The View From London
What luck!!! We were in London visiting our daughter’s family and President O’bama shows up; then we take a train to Oxford and Michelle is there. Nevertheless, I’ll try to fight off my depression and provide a perspective on the world’s events from across the pond.
First, my sources: I am English/Welsh by family background and visit the UK often enough to have some feel for local issues and attitudes. When there I try to read The London Times, The Guardian, the Independent, and some free commuter papers, to watch some BBC, and to talk with family, friends, cab drivers and pub denizens. The sample is unscientific and subject to my biases – but it beats MSNBC.
In approximate order of importance:
1. The capture of Public Enemy Number One. That would be Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, the leader of the shelling of Sarajevo and the murder off 8000 defenseless Bosnian Muslim men and boys at Srebrenica in 1995 in the greatest European atrocities since World War II. For the pan-Europeans this moves the Continent a step closer to peaceful integration – probably bigger than bin Laden’s demise in their perspective.
2. The International Monetary Fund. After that unpleasantness with the French aristocrat and the maid in New York it is necessary to find a new leader of the IMF. The IMF has always had a European head (the World Bank has a US head) and the developing countries want to break the monopoly by appointing somebody else; the Europeans need a sympathetic leader with the challenge to the euro currency given the debt problems in Greece, Ireland, Spain, and Portugal. Fortunately the French have another aristocrat to offer up – if just the Chinese and the others will stay in their place for one more cycle.
3. The Arab Spring. The UK would like to help move things along toward a democratic Middle East and is sending attack helicopters to escalate the “kinetic military activity” in Libya, but the pundits wonder who we are supporting in Libya,Tunisia, and Egypt; what Obama is trying to do in Israel/Palestine; what the objectives and strategies are in Afghanistan and Pakistan; why the inconsistencies in Syria, Bahrain, and Yemen; and how the UK can afford billions there when they are cutting everything at home. There is an obvious pining for the day when the US led and the Europeans followed.
4. The Obama visit. The Brits were still basking in the aftermath of the royal wedding and willing to forgive Obama’s earlier slights to Gordon Brown and the “special relationship” between our countries. (In a macro sense, they miss the empire and get their satisfaction from a uniquely close relationship with their “child”, the globally dominant United States. But they recognize the decline of empires.) The papers were full of articles gushing about Obama’s oratory – wishing that the British leaders weren’t mere mortals – but usually ending with a soft comment that words needed to be followed by actions.
5. Politics of austerity. When the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition won the May 2010 elections, the new Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced a “Big Society” program in which government spending would be cut by 25 to 40%, with a major dismantling of the welfare state, and major tax increases. (It helps to be British to understand this coalition – all politics is local and much is personal. Labour had their 13 years under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and the public understood that what they had built was not affordable.) Interestingly, the Brits seem to accept the changes and are carrying on with a stiff upper lip – except for a rejection of the plan for major changes to the National Health Service which would have required doctors to take on a major cost management role. Republicans beware.
6. Popular issues. Truth be told, the guy on the street was probably more concerned with a scandal in the management of the world soccer governing body, a prominent Member of Parliament who had his penalty points for speeding assigned to his wife’s driver’s license, the return of Simon Cowell as head judge on “Britain’s Got Talent”, and the lottery for tickets to the 2012 London Olympics. Oh, and the waves of ne’er do well immigrants from the old Commonwealth and the new European Union.
So different, yet so much the same.
This week’s video is Presidential Press Secretary Jay Carney explaining that President Obama has led on deficit reduction – shortly after his budget was defeated 97 – 0 in the Senate. “Leading from behind” I suppose.