x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

America's voters make history

A US presidential race that captured the world's attention culminates in a historic moment as Barack Obama in a landslide election victory lifts America beyond its racially divided past. His opponent, John McCain, in a gracious concession acknowledged that America's next president "has achieved a great thing for himself and for this country".

"In the 1860s, an immense federal army was required in order to defeat the states that supported slavery. In the 1960s, the establishment's security forces enforced their authority in the racist south. However, on Tuesday, millions of Americans headed to the polling stations to elect a black president out of their free will," wrote the Israeli commentator, Uri Misgav.
"Force had been replaced by faith, hope, and love even. This is a truly poetic historical moment. One needs to be a great paranoid, or just a smalltime racist, in order not to be touched by it.
"Two days ago, I met an acquaintance who holds American citizenship. 'Did you vote already?' I asked her. 'I'm going right now,' she replied. 'To the embassy?' I wondered. 'No,' she said as her eyes were glittering. 'I'm going home.' I was surprised to hear she was traveling all the way to California, which has been a longtime Democratic hub. 'My vote won't make a difference, but I want to be part of history,' she explained.
"Meanwhile, a family friend who visited us three weeks ago showed off her ballot, which she was about to send via air mail. I think I saw her kissing the envelope.
"Obama is a gifted campaigner. However, more than this is needed in order to explain the emotions he stirs, the scope of the enlistment in his favour, the legions of volunteers, and the donations. The groups he brings together - elites, liberals, the urban middle class, workers, young people, minorities, immigrants - represent an America that wishes to shake off evangelical belligerence and return to the right path. This is great news, and not only for the United States."
In Pakistan's Daily Times, Uri Avnery said: "As far as the national interests of the US are concerned, the 'larger Middle East' is not a secondary theatre. It is one of the most important, and the new administration will have to deal with it right from the beginning. This is also the theatre where the catastrophic failures of Bush are the most obvious.
"When Obama and his people - and I hope that they will be new people, not the wrecks from the Clinton era - examine this subject, they will be compelled to arrive at a self-evident conclusion: that the hatred for the US that is boiling from Morocco to Pakistan is inextricably bound up with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This is what has poisoned all the wells. This is the trump card in the hands of Osama bin Laden and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This conclusion was already made clear in the bipartisan Baker-Hamilton report, which Bush has thrown into the wastebasket.
"This conclusion leads to another one: that it is in the American interest to turn over a new page in our region and to really work for an Israeli-Palestinian, Israeli-Syrian, Israeli-all-Arab, and perhaps even Israeli-Iranian peace. This conclusion was apparent already on the morrow of 9/11. I wrote at the time that this was going to happen, any minute now, as the inevitable lesson from the disaster. I was wrong. Bush and the Bushites went in the opposite direction and made the situation 10 times worse. I hope that it will happen now.
"In other words: I hope with all my heart that Obama will continue to support Israel, but not the Israel of the bullies, the impostors, and the hypocrites, who pretend to be negotiating for peace while enlarging the settlements, tightening the oppression in the occupied territories, and blabbering about bombing Iran. It is not this Israel that should be supported by the next president, but the Israel that is ready for peace, prepared to pay the price for peace, and crying out for an American administration that will give the decisive push to the initiative."
In The Guardian, Sidney Blumenthal wrote: "The strange death of Republican America has been a long time in the making. As early as 1988, the Reagan coalition threatened to unravel. Only when the Republican candidate, George HW Bush, resorted to a vicious campaign - conjuring the pledge of allegiance to the flag and an African-American rapist named Willie Horton, against a worthy and weak Democratic candidate, Michael Dukakis - was the hold on power preserved.
"In 1992, Bill Clinton won back the white working class and parts of the South, but Republicans fiercely resisted his efforts to restore the authority of progressive government. They shut down the federal government twice and impeached him in the struggle for power. Then in 2000, when his vice-president, Al Gore, ran to succeed him, the conservative majority of the supreme court, by a five to four decision, ordered that votes in Florida not be counted and handed the presidency to George W Bush.
"Bush was surrounded by the aura of illegitimacy until September 11 granted him what the election had not. But even before this, he acted as if he had won office with a commanding mandate, radicalising the unfulfilled agendas of Nixon and Reagan. Two figures whose origins lay in the Nixon operation, his vice-president Dick Cheney and chief political strategist Karl Rove, provided the grand designs for an imperial presidency and a permanent Republican majority. Just as Reagan was a more radical version of Nixon, Bush was a radicalisation of Reagan. After nearly two terms, his experiment has resulted in worldwide disaster."
In The Independent, Anne Penketh said: "Farewell President Bush. Goodbye 'Axis of Evil'. From Tehran to Toledo, the people of the world are yearning for the end of eight years of a Bush administration that sacrificed America's reputation on the altar of the 'war on terror'.
"International polls have consistently shown that if the rest of the world had a vote, there was no question of anything but a landslide for Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate. The world expects change - change it can believe in. But leading analysts say that the next President will inevitably lower expectations in terms of the huge hopes raised globally by today's historic election.
"A poll carried out in 21 countries last week gauged international opinion and concluded that more than 80 per cent believe the US is most to blame for the current economic crisis. Positive perception and trust of the superpower in the twilight of the Bush presidency were also very low, among the majority of the 10,392 people surveyed in the independent poll commissioned by Porter Novelli.
"As the 44th President moves to restore America's bruised and battered reputation, the mooted closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba looms large. Both Barack Obama and his Republican rival, Senator John McCain, have pledged to close the camp. Guantanamo, like the Iraqi prisoner humiliation at Abu Ghraib, became a potent symbol of the abuse of international law by the Bush administration. But according to a US official quoted in The Washington Post, 'the new President will gnash his teeth and beat his head against the wall when he realises how complicated it is to close Guantanamo'.
"Clive Stafford Smith, the director of the British legal-action charity Reprieve, points out that among the hurdles in closing a facility that holds 250 alleged terrorists is the fact that '80 to 100 are refugees and would risk being tortured if returned home'. Although the next President would bring the prisoners to America for trial, the evidence would need to be sifted, which would bring torture allegations into sharp focus through the courts.
"Mr Stafford Smith added that the real problem was that of the 27,000 'ghost prisoners' - held by the US in countries ranging from Iraq to Djibouti, according to Reprieve. 'There are less than one per cent of these in Guantanamo... So thereís been a diversionary strategy in the war on terror. Not one of the 27,000 has ever seen a lawyer,' he said."
The Washington Post reported: "European governments drew up a road map for relations with the new US president Monday in their maiden attempt to present a concerted policy to guide dealings with the United States.
"The outline, formalised by the 27 European Union foreign ministers at a meeting in Marseille, set out in broad terms Europe's top priorities for cooperation with the incoming US administration. They laid out a unified platform in a domain traditionally dominated by nation-to-nation relationships....
"The list of priorities included reinforcing multinational diplomacy in the United Nations, paying more attention to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, and improving coordination between military and reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan, according to French officials. In addition, they said, the European initiative called for intensified diplomatic contacts with Russia, now projecting a sense of renewed power and prominence on the world stage, to prevent confrontation with the United States and Europe.
"Implicit in the appeal was a veiled suggestion that the Bush administration, focused on the struggle against terrorism and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, has not paid sufficient attention to changes in Moscow over the past several years, and has concentrated too heavily on a military solution to the conflict in Afghanistan."

pwoodward@thenational.ae