Thursday, March 05, 2009

Brown's call to US: Seize the moment to tackle world crisis.

It was hard to listen to Gordon Brown's plea to the American Congress and to imagine him making such a plea during the Bush years. It would simply have appeared as an utter waste of everyone's time.

The prime minister's 36-minute speech won 19 standing ovations but was, at crucial moments, received in silence on the Republican side of the aisle as he made the case for a united global effort to revive economies and to turn away from the Bush doctrine on the environment.

Brown said that during this peacetime crisis it was the task of government as "the representatives of the people to be the people's last line of defence".

Urging Congress to have "faith in the future" and in itself, he won strong applause when he called on members to recognise "now more than ever the world wants to work with you".

He was, of course, recognising that the Bush years were over, and with them, hopefully, the days of American unilateralism.

But it was when he moved his message on to climate change and what needs to be done that he began to encounter Republican resistance.

Brown tried to challenge as well as flatter in the speech, which was delivered to a crowded, but not completely full, chamber. He urged the joint meeting of both houses to sign a climate change agreement this year by saying: "I believe that you, the nation that had the vision to put a man on the moon are also the nation with the vision to protect and preserve our planet Earth." It was notable that the Republicans sat stony in response while the Democrats applauded.

But he managed to lose the Democrats and the Republicans when he delivered the message that he traveled across the ocean to deliver.

Brown also challenged Congress by asking: "Should we succumb to a race to the bottom, and a protectionism that history tells us that in the end protects no one? No. We should have the confidence that we can seize the opportunities ahead and make the future work for us."

Neither side of the aisle applauded, but the prime minister forced his argument, predicting that the stricken global economy would double in size over the next 20 years as China and India became consumers of goods from the west on a massive scale.

He won his strongest applause - again mainly from Democrats - when he argued that "wealth must help more than wealthy, and riches must enrich not just some of our community but all our community". The Democrats also lit up when he demanded an end to offshore tax havens.

It was a noble effort, and I thought a good enough speech, but I doubt that Brown is enough of a star player for this good speech to have much impact in the United States.

I liked the fact that he stated that, "the new frontier is that there is no frontier, and the new shared truth is that global problems now need global solutions."

And, in a direct put down to Rumsfeld's logic, he stated, "There is no old Europe and new Europe, there is only your friend Europe. So seize the moment."

Again, it was impossible to imagine this speech being made during the days of the Bush presidency, this was a speech which was only made possible by the election of Obama.

Indeed, at times Brown appeared to echo the sentiments which Obama himself has stated:

For let us remember there is a common bond that unites us as human beings across different beliefs, cultures and nationalities. It is at the core of my convictions, the essence of America's spirit and the heart of all faiths And it must be at the centre of our response to the crisis of today. At their best, our values tell us that we cannot be wholly content while others go without, cannot be fully comfortable while millions go without comfort, cannot be truly happy while others grieve alone.

It was hard to listen to Brown speaking without hearing Obama stating, "I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper."

Whether Americans heard him or not, Brown did his job. He went to the US to state that Europe recognises that the days of Bush unilateralism are over and that we are ready to seize the moment and work to address the problems in our financial system and to finally tackle the issue of global warming.

The Republicans might have been lukewarm to his message, but he was talking to the new Obama administration rather than to the Republicans. He was stating that, even if the Republicans attempt to thwart Obama's best efforts to tackle global warming and other pressing issues at home, that he has allies across the ocean who share his concerns and his sense of urgency and that they are willing to seize the moment.

As I say, it matters not what impact this speech has on the American conscience, Obama heard it. And that's what Brown set out to do. Obama knows that, no matter how much the Republicans resist his message, Europe is on board.

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