05 February 2008

Another day, another president...

Today is Super Tuesday... which brings me back to the question of sensitive topics.

A corollary of the idea that the US can never be anything but all powerful is another sacred myth never to be raised within the hearing of most US Americans: that every stage of the race to the White House is bound to be of vital importance to everyone in the world.

Now ... I have to confess that I do take a keen interest in the contest, from first primary to final result. But this because I'm a member of the chattering classes, vulnerable to seduction by any puzzle. My interest is at exactly the same level as I take an interest in the outcome of a chess match, a crossword, sudoku or horse race: no practical importance accrues to their outcome, I simply have an addiction to conundrums.

The truth is, which person is chosen to occupy the US presidency makes no appreciable difference to anyone outside the US. In fact. it makes far less difference inside the US than most of its citizens fondly imagine - but leave that one for another day.

The US presidential system is, in all but name, plutocratic: you can't get to the White House without having or being given immense amounts of money. You also depend on a party which is equally beholden to money and the interests which can supply it. And you must win the votes of citizens which will not tolerate much in the way of leeway. Once there, you are constrained by systemic inertia.

Whoever is in the White House, the same strategic imperatives and tactical assumptions will drive US foreign policy, and the impacts on nonUS citizens in affected areas will be the same. For the victim of torture or collateral damage, it matters little whether his or her plight has been explicitly approved or tacitly allowed. The incompetent invasion of Iraq was an inevitable consequence of neoconservative worldview, not of George W Bush's personality.

My colleague Pete Wearden argues that, in a time when the US's foreign policy is slipping out of its own control, there is more margin for the individual subjective element. Perhaps; but I'm not convinced that the difference is significant.

More interesting (though still marginal) is the indicator value of the contest. The field of likely candidates, Democrat and Republican both, as we go into Super Tuesday, suggests that the US electorate is uneasy, and in a mood for change. Not much change, and certainly not enough to produce any noticeable short term effect in lives outside US borders, but definitely straws in the wind.

What happens today will have little practical effect. What has already happened, in getting us to today, may be a different matter.

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