Saturday, 1 December 2007

Where's our American vote?

Back in the 18th century, our cousins in America were extremely unhappy that one of Hanover’s Georges, sitting on the British throne, surrounded by his Ministers in Whitehall, was making insane decisions that affected numerous lives on the other side of the Atlantic. Yet they had no say. They could not vote in their own representatives for Parliament, and they could certainly not vote out the man whose every executive decision they despised. So they issued an ultimatum – give us representation or we would rid our land of your political control.

Now the table has been turned. One of Texas’ Georges is sitting in the Whitehouse, firing off one senseless decision after another, jeopardising the entire world. As President of the US, Bush has destablised the Middle East with a military campaign against non-existing weapons of mass destruction; opposed efforts by the rest of the world to tackle carbon emission; disrupted plans to prevent AIDS by putting religious dogma against the use of contraceptives above the saving of innocent lives; and fuelled an unsustainable credit expansion strategy with irresponsible tax cuts for the rich, and growing insolvency risk for everyone else.

Since the Americans founded their country on the principle that no political institution should be allowed to impact on the lives of those who could not democratically hold it to account, they ought to be sympathetic to the plight of those who now find the decisions of Washington all too often adversely affecting their lives. This applies not just to their British kin, but to virtually everyone around the world living in the shadow of the one global superpower.

All of us come under the de facto jurisdiction of America, and none of us without formal US citizenship can have any say about who in America gets to make the critical world-shaping decisions. Our wellbeing and patience are indeed daily taxed without any kind of representation offered in return.

Alas we are not in a position to issue a similar ultimatum. There is no prospect of us getting rid of the vast influence American Presidents and Congressmen will continue to have over the entire world. The only alternative is to press for proper representation. We should all be given a vote in all the American elections which have significant consequences for us.

US foreign policy has frequently led it to seek to limit the powers of the United Nations. It does not want to be subject to checks and balances from people who reside abroad even though their lives could be transformed – for better or worse – in so many ways by US policy decisions. Like the old Hanoverian George, delirious with power, it wants to do as it pleases without having to persuade or bargain with minor figures in a distant land.

But the spotlight should shift from the UN to the US. Never mind trying to get the UN to be more effective in helping to hold the US to account for its unilateral actions. Let us ask the most powerful nation on earth directly, make yourself democratically accountable to the rest of us. It's time to give us all a vote.

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