We can only hope that our American friends enjoy their national holiday weekend. Let them wave their flags, enjoy their picnics and show their love of country, because they need a holiday.
It is disturbing these days for the country's friends to watch the Great Republic's politics, to wonder about its economy, to tremble at its deficits, and to shake their heads at its Supreme Court that has struck down corporate contribution limits in politics and reaffirmed the right to bear arms, to the intense joy of the gun lobby.
The United States gave itself the most gifted President in several generations, handed his party a majority in both houses of Congress, only to watch his presidency be swamped by the doleful legacy of the Bush years, a worldwide recession and its parlous aftermath, and a ferocious Republican opposition bent on a search-and-destroy mission of his presidency.
To make matters worse, the war in Afghanistan, into which President Barack Obama has poured thousands of additional soldiers and billions of borrowed dollars, is going poorly. As The Economist belatedly recognized this week, "America and its allies are losing in Afghanistan."
The U.S. commander there, Stanley McChrystal, was sacked for impolitic remarks about various high officials in the Obama administration, a dismissal even the choleric Republicans did not criticize.
His replacement, David Petraeus, somehow has to salvage something from the Afghan mess, at a time when Americans are growing increasingly weary of that war, now into its ninth year.
The very best that Americans (and allies) might hope for is to inflict sufficient damage on the Taliban in the next year that some insurgents might be inclined to negotiate inclusion in an Afghan government. To say that this is a long shot understates the odds.
The Pakistanis are already assuming an American departure and defeat, and are therefore looking to strengthen ties with the insurgents and the Afghan government of Hamid Karzai, so that they, and not the Indians, will have a more important influence on the government in Kabul.
The U.S., far away, burdened with debt, its public having turned against the war, has already imposed a deadline for beginning some kind of withdrawal next year. Time is therefore running against the Americans, as are its allies, some of whom want out next year, including Canada, the Netherlands and Poland.
What to do about Afghanistan will be the subject of intensive debate at year's end, after the mid-term elections, the prospects for which colour everything in political Washington.
It had been hoped, for example, by those who want action on climate change that the U.S. Senate might produce an energy and environment bill that the President could sign. Nothing seems likely now, given the stout opposition of the Republicans to any serious measures, including a cap-and-trade system. Democrats, too, are divided, with legislators from the coal- and oil-producing states protecting their industries. One of these Democrats just died, Senator Robert Byrd, a pork-barreler par excellence from West Virginia, who used to oppose action against acid rain.
In this, as in much else, what happens or does not in the U.S. directly affects Canada. The Harper government has said it will follow any U.S. measures against greenhouse gas emissions. But if the U.S. Congress is unable to decide anything, what does the Canadian government do? Given the Harper government's lassitude toward climate change action, this result might suit the Conservatives, if not the country.
The immense borrowing requirements of the U.S. - requirements that stretch over the horizon - are the single most destabilizing, or at least worrisome, of all the factors at play in the world's economy. And no country is more exposed to the ups and downs of the U.S. economy than Canada.
Those U.S. borrowing requirements are daily sapping the influence of the U.S. worldwide, and heightening all the international uncertainties about deflation/inflation, high unemployment, sluggish growth, the volatility of the U.S. dollar.
Last weekend, Mr. Obama lent his name to a G20 declaration calling for halving deficits by 2013-14, a statement easy for him to make, but impossible for him to fulfill without congressional approval.
In the House and Senate, no appetite exists for doing more than nibbling at the edges of the deficit/debt problem, certainly not before the mid-term elections and very likely not thereafter. Without taking aim at the defence budget and considering higher taxes, all debate about the deficit/debt is an illusion wrapped in rhetoric.
At the state level, governments constitutionally required to balance budgets are slashing everywhere: welfare, universities, health, children's programs.
Corporate profits and industrial production are recovering in the U.S. That's the good news. The discouraging news is that consumers remain hesitant, unemployment is high, the housing market remains awful, and the country's fiscal situation is appalling.
Happy Fourth of July to them. They need it.Report Typo/Error
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