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American politics

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American presidential elections have always generated interest around the world largely because whenever America sneezes most of the world catches a cold since so much of what this superpower does impacts on the rest of the world. It should certainly be clear to us how much the world has changed since 9/11, not only or largely because of the dastardly act that was 9/11 but to a large extent because of America’s reaction.{{more}} The Iraqi War was its irrational response but so many other things have also come into play in their desire to fight terrorism. The question that we really need to ask is – Have America and the World been made safer by the Iraqi war?

Over the past months, Vincentians, like other West Indians and people elsewhere, have really been caught up in the drama that is the US presidential election. The fact that two of the main contenders are a woman and an African-American would be enough to create interest and excitement, but the presence and politics of Barrack Obama have lit up the American political scene, have attracted an unprecedented number of voters and created unusual interest and excitement. Not many persons, at first, gave Obama the ghost of a chance of even reaching where he has now reached, and it is perhaps safe to say that barring some unusual scandal or something extraordinary he is likely to be the nominee for the Democrats. American blacks who at first appeared lukewarm because they doubted that America was ready for a black president have now been catapulted into action and interest. Obama’s position as a front runner in the Democratic primaries did not come about because he is an Afro-American. (Sorry Geraldine Ferraro!) After all there had been other African- Americans there before. It has a lot to do with the personality, style and message of the man. His cry for change has echoed in a country that wants something new after the disaster that is George Bush.

America’s image around the world has turned sour and something is needed to overturn it. The election of an Afro-American even more than a woman will send a powerful message around the world, for it would mean that a lot has changed and is changing in American society and politics. But this is one side of the picture. I am often sorry for Barrack when he cries out for a change in how things are done in Washington. His election alone would signify some measure of change in American politics but don’t expect too much. The question is who controls American politics. Republican or Democrat, there are many things that will not change and those that will change will not be fundamental. Expectations are going to be high for Afro-Americans, but we are still going to be dealing with America. Obama has been championing bringing Americans together. His message has been a populist one. The masses will vote and if Obama continues to inspire people in the way he does, more young people, more Afro-Americans, more independents will come to his corner. Once he is elected it is the moneyed interests that will dictate policies. This is America, the bastion of Capitalism where to be branded a liberal is equivalent in some peoples’ minds to being called a terrorist.

Obama has first to fight off the determination of Hilary Clinton who sometimes gives you the impression that the presidency of America was willed for her. And then the real fight starts. The Conservatives would put everything into the ring. Their politics will be dirty. Their candidate John McCain had fought against the federal holiday for Dr. Martin Luther King. He now claims to have been a late starter. But McCain has a rough road ahead. The economy is in serious trouble and Iraq is still a major issue with the war seeming to be going no where. Despite the claims made by McCain he is committed to the policies of George Bush. His reputation, his image, is that of a war monger, as one who sees little beyond war. He has even vowed to remain in Iraq for another hundred years even though in the face of criticisms he tried to put a different spin on it..

Earlier in the week the testimony of General David Petraeus and Ryan Crocker would certainly have made McCain uncomfortable. His claim that success was within reach in Iraq wasn’t really the message that was delivered to the Senate Armed Forces Committee. Petraeus claims that some progress was made but it was tentative and he urged Americans not to take out the champagne. The picture the Bushites are painting is one that will see Americans continuing in Iraq for quite a long time. The surge they claim is working. If it really was, one would expect that the net result would be a reduction of troops but they are suggesting that there is need to keep the troops there to see it through. If all goes well and there are no reverses the General was suggesting a reduction by July to the pre-Surge level, then a 45 day period of ‘consolidation and evaluation’, to be followed by a period of assessment which could take many months. This is in their view a best case scenario but given what has developed over the past two weeks there is unlikely to be a best case scenario.

The situation will not be easy for the Democrats who have committed themselves to a withdrawal of troops within the shortest possible time. How they are going to do this is left to be seen. But anger is growing in America. The Americans are worried about their economic situation and the realisation that they are moving into a recession. The real cost of the war in Iraq is now coming home to haunt them. The figure which has been spouted about in relation to the cost of the war is 12 U$ billion a month. There is a growing realisation that you cannot divorce the cost of the Iraq war from the American economic crisis so they are calling on the Iraqis to pay more for the rebuilding of their country, pointing to the billions which they have in their accounts. But give me a break! Who destroyed the country? Who destroyed the infrastructure? Who bombed relentlessly? Those who did so are the ones who need to pay for the rebuilding of the country!

The debate, however, has to go much further. How do you determine victory or success? It is clear to some people that there will be no military solution. Therefore, more emphasis will have to be put on a diplomatic/political solution. The Iranian role in brokering a recent ceasefire between the Government- Shiite dominated and the people loyal to Moqtada al Sadr speaks volumes. But George Bush will not speak to his enemies, especially to those he has labelled as part of the Axis of Evil. Obama on the other hand is prepared to talk with friends and foes. America is a strange country and one should never take anything for granted but we look at what is taking place in America with disbelief. Perhaps in the end if Obama is elected we can give the credit to George Bush. That might be his place in history! Give it to them, Georgie!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a historian and social commentator.

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