Thursday, November 03, 2005

Washington Moods

Washington is a town where things are always happening. Few places on this globe are as intensely political as this one.

This evening the main event in town is the White House dinner for Prince Charles and his Camilla from the UK just two blocks from where I'm sitting at the moment. I guess that's the place where one is supposed to be. In this celebrity-conscious small town the guest list is of course printed in the newspapers.

But simultaneously at the least the Senate is sitting later than planned, disrupting numerous dinner plans around town. It's something with support for farmers, and that is an issue as important on this side of the Atlantic as it is with us in Europe.

And then there is of course politics of different sorts.

The Contact Group is meeting on the level of Political Directors to launch the Kosovo status process. And the presence of the Political Directors from the key EU countries has also been the occasion for some informal talks on how to proceed with the complicated Iran dossier.

Earlier today, they and others where part of the informal trans-Atlantic dialogue on that and other issues where also I was present.

Of note is also that the new Prime Minister of Ukraine Yekhanurov is in town for quick meetings with the administration, meeting also the Vice President at the White House.

Tonight I've been at and spoken to the opening dinner of the Transatlantic Policy Network, and tomorrow discussions continue on a wide range of subjects up on Capitol Hill before I'm heading to the White House for some discussions and then onwards to take a flight heading back towards the Old World.

By that time the President himself will be airborne on his way to the Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata in Argentina. One could safely expect that meeting to be dominated by disputes with Mr Chavez of Venezuela. From there the President continues to Brazil and Panama before coming back here on Monday.

The mood in town is very much dominated by the problems that the Bush administration has had and still have. Last week might well have been the low point of the Bush presidency - it was certainly the low point so far. All of this naturally causes great agitation in the media and in the chattering classes.

But more seasoned observers - and there are plenty of those around - point out that every administration during its second term goes through scandals and problems. It seems to be something of a law of politics. And compared to the 2nd term wave of scandals of practically all previous administrations those of this one so far look rather mild.

Two of the most succesful presidencies of recent times - the Reagan and the Clinton ones - went through waves of scandals in their 2nd terms far worse than this. Both recovered and left a legacy where today it's only the success that is remembered.

Whether Bush 43 can achieve this remains to be seen.

The economy is doing better than expected, although there are the familiar clouds on the horizon. Third quarter growth was no less than 3,8 %, which means that if there had not been Katrina it might well have been approaching 5 %. Stunning.

But in spite of this goods news about the economy it looks most unlikely that the President can move ahead on his social security agenda as planned. As for the anticipated tax reform, the proposal just unveiled sounds sound, but will also mobilize all those vested interest ready to fight to the last dollar for every single one of the endless deduction possibilities in the present system. The battle to get Samuel Alito confirmed as new judge at the Supreme Court might be fierce, but will at the least mobilize the core of the President's electoral support.

On the foreign policy front, Irak certainly does not look good, although it is not Vietnam, and much will depend on what comes out of the new parliamentary elections in December. There are increasing open divisions in the Republican party over Iraq - but for the Democrats the subject is so difficult that they mostly prefer not to talk about it at all.

At the present, the trends for the administration are not particularly good, but not nearly as bad as they are often presented.

Much of what will happen will depends on events of different sorts. There will be things happening that needs to be reacted to. There could be the effect we saw after September 11 - but there could also be the effect that we saw after Katrina and New Orleans.

It's much more open than it seems. It will certainly keep the Washington gossip industry going.

And the world will listen in...