x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

America's next president

The new occupant in the White House will be challenged by 'the tyranny of the urgent': the tendency that the most pressing demands divert energy and attention from others that are no less dangerous to ignore. A resolution to the crisis in eastern Congo will necessitate dealing with the issue of the presence of Hutu militias. The Dalai Lama says his efforts to win autonomy for Tibet have failed.

"The world has never watched any vote, in any nation, so closely. In country after country, polls show record-high fascination with the outcome of the US elections this Tuesday," Newsweek reported. "In Japan, according to one poll, there's more interest in the election than there is in the United States. The Voice of America, which broadcasts in 45 languages to a worldwide audience of 134 million, is seeing 'unprecedented interest'. In Pakistan there was so much interest in the first presidential debate, the VOA changed its initial plans and broadcast the next two as well. Indonesians and Kenyans, are of course fascinated and somewhat astonished by the fact that Barack Obama, a man with ties to both places, should be the front-runner, and in Vietnam, there is much discussion over John McCain, a man who returned home from Hanoi in 1973 a wounded man and spent the rest of his life in dedicated service to the United States. "Europe is thrilled by the prospect that whatever happens this week it will mean the end of George W Bush, and enraptured by the sheer spectacle of it all. James Dickmeyer, the director of the Foreign Press Centers, which helps international press cover US political campaigns, says foreign journalists swarmed not only the Iowa caucuses but even the Iowa State Fair's Straw Poll, which they had never covered before. Bob Worcester, the American-born founder of the London-based polling and research firm Mori, has worked in more than 40 countries, and says he has 'never ever seen any election in which so many people in so many places have been so interested'. "It's very clear who they are interested in: Barack Obama. John McCain and Sarah Palin are by all accounts still in the race, but McCain has become a political cipher in a world that has of late tuned into Obama 24/7." Andrew Nagorski wrote: "Understandably, what electrified much of the world was that a black candidate - or, more accurately, a mixed race young politician with an exotic-sounding name - could make a serious bid for the White House. Yes, that does demonstrate how much and how quickly American society has changed in its attitudes about race. It was also fascinating to see how many Europeans felt virtuous by supporting Barack Obama, convinced that this demonstrated how they are equally liberal on racial issues. 'Everyone is for Obama here,' a French intellectual told me in Paris recently. When I asked if a black politician could win in France, however, he unhesitatingly responded: 'No, conditions are different here.' "But this election highlights something else that few people have noticed: the contrast between the American and European electoral systems, which made both Barack Obama's and John McCain's candidacies possible. There's no doubt that the American system of primaries and caucuses is horrendously complicated. Because of the staggering sums needed to wage these long campaigns, it also invites financial abuses. But this time, in particular, the virtues of this tortuous process were more evident than ever. "If the United States had the Polish, German or almost any other European country's political system, neither Obama nor McCain would have been their party's standard-bearer. In parliamentary democracies, the party elites usually determine who will lead them into electoral battle long before any elections are scheduled. During this particular American contest, the favourite of the Democratic Party elite was Hillary Clinton. The choice of the Republican Party's establishment was far less evident, but it certainly wasn't McCain. He was always considered too independent and unpredictable. But the long road of primaries and caucuses allowed the parties' rank-and-file to defy the elites and propel these two men to the top. "In other words, American-style democracy worked, producing upsets in both parties. There was nothing pre-cooked about this year's contest." In The Financial Times, Strobe Talbott wrote: "Last summer, which already seems like a long time ago, it was commonplace to wonder why anyone would want to be the next president of the US, given the quantity, complexity and difficulty of the foreign policy problems awaiting him. He will have to deal with dangerously unstable countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan; hostile ones like Iran and North Korea; a Russia that is back in the business of invading neighbouring states and the existential threats of climate change and nuclear proliferation. "Then came the 'Black September' of the era of globalisation. By the end of that month, the turmoil on Wall Street had mushroomed into a worldwide crisis that will be the focus of a 20-nation emergency summit hosted by President George W Bush on Nov 15. "The need to stabilise credit markets around the world is not only the latest, most visible test of the international system - it is also the one with most political impact in the US, now that the real economy is suffering. Mr Bush's successor will confront a classic example of what management consultants call 'the tyranny of the urgent': the tendency of an immediate catastrophe to divert energy and attention from festering or potential ones. "Yet the pre-September to-do list that awaits the next leader in Washington is still a must-do list. It includes six other imperatives that should not, in the name of prioritising problems, be downgraded or deferred. "These are: establishing an effective climate control regime as a replacement for, and a quantum improvement on, the Kyoto protocol when it expires four years from now; stopping, then reversing, the erosion of the nuclear non-proliferation regime; resuscitating the world trade order after the stalling of the Doha round; improving the efficacy of international mechanisms for fighting poverty; preventing or preparing, if necessary, to deal with pandemics; and, finally, establishing new ways to handle failed and failing states and the non-state actors that they breed, including terrorist organisations."

"The international community is scrambling to organise a summit to prevent a resumption of the fighting in Congo that has displaced a quarter-million people in recent weeks. But the conflict will be tough to end without resolving an issue at its heart - the presence of Hutu militias who participated in Rwanda's genocide," The Associated Press reported. "The Hutu fighters fled to Congo in 1994 after helping massacre more than a half-million Tutsis. They remain there untouched, heavily armed, and in control of lucrative mines in remote hills and forests. "Congo's ethnic Tutsi rebel leader, Laurent Nkunda, has used the threat they pose to justify carving out his own fiefdom in the mineral-rich east. "That fiefdom grew dramatically in recent days as his fighters advanced dozens of kilometres south to the gates of the provincial capital, Goma, forcing a beleaguered army and humiliated UN peacekeepers to retreat." In The New York Times, Jeffrey Gettleman wrote: "Congo analysts say that Mr Nkunda may have some legitimate political goals - and Congolese ones at that. For starters, he seems determined to eliminate the Hutu death squads who participated in the massacre of 800,000 people in Rwanda in 1994 and then fled into Congo, where they continue to brutalise with impunity. The Congolese government has promised to disarm the squads. But the rebels - and many Western diplomats - say the government is actually giving the Hutu death squads guns. "'The Congolese Army is working hand in hand with these killers,' said Babu Amani, a spokesman for the rebels. "The rebels want to play a bigger role in governing eastern Congo and even possibly to carve the territory into ethnic fiefs. "Mr Nkunda has recently been reaching out to Hutus, and it seems that he is trying to refashion himself into a leader for all Rwandan-speaking people in the eastern Congo province of North Kivu, where Rwandan speakers make up about 40 per cent of the population and dominate many of the important businesses. "But Mr Nkunda's ambitions may go beyond even that. Across the country, Congolese are getting fed up with their president, Joseph Kabila, who has little to show after winning a historic election in 2006, Congo's first nationwide democratic vote since independence in 1960." In The Guardian, Paul Collier wrote: "The theory [accepted by the international community] has been that elections usher in an accountable and legitimate government and so bring peace and prosperity. In Congo, elections were duly held on Oct 29 2006, costing the aid donors $500m. So confident was the international community in this model that the date set for the withdrawal of UN peacekeepers was Oct 30. Instead, the elections provoked a full-scale shoot-out between the forces of the defeated candidate, Bemba, and the victorious Kabila, while manifestly failing to resolve the problem of eastern Congo. "It is possible to hold elections anywhere: Congo, Afghanistan, even Iraq. But facing reality means recognising that post-conflict situations are structurally dangerous in a way that cannot be resolved by a quick political fix. "I find that in societies at very low levels of income, democracy does not appear to enhance the prospects of peace: I wish it did, but instead it seems to make them more dangerous. And in post-conflict situations elections appear both to increase and to shift the risks of a resurgence of conflict, sharply increasing them once the election is over. Presumably, as in Congo, the loser doesn't accept the result, and the winner recognises the opportunity to be vindictive with impunity. "There is usually no quick fix, political or otherwise: only after at least a decade of serious engagement can we hope for change. Politics is insufficient: security and economic development need to be externally supported on a grand scale." The Dalai Lama says his efforts to win autonomy for Tibet have failed "In a blunt admission that his efforts to win autonomous status for Tibet through negotiations with Beijing have borne no fruit, the Dalai Lama said Monday he would step back from his role as political leader and let Tibetan exiles decide if a new strategy is needed," The Christian Science Monitor reported. "'Things are not improving inside Tibet' despite seven rounds of talks with Chinese officials, he told reporters in Tokyo where spoke to the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan. 'Our approach has never affected the inside situation. I cannot continue like this. I have to accept failure. "'My moral responsibility now is to ask people what to do,' he added." Time magazine added: "The Dalai Lama has called for a special weeklong meeting, starting on Nov 17 and convened by the government-in-exile in Dharamsala, to discuss how to engage the Chinese government from this point forward. At the end of November, international supporters of the Tibetan cause are also expected to meet in New Delhi. "The Dalai Lama said Sunday that he does not know what will come of the meetings. Now 73, he said he is looking forward to complete retirement. 'My retirement is also my human right,' he said, laughing during Monday's press conference in Tokyo. 'Since 16 years old I carried this responsibility. There should be a limit.' And though his negotiating life may be coming to an end, as far as his being Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama says that he will remain committed until death." pwoodward@thenational.ae