AS ELECTION season rolls into full swing in the United States, American politics is once again building a steady following around the world. For those followers outside America’s borders, one big question is on their minds: what’s in it for them and how will the election affect the rest of the World?
While the hysteria may not reach the levels witnessed during the historical 2008 election, the stakes are just as high today as they were four years ago.
Why should we care about what happens in America, you ask? What does the outcome of the American election have to do with someone 12,000 miles away in rural Mutoko, or in the slums of Kibera in Kenya? Well, as the old saying goes, “if America sneezes, the rest of the world catches a cold.”
The US alone has a more than 20 percent stake in the global economy and even though this share has begun to dwindle in recent years, the United States remains the single most important country in the world, in terms of politics, economy and military power.
Although greatly weakened, the country retains its ability to shape global events and dramatically alter the fate of people all around the world. In this particular election, at this particular juncture in the course of its history, the country has reached a historical singularity.
Never before – at least in recent history – has so much depended on the outcome of a single election, and never before has such a profound dearth of leadership existed. The country faces a looming fiscal cliff come January 2013 which may further perturb an already volatile economy, and unless the American leadership acts, massive sequestration cuts, dramatically lowered tax revenues, and new charges associated with the incumbent president’s healthcare law will take billions of dollars out of the country’s economy.
With the ongoing crisis in Europe and slower growth in key emerging markets such as Brazil and India, storm clouds have already begun to gather around the global economy, and a further shock due to GDP contraction in the United States will almost certainly set us on course to a global double-dip recession.
Further, by way of humanitarian aid through various funding programmes such as the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the US has helped evade catastrophic failure in health care delivery in the developing world, avoiding unimaginable morbidity and mortality due to medical paucity in underserved regions of the world.
Overall, nearly a quarter of all global foreign aid comes from the United States and as such, US policies have a large if not definitive bearing on the welfare of millions of people across the globe, particularly those in the developing world.
For such a large, diverse and important country, one would imagine electing one’s leader would require choosing between many candidates. That is not the case, however, in the United States. The current political landscape is very limited with the choice coming down to only two campaigns, put forward by each of the two major parties (the Democrats and the Republicans).
Other parties such as the Green party and the Liberation party have failed to bring themselves to the major parties' level and, in many cases, fail to garner sufficient support to even appear on the ballot. This means the race for the oval office really comes down to two characters: incumbent Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Republican nominee Mitt Romney. Make no mistake, this election will for the most part be about domestic issues, but I will bring up issues both parties raise that are pertinent to an international setting.
Despite the historical nature of his presidency, Obama's record as president ultimately brings him under the judging eyes of the world. His administration's policies have been far from ideal both at home and abroad. Obama has exercised little fiscal restraint and continues to drive his country into bankruptcy.
In the four years that he has been president, he has added nearly $5 trillion to the US national debt. That is more than twice the GDP of a major European economy such as the UK, or the equivalent of Zimbabwe’s total economic output in 500 years. His healthcare bill is set to stifle medical innovation by imposing new taxes on medical device manufacturers, put a strain on small businesses by mandating that all employers provide expensive government-determined insurances, and will add roughly $2 trillion dollars to the national debt in the next ten years if not repealed.
In addition, healthcare costs which take up the largest chunk of the country’s income will continue to spiral out of control – well past the 18% of GDP mark they currently rest on.
To continue to fund his many spending ventures, the current president plans to cut back where funds are desperately needed in his 2013 budget. Cuts will come in places like defence, which will bear nearly half of all sequester charges, a move that is likely to make the world a less safe place with the growing instability in the Middle East and an impending compromise to the non-proliferation treaty.
More importantly to Africa, however, President Obama plans on imposing a more than $550 million cut on the tremendously successful PEPFAR. Since its inception during the Bush years, the programme has reduced the likelihood of HIV-related mortality by as much as 20% in Africa. With such a crippling setback to the programme, the Obama administration will effectively deny millions in the developing world access to relief medication.
However, in all fairness to Obama, his presidency has been dogged by excessive insubordination from congressional Republicans. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell can even be quoted as saying the Republicans' foremost priority is to make sure Obama does not get reelected. But if Obama wins this November, Republican lawmakers will have no choice but to work with him since their goal would have gone the way of the dodo.
Without such headwinds, Obama’s second term may host more notable accomplishments. Furthermore, it is also worth noting that Obama's contribution to the $16 trillion US debt was mostly due to the much needed economic stimulus during the great recession, which effectively rescued both the US and world economies.
While Obama’s presidency has been far from ideal, the alternative leaves a lot more to be desired. The President’s opponent is a wealthy conservative who also happens to be a former governor of one of the country’s most liberal states. How did he pull that off? Well, by simply adopting the popular and most convenient position on any issue and telling the electorate only what they need to hear – regardless of whether that actually aligned with his own values or not. More importantly however, (aside from the limited certainty surrounding Mitt Romney’s convictions), the man has made several suggestions that are potentially dangerous to the global order as we know it.
Romney has vowed to engage China in what would essentially be a trade war, citing the latter’s “illegal dealings” on the global market and “currency manipulation”. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to know that this will not yield a favourable outcome for anyone given the fact that China is the world’s largest exporter and second most expansive economy.
Big businesses in America have already begun to express concerns over such flawed strategy, which would see prices go up on a range of goods and services on the global market, and weigh down on an already anemic global economic recovery, not to mention the ire of bad-will that this would instill with the Chinese who, along with the Russians, have the power to veto any motions in the already ineffective U.N. Security-Council.
Further, after the hard-to-forget adventures of one G.W. Bush, another reckless, trigger‑happy US president may well be the last thing the world needs. Mitt Romney has shown his hot-head tendencies in his rush reactions to the unfolding crisis in Libya on 9/11 and has pledged allegiance to a “bomb-bomb Iran” stance that will almost certainly see him follow Israel’s Netanyahu into yet another war in the Middle East.
While the rest of the world has progressed, Romney is still trapped in a cold-war mind-warp, and is convinced Russia is America’s greatest geopolitical foe. Romney also had the audacity to travel to one of the world’s most sensitive and volatile regions to assert his beliefs in Israeli cultural superiority over their Palestinian counterparts.
At this point, one may well have reason to question whether Mitt Romney even knows if Africa exists! Aside from a few paragraphs on his campaign website that gravely trivialise complex African issues, you are not likely to hear any mention of the continent around the gentleman. This is all not too surprising coming from an individual that has little regard for the poor in his own country, and thinks 47% of his own compatriots are free-loaders.
Romney’s ignorance and out-of-touch attitude does not extend only to countries that America has had shaky relations with but to the country’s close allies as well. Romney could not even make a trip to the UK without insulting his hosts, and was practically booed out of the country at the beginning of the Olympics.
Such amateur diplomacy goes to show the fine gentleman is not yet ready to be the president of the United States, or any other country for that matter. For the lack of a more “eloquent” or conservative phrasing, Romney has absolutely no idea what he is doing and to many all around the US and the world, the idea of a Romney presidency is simply frightening.
There is much uncertainly in today’s world: whether we will see an end to the euro-crisis, whether or not the slowdown in most of the emerging markets will persist, whether or not we will see a nuclear arms race in the Middle East in the coming years are all hot issues. However, one thing is for certain: almost everybody, American or not, will be much better off with Mitt Romney outside of the White House. President Obama ought to be reelected, if not for his policies, then at least for the sake of continuity in this delicate global landscape.