December 30, 2003 | Peter

The Year Ahead

Oh what a year it promises to be! The world becomes more and more unstable in almost every way, and there are crucial elections in the US and Australia. Will things turn around in 2004?
In 2003 hopes that the world and its problems could be managed by a increasingly rational system of sustained negotiations utilising existing global institutions like the UN and the WTO really came unstuck. The US under the most divisive presidential administration since WWII was the main culprit. In addition to tearing up a bunch of treaties, it has announced a renewed commitment to nuclear weapons and their use and an intent to totally militarise space, invaded Afghanistan and last year Iraq, and ignored rising concerns about global warming.
However, President Bush is the most hated president in recent history and has utterly polarised American life. A challenger has arisen in Governor Howard Dean who explicitly took on Bush on Iraq when most Democrat leaders were shuffling their feet. Dean has sidelined the Democrat establishment, notably by arranging a new approach to funding through exploitation of the Internet, and grabbed the front running for the presidential nomination. He is a breath of fresh air in US politics and presents a genuine alternative to Bush and the vacillating Democrat insiders.
In Australia we have newly annointed Labor leader Mark Latham taking on an established but aging prime minister who has similarly polarised the nation through his divisive politics. Much of Howard’s approach has been based on unswerving loyalty to the Bush program, so a change in Washington, especially if a multilateralist Democrat is elected, will present real problems for him.
The US election is too uncertain to call, especially because so much can go wrong, or less likely right, for the US in Iraq. The US may find something they can pass off as WMD, at least to the American public, and Saddam’s trial and sentencing might go well. But I doubt both these things. And although the US economy looks OK for Bush, it is still shaky and substantial global problems are emerging, such as the threat of the Euro to compete with the US dollar as global currency.
I also think that global warming will become an issue again in 2004. Right now it is the dog that is not barking, but evidence is growing so strongly that it will have to be addressed again soon. And properly, this time.
Which will present an interesting problem for ALP leader and very likely new PM Latham. His environmental credentials are untested, and his preference for markets over government action will be put under pressure. So far, neo-liberals have put up no credible market-based response to the global environmental crisis, so it looks like any action will have to come out of good old multilateral negotiations between nation-states.
I have real hopes for 2004: A revitalised and re-engaged US under a dynamic and innovative new president who can restart moves toward a sustained international debate on global problems like climate change and international terrorism. And at home a new prime minister who begins the reconstruction of a nation splitting in two culturally, politically and economically.

Posted by Peter at 12:38 pm | Comments Off on The Year Ahead |
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