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Libya: Winners and Losers

In America, Europe, Events, Foreign Affairs, Government Spotlight, Parliamentary Spotlight on March 23, 2011 at 7:40 pm

By polarii for The Daily Soapbox

The no-fly zone is up-and-running after a tense few weeks of events in Libya and tough diplomacy. The events that have led up to UN Resolution 1973/2011 have been complicated, and they have had political impacts on both individuals and nations. This isn’t as complete or detailed as it could be, but it includes some of the major movers, particularly in the UK. This was written shortly after the no fly zone was implemented, and the flow of events may have altered some of the analysis here.

Col. Moammar Gaddafi: Has fared badly in international eyes, most recently breaking a promise of ceasefire, but generally sounding rather detached from events, and indeed reality. However, in Libya, the picture is split; he’s managed to maintain popular support in the capital, and defections from his cause have not damaged his capacity to deploy aircraft and heavy weaponry. He still retains some loyalty, or some visage of terror, or both among the Libyan people. Anti-Imperialist rhetoric may play well to the people of Libya, but in rebel-controlled areas, there seems no evidence of this. He may take some pleasure from the fact that no-one in the English world knows quite how to spell his name.

UN: Despite questions whether a UN resolution was needed to impose a no-fly zone, all the countries involved chose to go through the UN. This will raise its damaged status as a body, and also encourage further interventions to be cleared through it. Resolution 1973 has been called a watershed for what the UN could hope to achieve in further crisis, as and when they arise in the Middle East and around the world. There are, however, questions as to what actions the UN will be forced to take in other countries this year, such as Bahrain.

USA: Has remained aloof and silent for much of the crisis, but eventually fell on the side of those calling for a no-fly zone, which added much weight to the case for intervention. The rebel faction in Libya seems well pleased with the decision to intervene, and some of this goodwill will rub off on America. The surreptitious transport of weapons across the Egyptian border to the rebels, quite probably at US instigation, will also have improved America’s image. However, in the broader international community, the country’s slow and cautious action will contrast with its previous history of reckless and large-scale intervention, and this has vastly improved its standing.

Barack Obama: Has taken a cautious approach, and has seen little change in his standing. Many in America would have wanted action more quickly; however, he secured a UN mandate and eventually delivered action. Prolonged silence had previously risked undermining the influence and leadership the President of the USA is expected to wield, but the silence and the risk was ended by his forthright support of UN Resolution 1973.

John McCain and John Kerry: Both these former American presidential candidates were vocal and early advocates of a no-fly zone, and now that it has come about, their gravitas has been augmented as they have been seen to give the right policy advice to the White House, which was eventually taken. Although this represents a coalition of opinion between a leading Republican and a leading Democrat, their influence is unlikely to secure a more consensual Congress for the rest of the Presidential term.

UK: Negative reports were abound concerning the previous government’s close relationship with Libya and the poor contingencies put in place to evacuate British nationals. These were compounded by what seems to be one of the worst special operations missions in recent history. However, international leadership on the no-fly zone will have regained some of the nation’s democratic capability. A broader debate regarding whether the UK has the requisite military capacity to sustain a lead role in the no-fly zone has died down, but will weigh heavily on the minds of MoD staff.

David Cameron: Despite all the above, he has risen to the challenge of mobilising many reluctant countries to support a no-fly zone, and many in his own party and country. His campaign has been high-profile and high-minded, avoiding some of the dissent said to be at work in his cabinet. The no-fly zone will reflect well upon him.

William Hague: Blunder has followed blunder, from ill-advised comments that Gaddafi was on his way to Venezuela to poor management of aircraft and special forces. Although many from his party gave him plaudits for his work with UN delegates, his position is more precarious than it was, his aura of competence rather tarnished.

Douglas Alexander: Hague’s shadow sensed opportunity in his blunders and attacked him at every turn. However, if Hague now has egg on his face, Alexander now has boiled eggs on his face; his opposition to a no fly zone has led to an embarrassing and high-profile U-turn; though the damage to Labour does not seem to be too great, Alexander’s almost impeccable reputation is now bathing in the mud.

Michael Gove, George Osborne and Liam Fox: The most vocal advocates of intervention, along with William Hague, have won over the government and the Commons. Their standing in Cabinet will be increased at the expense of those opposed to intervention. In particular, Liam Fox is well placed to argue for fewer cuts in his budget, and since Osborne is on his side, it would not surprise me to see more money channelled towards defence at the budget after next, particularly if there is a windfall.

Bob Stewart: This mostly unknown Conservative MP (Beckenham) has become increasingly prominent due to his experience as a military commander in Bosnia, where a previous no-fly zone has been implemented. His expertise in this area has undoubtedly swayed government and international opinion, and he is likely to receive a ministerial portfolio before long, especially if he continues to sound so authoritative during interviews.

France: The Republic suffered embarrassing revelations about its foreign minister in the Tunisia crisis, but a quick sacking, a trial of a former President, and a well-managed evacuation managed to submerge most of the opprobrium. Meanwhile, vocal support for a no-fly zone will have won it kudos in diplomatic circles, however, undermining the EU’s nascent diplomatic efforts may in turn undermine attempts to centralise defence and foreign policy at the EU level.

Nicholas Sarkozy: Has had a good crisis, being seen to lead the world, and actually leading it. French fighter jets were the first to enforce 1973, and this show of strength will strengthen his upcoming election campaign. His name is, according to reports, being chanted on the streets of Benghazi, and the Guardian suggests that his handling of the crisis has saved him from electoral ruin.

EU: Has had quite possibly its worst crisis since the former Yugoslavia broke up. Two of its three major members have argued with the third, and it has been unable to build consensus among a Europe strongly divided on the issue. Its failure to secure the support of Malta and Cyprus for intervention will cost the coalition enforcing 1973 dearly. Any diplomatic efforts it made were largely or completely ignored, which will underline an impression of disunity and impotence; the UK and France will pursue their foreign policy almost without heed to the opinion of the EU.

Angela Merkel: Has had to balance the German public’s desire not to get involved in any foreign war with EU and US alliances. Due to an impending election, she has favoured the people’s view, and Germany abstained at the UN. Whether this will gain her many votes (coupled with withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, she may convince the German people that she is indeed a pacifist) is yet to be seen. A good call – no permanent damage seems to have been done to bilateral relations, though any chances of diplomacy through the EU seem to be wrecked.

Lebanon: Tabled resolution 1973 at the UN, and had it carried by the necessary number of votes. A potentially clever move as it re-entrenches European (especially French) support for the embattled democracy. And the Lebanese public do not seem to mind their country inviting the US to bomb fellow Arabs.

Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi: Previously the hope of reform in Libya for the West, he has shown a ruthless streak, both handling the media with some guile and promising destruction to Libya’s enemies. Nonetheless, his political capital in the West has decreased. With his assets now frozen in most countries, he will struggle to find a way in life if the West does not make an accord with Gaddafi. His standing in Libya itself has also been harmed, as he is one of the few Gaddafi males not to be in command of a military unit, and his vision of a Libya reconciled with the West seems to have collapsed completely.

The London School of Economics: Was badly damaged when it was found that it had accepted large donations from the Gaddafi clan. Previously an institution with a reputation of spreading enlightenment throughout the developing world, it has pledged to return all the donation it can to the Libyan people, and made grovelling apologies to the government. There has already been one resignation, and another could shortly come from Shami Chakrabati, director of Liberty UK, who sat on its governing board. Harrowed appearances suggest that the folks at Liberty do not take kindly to her approving donations from sponsors of terrorism, though she denies the connection.

The Scottish National Party and the Labour Party: Both these parties curried favourable relationships with Libya during their terms in office at Holyrood and Westminster respectively. However, despite some cheap shots from some ministers, both seem to have emerged relatively unscathed from such a potentially toxic friendship. That said, Scottish voters have yet to have the opportunity to punish the Holyrood government at the polls, although it is unlikely that foreign policy will be a major factor at the elections in May.

Overall, the no-fly zone has been well-received in the international community. The first military Arab League involvement will shortly come through Qatari air jets; meanwhile, the normally pacifist Norway has also committed jets. The no-fly zone doesn’t seem to have stopped the civil war from either rebel or Gaddafi’s side, but it seems to have the desired effect of reducing the damage to civilians, particularly from Gaddafi’s aircraft and heavy armour. The issues that seem to be arising next are whether Resolution 1973 allows UN-affiliated forces to target Gaddafi himself, and, more broadly, what the exit strategy might be. Polling suggests strong division among the British public regarding whether this intervention is the right policy, and this may create political problems further down the line. The situation is still in flux, and the political consequences are still not settled.


A Strategically Defensible Review

In America, Europe, Events, Foreign Affairs, Party politics on October 22, 2010 at 3:42 pm

By Polarii for The Daily Soapbox

George Osborne has delivered with surprising gravitas his Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). It was indeed comprehensive, incorporating almost every government department in the cost cutting measures. Whether such cuts are good or bad or necessary, and whether they fall in the right place or not, and what they will mean is a tangential theme to this article. Instead, we shall consider the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDR). It was delivered by the Prime Minister to the Commons on the Tuesday, and almost – but only almost – snuck under the news radar. It is, in many ways, more important than the CSR, and so demands closer scrutiny. It is also more radical, believe it or not, and it should not go unmarked amidst the various cries of uproar that the CSR has triggered.

The SDR was a long-overdue document. Labour conducted the last defence review in 1998, and, for some incomprehensible reason, they did not think to have another after the world-changing event that was the 9/11 attacks. This changed the nature of warfare: previously, it had been thought that Britain would be the major contributor against legions of Soviet tanks rolling across the plains of Europe. By 2001, that threat had gone. In its place has arisen a guerilla effort in some of the most hostile environments known to man. And in this age of unipolarity (which will only last for another 20 years or so), other powers have turned to financing or supporting these guerilla groups, or, more intriguingly, using technology to undermine key computing services – case in point, the Estonian Cyberwar of 2007, widely alleged to have occurred with the blessing of the Kremlin. Piracy on the high seas has also been on the rise. All these threats would have been anticipated in a review in, say, 2002 or 2004.

Yet, we had to wait for a new government, and a time of cuts, to work out our defensive priorities. This left any new government in an awkward position: to cut defence under 1998 priorities would clearly be stupid; but to run a review alongside a programme of cuts would look vindictive. The Coalition wisely went for the latter. Though the SDR occurred in the context of cuts, it ensured the cuts were better directed at things that are no longer useful: accordingly, some 100 pieces of heavy equipment are to be discontinued (tanks, artillery, so forth) and there will be increased investment in more mobile units (helicopters, Humvees, etc). Anyone who knows anything about Afghanistan will tell you that this – at least for the medium term – is a sensible move.

However, the SDR makes a broad change of focus for Britain’s long-term strategic objectives. A military presence in Germany is to be discontinued. This is because two strategic threats – the Soviets, and the possibility of a re-emergent fascism in Europe – are now so distant as to be unthinkable. Plus, a number of former Soviet countries (Czech Republic, Estonia) are much more westward looking, and have joined NATO. There is now no longer a need for Britain to hold Europe on behalf of the Europeans. This has led to cuts of 7000 in the army. For the first time since WW2, Britain’s army will be smaller than Germany’s. Given the relative land held by each country, and the length of their borders, it seems that normality has been restored. Army forces can now concentrate on crisis points: Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, and wherever else may arise.

Now for the Navy. Britain’s strongest defence has historically been the Navy. That is entirely unsurprising for an island nation. It is an area in which Britain has traditionally excelled. But the Navy’s role has changed – it is now suffering cuts to its fleet of destroyers and frigates. It may well have suffered cuts to its aircraft carriers too, but the Labour government were stupid enough (or wise enough) to ensure that the contracts cost more to cancel than continue. This is a sound move: the countries that will most likely present a problem for Britain over the next 20 years are: Somalia, Iran, North Korea, Argentina (this last is tenuous). Against all these nations, having seaborne air power would be an eminently sensible move. Two carriers also keep Britain in the major leagues of military power: only the USA has more aircraft carriers. Furthermore, by fitting catapults for aircraft onto the aircraft, the Harrier jump-jet can be retired and French and US planes can use our carriers.

While it may not seem that UK-France relations are at their strongest ever, it is a sensible alliance to be forming. Up until WW1, Britain and France adopted a concerted naval policy, with France protecting the Mediterranean, and Britain the Atlantic – protecting both countries’ trade. A similar policy of naval co-operation seems to be forming between Cameron and Sarkozy, and not within an EU directorate. This will help retain the military influence of both countries within the world (though not to the level of the Imperial Age). It may also draw France away from the idea of an EU-Russia Defence force, which, as it is currently envisaged, is dangerously anti-Atlanticist; possibly leading to Europe becoming a plaything of Russia. We just have to hope that this sensible alliance outlives the two pragmatic politicians currently in office.

As for the airforce, the Harrier is being retired; the Tornado remains. Bases in Scotland could well close – not especially alarming, given the threat posed by military giants such as Norway and Iceland – retaining bases towards the South. Cuts of 5000 jobs are not unreasonable, and they will probably be regained once fiscal retrenchment has occurred. The RAF has managed to avoid being merged into the other branches, and it will proudly retain its identity of service and professionalism.

As for Trident, its renewal has (again) been deferred, to save money. This seems to have been driven by several factors: the nuclear threat to the UK is not terribly high for the next ten years (by which time, Iran will have nukes); it is cheaper to do it later and paying for it would mean cutting something else; the old system is not top-notch, but it still retains a good retaliatory capability; the Lib Dems don’t really want it. A combination of these views result in the decision, and I am too far removed from the decision-makers to analyse which combination. More pleasingly, budgets to GCHQ, SAS, MI5 and SIS will be increased – which is incredibly sensible given that the main threats over the next 10-20 years are terrorism and cyberwar; these are also areas in which Britain has traditionally excelled, even above major superpowers.

In short, I am loath to see cuts to defence spending, seeing as defense is the primary duty of the government. To paraphrase Lenin, without adequate defence spending, there will be no schools or hospitals. It also pleasing to see that the aid budget is now being diverted to genuinely poor areas, which are generally those areas where conflict may arise. Investment in backwater areas is the solution to extremism, rather than war. Further requirements for Afghanistan will be taken from the reserve, which prevents the troops suffering needlessly. The cuts prioritise certain areas – that is the Navy, Intelligence, and International co-operation, which are the areas Britain has most historical experience to bring to the table. It is, given the circumstances, given the potentially deep divisions in the Coalition about defence, a surprisingly elegant solution. It was right of Dr Fox to fight for the defence budget, and right of David Cameron to intervene to protect it from an extra 2% of cuts. It is a difficult pill to swallow, but it looks like life-saving medicine.

Scottish National (Partly) Justice

In America, Events, Foreign Affairs, Home Affairs, Judicial Spotlight, Law And Order, Party politics on September 12, 2010 at 11:24 pm

By polarii for The Daily Soapbox

Part of September’s Law and Order Series

Kenny MacAskill may not be an instantly recognisable name. Indeed, it may have continued forever in glorious obscurity had it not been attached to the Scottish Justice Secretary who released the equally splendidly named Abdel Basset al-Megrahi (whom some of my friends have mistaken for an Arabic liquorice allsort). Given that the SNP are unlikely to be returned at the next election, it seems reasonable to ask what this man’s significant contribution to law and order in Scotland has been.

For the benefit of those not familiar with Scotland, it does, in fact, have its own legal system. It is not dissimilar to other European systems, being most similar to the Irish, with Roman, Norse and Saxon influences. It runs alongside the English system, deferring to a UK system on only a few topics, such as extradition, while also accepting the European system, and ultimately, the ICJ. It is an historical oddity that Scotland preserves a distinct legal tradition; the Act of Union in 1701, and subsequently the Treaty of Union in 1707 was controversial enough then, and no-one has thought to go back and put the two now united kingdoms on the same legal footing. While this raises an interesting question about whether legal systems should run in parallel, and to what extent, we shall leave this to one side. Instead, we shall try to divine (since we Englanders never hear it explained) the judicial philosophy of the SNP.

The first act of Kenny MacAskill was to lift a ban on alcohol sales at rugby union games at Scotland’s main stadium, Murrayfield. This was a popular move, but ultimately had little effect on ‘Justice’ and its implementation in Scotland. After the abortive terror attacks on Glasgow airport, he made some remarks that the terrorists did not come from Scotland, as indeed they didn’t. He was progressing towards an inoffensive period in office.

However, he must have got somewhat bored. In this upcoming parliament, his department proposes two significant pieces of legislation. The first is to set a minimum price per unit of alcohol, due to an alarming amount of drunkenness in Scotland. The second is to allow those acquitted of serious crimes such as murder to be tried again should more evidence come to light. He also made the controversial decision over the Lockerbie bomber, for which he takes full responsibility.

The minimum price on alcohol could be seen as something of a reverse from his previous libertarianism at Murrayfield. The argument is that young people are drinking copious quantities of cheap beer and cider, purchased from supermarkets, then becoming drunk and disorderly. The counter-argument is that this measure – essentially a poll tax on alcohol – affects the poor much more greatly, and punishes the responsible drinker. It is interesting that MacAskill, who so vehemently opposed Thatcher’s poll tax, should introduce this. It takes the view that the state should actively remove those items that cause crime, even when the vast majority of people use it responsibly for the vast majority of the time. We might initially react that this is quite a pleasing move. After all, we all want to see less crime, and if the government can rake in some money to boot, what is wrong? Yet, how far should we extend this? Do we suggest a levy on kitchen knives, so often the weapon of choice in domestic assault, for instance? Do we add an additional tax on violent computer games, which some studies suggest lead to crime?

We can take this the other way – if alcohol is not restricted, and people use it irresponsibly, why do we restrict guns? I would say that alcohol and guns are essentially different; a gun is designed to cause harm, whereas alcohol is not. It may be a pragmatic measure to reduce drunken behaviour, but it lumps the innocent in with the guilty for no readily apparent reason. With guns, it is easy to see how an accidental discharge or opportunistic villain could cause great harm, and so there is a case for restricting them. But with alcohol, the SNP seem to be tarring all people with the same brush.

The second piece of interesting legislation introduces double jeopardy for serious crimes. This currently occurs in England, but not in Scotland, which does not admit any form of double jeopardy at present. With the application of new techniques, such as forensic science, police are discovering more data in ‘cold cases’, which lead them to the conclusions they had already drawn, but a jury did not uphold. It seems reasonable that the accused should be confronted with this new and additional evidence, and brought back to court. Yet there is the age-old principle that you can’t keep dragging a certain person before a court for the same reason again and again until the judge or jury, now thoroughly bored, hands down the desired verdict. However, this assumes malice on the part of the state and idiocy on the part of the jury. By and large, the state does not have it in for certain individuals, and juries are perfectly capable of understanding that if a person was found innocent before, a great deal more evidence needs to be presented for them to return a guilty verdict. If it were up to me, I would allow double jeopardy on all criminal trials for exactly this reason, allowing the transcripts (and a summary) of any relevant previous trials to be provided. I don’t think there would be that many takers without a significant new wad of evidence.

There is an oddity in the Scottish system that invites this. Scottish juries may return one of three verdicts: guilty, not guilty, and ‘no evidence’ – this latter being a way of a jury saying: ‘we think he did it, but the burden of proof has not been met by the prosecution.’ It seems incredible to me that there should be no double jeopardy with the return of such a verdict. The reform that is coming now is coming late, and is not coming in as full a form as the Scottish system needs. Incidentally, civil trials are more difficult, as a lot can be put down to interpretations of individual clauses or words. Civil law makes me very glad I’m not a lawyer; with cases such as libel, it can be terribly difficult to judge one way or another, and judges hand down different interpretations of the same law. Because it is not so clear-cut, I would not be so eager to have double jeopardy on civil cases.

Now, for Abdel Basset. MacAskill’s decision could have been motivated by any or all of three factors: genuine compassion on grounds of ill-health; lobbying from UK and corporate interests to improve relations with Libya; a need to avoid an embarrassing appeal, in which it might become apparent that al-Megrahi’s conviction was not as watertight as might be desired. I don’t buy Salmond’s line that the Scottish people are exceptionally compassionate – they’re about as compassionate as the next people group – but the medical reports do seem to suggest that al-Megrahi was on the point of dying when he left, and it was the compassionate thing to let him go. To me, it seems unlikely that BP exerted too much influence either, though this is what many in America would like to believe, to enhance the somewhat insipid narrative of the essential evil of BP. Libya has for a long time been positioning itself towards the West, since it can no longer guarantee support from an increasingly unpredictable Russia, nor that Islamic extremists will be happy to ignore Gaddafi’s crushing of Islamic-minded opponents. If Private Eye and some relatives of Lockerbie survivors are to be believed, al-Megrahi’s appeal may have had some weight behind it. I shan’t go into details, nor express an opinion here, but it seems that MacAskill has avoided a sticky and complex appeal that would likely have frayed US-UK relations, as al-Megrahi would be able to give a public airing to suggestions of incompetence of investigators.

It seems to me that MacAskill made a pragmatic decision here; he decided that it would be better to risk the flak of America claiming compassion rather than defending allegations of incompetence on the part of the UK-US team. It would have been even more unfortunate for him if al-Megrahi had died during appeal; he had already served 8 years while authorities delayed the appeal. It seems that, in this instance, MacAskill shied away from having the truth, whatever it looked like, out. The question of whether absolute truth is required for justice is again a tricky one, but it seems that al-Megrahi has essentially been granted a pardon (he is in Libya where no-one believes he is guilty) without actually being excused of the crime. A rather pragmatic and unsatisfactory solution.

This is what encapsulates much of the SNP’s approach to Justice in its four-year term. We can undoubtedly see that much of it is pragmatic, but when we take a look closer, we find that the thoughts behind it don’t quite fit with what we thought we’d find – a coherent philosophy concerning the nature and role of justice. Perhaps this arises from the SNP being a minority government, or perhaps it’s that the SNP is still a single issue party, and that single issue is not Justice. We’ll see who holds Holyrood come May 2011. My guess is Kenny MacAskill won’t feature in the cabinet, one way or another.

Loss of Ted Kennedy’s seat leaves Obama out in the cold

In America, Events, Foreign Affairs on February 9, 2010 at 1:54 pm
The seemingly liberal state of Massachusetts has provided a damning verdict on Obama’s first year in the White House.

By Tom Kennedy

The loss of the late Ted Kennedy’s seat is more than just an embarrassment

“How’s that hopey-changey thing workin’ out for you?” asked Sarah Palin when addressing the Tea Party Movement last week. Not too well it seems Sarah. Indeed, the reported ‘death’ of the Republican Party appears to have been celebrated a little prematurely. For a brief moment on election night, following a liberal, mixed race candidate emerging victorious, it appeared that America was finally starting to reject conservatism. According to Time magazine only last May, Republicans were “endangered species”.  However, the victory of Republican trucker Scott Brown in Massachusetts, widely regarded as a Democrat heartland, suggest that the GOP is far from finished. The growing frustration felt by many Americans towards Obama’s vision for the country meant that some manner of embarrassment at the polls was almost inevitable. However, the fact that Massachusetts was the place that provided this frank assessment of Obama’s first year at the White House is simply astonishing. The sea blue state has been represented by the Kennedy family for over fifty years. If ever there was a ‘safe’ Democrat seat, this was it. Yet Brown, a former Cosmopolitan centre-fold, has crudely capitalised on Obama’s mounting struggles, chiefly the much debated health care reforms.

The loss of the late Ted Kennedy’s seat is more than just an unfortunate embarrassment; it puts Obama’s entire domestic agenda at risk. It means that his vital supermajority in the Senate, the sixtieth filibuster proof vote, has been lost. As a result, health care reform, a fundamental objective of the Obama administration, has been left extremely vulnerable. Of course, the President will be able to identify moderate Republicans and try to convince them to vote in favour of his plans, but no one Republican wants to be the single vote that offers Obama a lifeline. Tellingly, the online betting website, intrade.com, now puts the odds of the Senate passing health care reform by June at just 33%. Bookies tend not to get these things wrong. The question posed by many during the 2008 election was whether Obama was ready to be President of the United States. Yet a year on, the more poignant query seems to be whether the US is ready for Obama. He was elected on the promise of change, yet many American citizens seem somewhat hesitant towards developing with him, and show a lack of trust in Obama as President. His promise to unite a nation and reform Washington is far from completion. Republicans appear as opposed to Obama as Democrats did to George W Bush. Today, it is no longer farfetched to consider that the Democrats could lose control of the House of Representatives come November. The White House has been quick to blame Brown’s Democratic rival Martha Coakley for the disaster in Massachusetts. Admittedly, she was a less than inspiring candidate, and seemed to take victory for granted. Any politician who responds to accusations of passive campaigning by enquiring, “What am I supposed to do, shake hands in the freezing cold outside Fenway Park?”, fails to inspire confidence.  However, in truth, Brown was a protest vote. 78% of those who voted for him admitted that they did so in order to halt health care reform.

If it’s cold in Massachusetts, then Obama must be feeling distinctly numb in Washington, for Brown’s victory showed the growing dislike of Obama’s aspiration for America. The President cannot simply shrug this defeat off. In the words of Democratic Senator Evan Bayh, “If you lose Massachusetts and that’s not a wakeup call, there’s no hope of waking up.” Sadly, Obama may have to distinguish between what he feels is best for America, and what the people themselves actually want. Ominously for the White House, Brown’s political ideology is the complete opposite to Obama’s. The Republican is aggressively opposed to big government and has forcefully attacked the President’s ambitions for health care reform. Massachusetts’s Republican Governor Mitt Romney claimed that “this shows that the American people are rejecting the arrogance of ‘Obama-ism” – the idea that government knows best”. It was hoped by many Democrats that the emergence of Obama and the conclusion of a wretched two year term under the Bush administration would all but see off any Republican revival, at least for a while. Even within Republican quarters, serious questions were raised over the future direction of the party. Now, Sarah Palin and other right wing politicians adored by the growing ‘Tea Party Movement’, see the 2012 election is a genuine chance to capture the White House. It is essential that Obama now focuses on avoiding a rout in the midterm elections next year. Although he is only a year into his Presidency, the mid terms are little over ten months away. If things seem hard now, then they could be even worse next year. If the Republicans were to trump the Democrats, Obama could be left almost powerless in his relationship with Congress, making re-election an uncomfortable challenge. At worst, Obama could become a Jimmy Carter figure. An ideological liberal, with noble and brave intentions, yet unable to effectively legislate as President, due to a lack of support in Washington. If the President wants to develop and change the country, he must avoid this at all costs, or risk being a one-term president.

In contrast to last year’s hysteria, the Obama effect is harming, rather than furthering, the political ambitions of the Democrat party. In Massachusetts, swing voters and independents, who were pivotal in electing Obama, deserted the Democrats. Brown made up a 30 point deficit in only a month to defeat Coakley, winning 52 per cent to 47. Whilst this is concerning for the Obama administration, they should take comfort in the fact that things can easily swing back in their favour. When the economic state of the country improves, Obama is likely to be under less pressure. When more Americans find themselves employed, the President will be face less hostility from the public. The President must see through this difficult period, and regain the support of the American people. This may mean moderating certain views and compromise may well be necessary if he is to govern effectively, just as Bill Clinton was forced to do before him. If Obama is to recover from the anti-incumbent fever that has gripped many of those who voted for him in 2008, it is necessary for him to understand fully what has gone wrong, and ensure that it doesn’t happen again. All polls indicate one thing; voters want Obama to concentrate on job creation rather than health reform. As a result, Obama may have to temporarily suspend his foremost strategy, at least for a little while. If the President’s state of the union address was anything to go by, then that might already be the case.

There is still a long time until Obama faces re-election, and a lot will change. It is fascinating to ponder how history will view Obama. Will he be a curious footnote in the history of the United States, the first African American president, a one term leader who promised so much but ultimately delivered little? Will he prove to be one of the great American presidents, the man who enhanced their foreign policy, introduced an environmental agenda to Washington and brought health care to those who so desperately need it? Only time will tell.