Fighting off early intimations of political mortality, Hillary Rodham Clinton has put herself back in the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination with her slender victory over Barack Obama in Wednesday’s primaries in New Hampshire. In numerical terms, the tiny north-eastern State may not count for much, but an Obama victory there would have fatally wounded Ms Clinton’s prospects in the run-up to the next round of primaries and caucuses.
As matters stand, however, there is plenty of fight still left and it will not be until the ‘Super Tuesday’ contests of February 5 — when 24 States get to pick their candidates — that the fate of one or the other will be decisively settled, and perhaps not even then. In between, key States such as South Carolina will also vote, as will Michigan and Florida (though neither State will get to send candidates to the Democratic National Convention as a penalty for holding their primaries ahead of schedule).
On the Republican side, the emergence of Senator John McCain as the victor in New Hampshire has breathed new life into his candidature and broadened a somewhat lacklustre field of front-runners. At the same time, national opinion surveys in the United States still favour Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, even if the former Governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee, took Iowa last week. As for Rudy Giuliani, the former New York Mayor, currently languishing in both surveys and votes cast so far, a strong showing in Florida on January 29 will likely bring him back into the race.
In any case, if past presidential elections are any indication, one must be careful not to over-interpret the significance of Iowa and New Hampshire. Mr. McCain defeated George W. Bush in New Hampshire in 2000 but did not go on to win his party’s nomination. And in 1992, Tom Harkin won the Democratic primary in Iowa and Paul Tsongas took New Hampshire. But both men ended up being comprehensively defeated by Bill Clinton as the race unfolded.
What makes the task of calling the race even more difficult is the clustering of political positions and campaign styles around a market-determined Golden Mean. In a political and media culture which closely scrutinises every facial expression and hand gesture of a candidate and finely parses the briefest of their utterances for signs of deviance, presidential hopefuls have the unenviable task of at once blending in with the pack and standing out from the crowd. The only way to do this is to emphasise personal style, which is why both observers and campaign managers focus excessively on the nature of the campaign rather than its substance. Thus, Ms Clinton, who initially adopted a hard-nosed ‘statesmanlike’ demeanour finds herself under pressure to shed the occasional tear, while Mr. Obama, whose silken oratory and promises of change first propelled him to national prominence, has had to make his peace with the Washington establishment by toeing the line on Israel, Iran, homeland security, the ‘global war on terrorism’ and other American holy cows.
Given the disasters the Bush administration has caused in Iraq and elsewhere, it is only natural that all candidates — Democrats and Republicans — feel obliged to declare they will bring about a substantive change in the way the U.S. deals with the world.
In reality, the change, when it comes, will at best be marginal. For one, the U.S. has already begun to reorient many of its policies and is looking for a respectable way out of the Iraq quagmire. Mr. Obama is more forthright in his promise of a troop withdrawal in line with the timetable spelt out by last year’s Iraq Study Group report, though there are enough caveats in the fine print of his statements to cover all contingencies.
On Iran, the Democrats can afford to affect a dovish line because the Bush administration has itself been forced to move away from its dangerously confrontationist approach. Though the threat of American adventurism still remains, a Democratic-controlled White House will be just as likely to use force as a Republican one. As recently as last summer, Mr. Obama wrote (in the July/August 2007 issue of Foreign Affairs) that the U.S. “must not rule out using military force.” Ms Clinton has been even more brazen in her advocacy of confrontation with Tehran. Having earlier backed the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq in 2003, she has continued to support the imposition of sanctions and voted in favour of a controversial resolution in the Senate declaring Iran’s Revolutionary Guards a “terrorist organisation.”
In the domestic sphere, a Clinton or Obama victory will have tremendous social and political significance. As for the wider canvas of foreign policy issues, however, neither leader is likely to usher in any major changes. Both are strong supporters of Israel and will do nothing to pressure the Zionist state to withdraw from the Palestinian territories it has illegally occupied. Both leaders will continue the Bush policy of building strong strategic and military partnerships with countries in Asia as a means of projecting American hegemony and managing the emergence of China, a country Mr. Obama has described as “neither our enemy nor our friend [but a] competitor.” In her October/November 2007 Foreign Affairs article, Ms Clinton said the U.S. should find “additional ways for Australia, India, Japan and the U.S. to cooperate” on a range of military, political and economic issues. The ‘Quadrilateral powers’ initiative is, of course, a key Bush project.
One area where both Mr. Obama and Ms Clinton differ from President George W. Bush is on support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Both candidates say they stand for the early ratification of America’s accession to the CTBT. Both also say they support a verifiable Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. However, as Bill Clinton’s presidency showed, the endorsement of the White House does not mean the entire military-strategic establishment will be prepared to accept a serious arms control measure. Even with Ms Clinton or Mr. Obama in the White House, the Senate could still withhold support for the treaty.
Article sourced from The Hindu