16
Oct

There’s little awareness of how the budget crisis has eroded US credibility. It’s time for a reverse Christopher Columbus

By Timothy Garton Ash

Capitol Hill October 3

‘If the US goes on like this, then one day – one year, one decade – the copper bottom of investors’ confidence will fall out.’ Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty

On Monday, government offices were closed in Washington DC, to mark Columbus Day. Except that most of them had been closed anyway, because of the US government shutdown. As everyone knows, Christopher Columbus was an Italian navigator who, in the service of the Spanish crown, supposedly “discovered” America and reported its potential to a wondering world. I have spent the summer in the United States watching, with growing alarm, a country engaged in a degree of self-harming which, if observed in a teenager, would lead any friend to cry “call the doctor at once”. As I set course back to Europe, my conclusion is this: America should do a reverse Columbus. The world no longer needs to discover America; but America urgently needs to discover the world’s view of America.

Ordinary Americans, and especially the small minority active in Democrat and Republican primaries, must learn more of what people across the globe are thinking and saying about the US. For if you follow that, you realise that the erosion of American power is happening faster than most of us predicted – while the politicians in Washington behave like rutting stags with locked antlers.

The 24/7 US news coverage follows every last lunge and twist of the stagfight. It is the political equivalent of ESPN, the non-stop sports network. Just occasionally, the rest of the world breaks through: for instance, when the World Bank and the IMF hold their annual meetings – right there in Washington – and the heads of both institutions, Jim Yong Kim and Christine Lagarde, warn of dire consequences. That gets a few column inches. Or when the government shutdown and debt-ceiling brinkmanship leads Barack Obama to cancel a major trip to Asia, including the Apec summit in Bali, leaving the floor wide open for president Xi Jinping to assert China’s regional leadership (“the Asia-Pacific cannot prosper without China”).

A more direct taste of foreign news is available just a few clicks away. On my cable TV control, if I scroll down to channel number 73, or 355, or whatever it is, I can get Al-Jazeera, China’s CCTV and Russia’s RT. Their reporters often speak perfect American-accented journalese, and sometimes actually are career American journalists, lured away from job-shedding US news organisations to give credibility to these channels. CCTV’s Washington bureau chief, for instance, is Jim Spellman, formerly of CNN. These channels’ take on the Washington dégringolade is much harder edged than the ESPN version. The website of the Russian state-backed RT quotes an editorial published by the Chinese state news agency, Xinhua, proposing that, in the light of this crisis, “several cornerstones should be laid to underpin a de-Americanised world”. Read more…

As published in www.theguardian.com on October 15, 2013.

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