Friday, 27 May 2011

Coming from America (Part 2)

It's always good to go to the USA because it offers a different perspective on how world events are viewed. In America, the day-to-day meanderings of British politics hardly merit a mention and Libya is a sideshow. Even President Obama's visit to Ireland and the UK was pushed off the main headlines by the terrible events in Joplin, Missouri and elsewhere in the Midwest.

Two political stories dominated the news coverage - the first was President Obama's speech on the Middle East and his call for Israel to withdraw to its pre-1967 borders. This was an astonishing challenge and even more so given the visit by Israeli Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu to Washington. It's fair to say Israel has plenty of friends in high places and it's also fair to say plenty of those friendly to Israel are inherently hostile to Obama. Thus, Netanyahu was able to enjoy a particularly ingratiating interview from the odious Sean Hannity on Fox News but as we know in politics, it's always easier to make your case in the court of your friends rather than your enemies.

The sheer intractability of this issue compels all sides to think outside their narrow partisan confines. Of course, Israel has a right to exist - no one denies that and it must have borders that are internationally and regionally recognised and guaranteed. That doesn't mean it has an unalienable right to vast tracts of land based either on religious belief or on military might. A solution to the West Bank and of course the future status of Jerusalem needs leaders who are willing to face down radical elements in their own countries. The "Arab Spring" is a huge threat to Israel who was probably quite happy to see the old Arab dictators stay in power. Antagonistic dictatorships are one thing but antagonisitic regimes enjoying popular legitimacy are much harder to challnege. Reform in Cairo and above all Damascus won't make life easier for Tel Aviv but the Israelis should be the first to recognise that the Arab people have a right to political reform and freedom.

Obama is probably right in saying that a return to pre-1967 borders is a good starting point but Netanyahu, who governs with the support of extreme Orthodox parties committing to building Jewish settlemtns on the West Bank, has little room for manoeuvre. The fate of Rabin shows how extreme elements in Israeli society manage any notion of betrayal.

Ultimately, political and economic investment in post-dictatorial Arab states is the long-term answer. Prosperous states are more inclined to keep the peace than unstable ones and I fail to understand why the oil-rich Arab states have consistently failed to invest in their neighbours. Having a brutally poor Gaza or West Bank close to the unimaginable wealth of Saudi Arabia or Bahrain makes no sense.

Obama is right to keep the pressure on Israel but the solution resides not in forcing Israel to accept change but in inspiring the Arab world to lead change and create an economic, political and social stability that would in itself be a far greater guarantor for peace in the region than any pieces of paper of UN resolutions.

The second item of poilitical interest was the state of the 2012 Presidential contest on the Republican side. After the GOP's strong performance in the 2010 midterms and with Obams atruggling to make an impact, it seemed possible the Republicans had a real shot at unseating an incumbent Democrat much as they had done in 1980.

However, the death of Bin Laden gave Obama a huge boost and he has been further aided by the implosion of the Republicans who have got bogged down on arguing about managing the colossal US debt issue and threatening to being the Government to a halt in early August. The ludicrous Donald Trump caught the eye of Fox News but proved himself to be a master of spin rather than substance. Mike Huckabee has decided he can't win the nomination and in a more serious blow, Indian Governor Mitch Daniels announced he wouldn't run. It seems likely his wife was opposed to a Presidential bid.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich entered the race but shot himself in both feet by publically criticising the Republican budget plans put forward by the increasingly influential Paul Ryan. The internal GOP backlash has more or less killed his campaign.

So, who's left? While I was in Vegas, Mitt Romney held a huge fundraising rally at the Venetian/Palazzo Hotel and raised some $10 million in a single day. He's a likely front runner, has considerable GOP establishment support, has already put forward a health plan in Massachusetts which is almost the same as the current Obama plan so vilified by the pro-GOP media and has all the charisma of a cup of cold tea.

Tim Pawlenty has joined the race as has some loudmouth called Herman Cain while the Tea Party faction has to decide between Michelle Bachmann and the reticent Sarah Palin. Chris Christie has ruled himself out and cost me £20 in the process.

My guess is Romney will win the GOP nomination but will be forced to either have a Tea Party running mate (Bachmann ?) or be compelled to accept a number of Tea Party policies on the GOP programme which will be torn to shreds by the powerful Obama machine which is already hoovering up vast sums for the re-election camapign.

Some GOP pundits on Fox and elsewhere are talking tough but this isn't 1979 and there is no Reagan or Nixon in the wings. The GOP field looks weak and fragmented - the conservatives will struggle to unite behind Romney, Pawlenty doesn't look up to it and Bachmnann will be the "Goldwater" option - a candidate likely to win the party activists but lose the country.

Obama isn't home and dry of course - a major foreign or doestic reversal could yet give the GOP candidate an opportunity - but a fudged resolution to the budget and a reasonable economic recovery look to be the keys that will unlock the door for a second term for Barack Obama. The interesting question is whether Joe Biden will stay as VP or whether we will begin to see the 2016 Democrat field take shape. As we saw in 2008, a field without an incumbent President or Vice-President offers all sorts of possibilities on both sides but that's a long way off.

1 comment:

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