US mid-terms' outcome will keep Canberra on its toes

US mid-terms outcome will keep Canberra on its toesThe US mid term election results have been decided, and the Democrats are sharing power not only with President George W. Bush, but also responsibility for his policies that continue to wreak havoc in the Middle East.

This election has in many ways been a wake-up call for the Democrats, as much as it has been for the Republicans. Nancy Pelosi, the new House majority leader, has led the party to victory by opposing the policies of the Bush administration without elucidating a comprehensive alternative vision for the country. It's now time for her to engage in proactive policymaking.

From a certain point of view, the Australian government has benefited significantly from the formerly Republican Congress. Australia and the US have drawn strength from each other in their shared recalcitrance regarding the Kyoto protocols. The free trade agreement between the countries that came into effect just under two years ago, would have struggled to pass through a Democrat-dominated congress. Similarly, the two leaders have drawn strength from each other, standing side-by-side on the Iraq intervention.

John Howard will now need to watch the situation in Iraq even more closely, if, as expected, the Democrats decide on a change of direction, and demands for a clear exit strategy are realised.

Meanwhile, Canberra will be watching with interest, and perhaps, just maybe, wondering if these results might somehow reflect a seachange in people's sympathies—or worse still—presage a change in the Australian body politic.

Certainly the Howard government has done itself no favours by "staying the course" in Iraq nor, more recently, with its perceived lack of concern for the environmental challenges facing Australia. Climate change may be one of the major deciding factors in the federal election next year—and, across the Pacific, you can bet the Democrats will not be quiet about that.



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