Bad for America - good for world

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For the voters of America, today is a big yawn. The 1996 election campaign has stirred little excitement. But outside the United States it is a different story. Across the world, the results will be eagerly awaited.

There are plenty of reasons why the folks at home might see the election as a snooze. Bill Clinton looks like a shoo-in for the White House, and the Presidential race has never caught fire. There are no great issues, and America is (by and large) at ease with itself. Anyway, the federal government has increasingly little leverage on the domestic problems that preoccupy the nation.

Internationally, by contrast, the US remains the pre- eminent player. Bosnia will want to see whether Mr Clinton is prepared to authorise a new force to police the Dayton peace. In the Middle East, Arab and Jew alike will wait to see how a re-elected President will deal with Israel. And then there is a new secretary- general for the United Nations to choose. Trade, aid, military force, and moral suasion: America can provide all of them, if it is so minded.

Foreign policy issues have barely featured in the campaign. They rarely do. Yet the truth is that there are some big decisions to be taken, and the US will have to take the lead. Europe may want to play a larger part in its own defence, may seek a role in the Middle East, but without Washington's backing none of these will work. But we don't get a choice today.

We, the disenfranchised, have different wishes to those who will be voting today. Most of the poll evidence shows that Americans have a declining interest in foreign policy; we want the US to remain internationally engaged. US voters have for the last few decades shown a preference for the Congress and Presidency to be held by different parties; we want to see both working in synch. They will be keen for a quiet few years; we want Washington to maintain an active world presence.

Bill Clinton has been an uncertain leader, and his foreign policy has often been opportunist. But on the whole, the world would tick his name. The Republican Right, with its dark hatreds and isolationist tics, is not the partner the world would choose. We'll vote for Bill.

US elections, page 8 and 9

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