From then on, he would take it every weekend, and found doctors, teachers, lawyers, parliamentary researchers, journalists and city workers all doing the same thing. He describes regular participants as the “London gay elite”.

“Chemsex was the most traumatic chapter of my life” 

Topics of conversation “bounce from things like Lady Gaga’s current single to Donald Trump”, Wharton boggles. “You’d see people talking about the general election, to why is Britney Spears the worst diva of them all?”

Eventually, he found himself addicted to the whole chemsex culture. “It’s not one single person, it’s not one single drug, it’s just all of it,” he says.



Wharton was in the Household Cavalry alongside Prince Harry. Photos: Biteback and James Wharton

Wharton feels the stigma attached to chemsex is stopping people practising it safely, or being able to stop. He’s found a support network through gay community-led advice services, drop-ins and workshops. Not everyone has that access, or feels confident coming forward.

“This is the real consequence of Section 28,” says Wharton, who left school in 2003, the year this legislation against “promoting” homosexuality was repealed. “Who teaches gay men how to have sex? Because the birds and the bees chat your mum gives you is wholly irrelevant.”


Wharton was the first openly gay soldier to appear in the military in-house magazine. Photo courtesy of Biteback

Wharton only learned that condoms are needed in gay sex when he first went to a gay bar at 18. He was brought up in Wrexham, north Wales, by working-class parents, and described himself as a “somewhat geeky gay” prior to his chemsex days.

After four years together, he and his long-term partner had a civil partnership in 2010; they lived in a little cottage in Windsor with two dogs. Their break-up in 2014 launched him into London life as a single man.

As an openly gay soldier, Wharton was also an Army poster boy; he appeared in his uniform on the cover of gay magazine Attitude. He served in the Household Cavalry with Prince Harry, who once defended him from homophobic abuse, and spent seven months in Iraq.


In 2012, Wharton appeared with his then civil partner in Attitude magazine. Photo courtesy of Biteback

A large Union Jack shield tattoo covering his left bicep pokes out from his t-shirt – a physical reminder of his time at war on his now much leaner frame. He had it done the day he returned from Iraq.

Yet even including war, Wharton calls chemsex “the most traumatic chapter” of his life. “Iraq was absolutely Ronseal, it did exactly what it said on the tin,” he says. “It was going to be a bit shit, and then I was coming home. But with chemsex, you don’t know what’s going to happen next.

“When I did my divorce, I had support around me. When I did the Army, I had a lot of support. Chemsex was like a million miles an hour for 47 hours, then on the 48th hour it was me on my own, in the back of an Uber, thinking where did it all go wrong? And that’s traumatic.”

Something for the Weekend: Life in the Chemsex Underworld by James Wharton is published by Biteback.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.