Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Daily Times editorial Nov 8, 2012

Obama’s win After a closely contested presidential election that at one stage seemed too uncertain to call according to all the pollsters and analysts, in the end the incumbent President Barack Obama romped home by a wide margin in the electoral college of 303 to Romney’s 206 but a far narrower one of 50 percent of the popular vote to Romney’s 48 percent. In the US presidential electoral system, the states are given electoral college votes on the basis of population. However, one peculiarity of the system is that the winner in any state gets credited with the entire electoral college votes of that state. Political analysts do measure that success or failure against the proportion of the popular vote the winner and loser receive. Interestingly, the ‘swing’ states that were considered to be poised uncertainly, in the end were won by the Obama camp. Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger, probably lost because he fell between the two stools of the far right opinion inside the party, typified by the Tea Party faction, and the belated attempt, especially in the candidates’ debates towards the close of the campaigning, to appeal to the centre through more moderate stances. Arguably, Romney failed to appeal to the far right for being too moderate, and to the centre for not being moderate enough soon enough in the campaign. The results of the election indicate the deep divide in American society at this juncture of economic difficulties and the contrasting approaches of the Democrats and Republicans on how best to tackle the stubborn global economic crisis gripping the whole world. The economy and social issues such as healthcare, immigration, etc, are likely to be the main domestic focus of the four more years Obama has won. Whether he can heal the divisions and become a president for all the American people, rhetoric to this effect in his victory speech notwithstanding, will be key to the legacy his presidency leaves for posterity. A crucial factor in getting things done and tackling the very serious issues of budget deficits, ballooning debt and the creation of jobs is the control of the House by the Republicans, even if the Democrats still control the Senate. The implications of this ‘divided’ Congress are that Obama will very skillfully have to negotiate bipartisan support from his opponents if he is to have any hope of success. In contrast with the hype and excitement that the first black president’s 2008 victory engendered within the US and the world at large, a heightened expectation that proved disappointing in the light of what Obama managed in practice after taking office, there is likely to be a soberer mood underlying the immediate celebrations in the Democratic camp. The debate in the US and other parts of the world on whether the way out of the global economic crisis is through austerity (implying the greater burden to be carried by the ordinary citizen) or stimuli that can engender growth (recall the rescue of big banks considered ‘too big to fail’ through public funds and the rehabilitation of top managers’ perks and privileges) remains inconclusive so far, particularly in Europe. A predominantly financialised capitalism collapsed spectacularly when imprudent investment and debt mountains took their toll, taking the ‘real’ economy down with it. Unlike the Great Crash of the 1920s and 30s, the 21st century context has no Keynesian solution of public spending to stimulate purchasing power and demand to pull the sagging economies out of the hole they have fallen into. A much more cautious approach, and therefore slow recovery is the best case scenario for the foreseeable future, whether in the US or the rest of the world. Arguably, an unprecedentedly interconnected global economy is likely to sink or swim together. The economic interdependence of the present world means that foreign governments are likely to welcome continuing to do business with the ‘devil they know’. The plethora of congratulatory messages from all over the world to Obama is not just the ritual formalities that are usual on such occasions. The economy aside, many countries and regions have expressed disappointment that the early promise of a new beginning that Obama indicated in 2008, markers for which include his Cairo speech promising to reach out to the Muslim world, proved in practice to be less than satisfactory. US and NATO involvement in Libya and Syria, to take just two examples, have aroused a great deal of concern in other powers such as Russia and China as well as parts of the Muslim and broader world. While the defence, security and foreign policy establishment managed to limit the idealism of Obama, the Israeli lobby managed to paralyse in Israel’s favour the conflict with the Palestinians. The Arab Spring has produced Islamist regimes with which Washington is attempting to find a modus operandi, but these are arguably far from the kind of democratic denouement the Spring initially promised. In our part of the world, it is unlikely the next four years of Obama will bring anything radically different in terms of policy. Withdrawal from Afghanistan (following Iraq) looms and it is far from certain at this stage to what extent the lessons of the US and west’s turning away from the region in 1989 have been learnt and to what extent continued engagement with the region, especially Pakistan and Afghanistan, can realistically be expected. There is no gainsaying the fact though that Islamabad will have to cut its cloth according to what largesse or otherwise flows from Washington from now on. The US has been trying through carrot and stick methods to get Pakistan to abandon the use of proxies for jihadi extremism, but this is far from an accomplished fact, despite the enormous costs of continuing with that outdated policy for Pakistan itself in the shape of the terrorist blowback. Despite the US’s economic difficulties, no country can afford to ignore Washington, or at least only do so at its own potential peril. Pakistan will have to revisit and re-examine its relations with what may well be a far more confident Obama administration that may get tougher with Pakistan regarding Afghanistan and terrorism. The days ahead therefore promise ‘interesting times’.

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