The coming election in the United States is one of the most crucial battles ever fought in this country, not to mention in the wider world.
It's not often that the contenders for power in a US presidential election offer such starkly different views and policies. It's not often-perhaps not since the American civil war in the 1800s-that politics has so fiercely divided this land. And in the rest of the world, it's unprecedented that so many leaders of other countries actually feel they have a stake in the outcome of this vote.
In Spain, a horrible terrorist attack underlines this on the eve of national elections and the people vote for a party that takes a strongly anti-American line, or, at least, an anti-Bush administration line. America was an election issue in Spain. If and when Britain's crumbling Blair government takes its policies to the people this year, relations with the US government will be a key election issue. France agrees on its long-standing anti-American line, somewhat repaired at the moment by cooperation over Haiti.
It's plain. The world despises President Bush. A significant percentage of Germans think his government actually planned the 9/11 tragedy. In country after country, people tell pollsters that George W Bush and his cabinet team actively lied about Iraq to force the Middle East into war. Israel remains a notable exception to this, naturally enough, given that its interests-understandably-lay in the toppling of Saddam Hussein.
Democratic party challenger Senator John Kerry has already said that various figures from other countries are quietly supporting his campaign. This is true. Most of Europe, Asia, Canada and Latin America would love to see Kerry take the White House in November. Even those countries helping the US in occupying Iraq, Poland, Korea and Japan, are fed up with the current state of things in Washington. Australia's John Howard, mini Bush to his laconic countrymen, might be an exception here.
But he's the exception that proves the rule.
Just what the hell is going on? It all depends on your point of view. If you're a supporter of the current American government, it's all too clear. The world is losing its nerve. Jabbering, cowardly liberals are running amok in the media. Enemies lurk behind every rock, most of them bearded and wearing turbans. America can only trust America and even then, that half of the country that supports the current government.
If you're from John Kerry's side of the spectrum, you see a dangerous, unpredictable and arrogant regime with its eye on the prize of a second term in office. You see international alliances in tatters, America distrusted around the world and a corporate culture of greed and grab, so long as you pay off the Republican Party. Your followers agree and battle is joined.
I have said it in this column before that American elections are too important to be left only to Americans. The current deep rift over the Bush administration underscores this point. People in the US do not vote anymore. Turnout is usually less than 30 percent in presidential polls and important issues of foreign policy or the environment rarely drive the vote. I have a radical proposal.
Give the world a vote in America. Perhaps not one person, one ballot, but some form of say over an electoral contest that effects the fate of the planet. It won't wash in Peoria, but Pokhara and Potsdam just might welcome it.