2 Nov 2010

America votes! Why should we care?

I was making my way to my hotel here near Capitol Hill in Washington DC, when unexpectedly I ran into my old friend Jake from Baghdad in the foyer. Jake, still toiling for the UN in Iraq after four long years there, was in town with a UN Deputy Secretary General trying to drum up funding for the shrivelling civic programmes that have flowed from the Iraq war. Jake did not appear suffused with any sense of fund raising success.

No wonder: America’s two wars are costing the country several billion a week. They are still costing the UK many tens of millions a month – a poignant element that binds us to the outcome of today’s vote here.

As I write this, the polling stations are opening across America. The guy at the top won’t change. The USA will still be there when we all go to bed tonight, so what?

From war to climate change, from the state of the dollar to domestic “quantitative easing (mark 2)”, our fate is still bound to this vast all-consuming entity, which guzzles 25 per cent of the world’s energy and emits 25 per cent of global Co2 pollutants.

There will be significant numbers of politicians elected this day in this place for whom there is no place for combating climate change. There will be others who advocate trade protectionism, and still others who reject any move to further stimulate this economy – still, in GDP, some 21 times the size of China. Did I mention that the dollar has sunk to a fifteen year low against the Japanese yen, today? Fears of the cost to the greenback, of printing more money to fuel the next fiscal stimulus.

No, make no mistake; this midterm election matters both to the US, and to us. That’s why I relish being here; relish the pumpkin farm in Virginia on Halloween, talking to ordinary Americans bemused by our mutual mispronunciations of our common tongue. Relish taking to students on the campus of the black citadel of learning, Howard University in the Washington suburbs, with whom I spent Obama’s historic election night two years ago this Thursday.

Today is serious Judgement Day for the first phase of the Obama presidency. A presidency that has so far eschewed the fawning “Special Relationship nonsense”. We may be bound by that common tongue, but we are divided by it too.

Our influence on events here is waning fast – in direct ratio to the gaining of influence of many dispossessed people who barely know of our existence, let alone care.

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