Although the US presidential election has been contested, in part, on American conduct of the war in Iraq, the result of the election is likely to have little bearing on events in that country. For even in the unlikely event of John Kerry winning, Iraq’s short-term future is set – and it hinges on a historic transfer of power from the Sunni minority to the Shia majority. How the Shia elite wields that power, after 500 years of subordination, is now the key to everything. And as Bartle Bull vividly illustrates inside, the recent signs have been encouraging. Even representatives of the radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr are signalling to the Sunnis that their minority rights will be respected in a Shia-dominated Iraq. In a part of the world where sectarian power has in the past been wielded ruthlessly it is vital that this message reaches its target; if it does, it could help to reduce the level of nihilistic Sunni violence in the run-up to January’s election and speed the arrival of a stable Iraq.
One consolation if George W Bush does hold on to power is that it might make it easier to win the referendums across Europe on the new EU constitutional treaty. If there is one place the disgruntled voters of Europe dislike more than Brussels it is Washington DC under Bush. And that may apply even to Eurosceptic British voters. Anand Menon argues that the economic and political cost-benefit analysis of EU membership turns out far more positively for Britain in 2004 than it did in 1973 – when the economic rules still favoured France’s small farmers and Germany’s successful manufacturers and the politics was driven by Franco-Germany. Fast forward to 2004: enlargement has made the EU safe for the idea of Europe as a grouping of nation states (and in the process knocked Franco-Germany off its pedestal), while the single market is opening up Europe to Britain’s successful service sector companies. This is the refrain that can help to win a referendum. But success is not guaranteed, for it remains one of the great paradoxes of British politics that as the EU, on more or less any measure, has become friendlier to British interests, Euroscepticism has continued to grow in influence. Why? The EU is a complex, elite-driven set of institutions that even pro-European politicians have not really tried to sell. Soon they will have no choice.