Global stake in US presidential race

The announcement by former secretary of state Hillary Clinton of her candidacy for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination has brought US domestic politics to the global fore yet again. Mrs Clinton, whose credentials are impressive, is being joined in the nomination fray by several other Democrats. The rival Republicans have their own array of hopefuls who wish to revive the party's electoral fortunes after two consecutive Democratic presidential terms.

All of them embody the fervent vigour of the American electoral process, in which the leading contenders for the highest post in the land first have to win the support of their own parties, before they can confront the other side along partisan lines that help determine the nation's political contours for four years. It is understandable that, in the process, presidential hopefuls turn closely to voters' concerns. All politics is local because it is voters who decide winners and losers based on their immediate interests.

Thus, Mrs Clinton has declared her determination to improve the economic prospects of the middle class, placing particular emphasis on raising wages and curbing income inequality. On his part, former Republican governor Jeb Bush of Florida, younger brother of ex-president George W. Bush, is reaching out to business leaders. As these and other candidates embark on the journey to the White House, the election will likely be fought largely on domestic issues. Foreign policy will be important only to the extent that it impinges on America's short-term economic and political fortunes as voters perceive them at any point of shifting time.

What stands in danger of being forgotten in the electoral melee is the enduring stake the world has in the United States. Any inward turn in America's politics, caused by the attritional struggle for marginal or undecided votes in a divided polity, would weaken the country's position in international politics. The consequences would be a diminution of American influence and the global stability that it underpins. America's role would be weakened further if a Republican-dominated House and Senate are once again at odds with a Democratic president, should that be the case. Deadlocked politics constrains outcomes far beyond American shores and can undermine the long-term good.

Difficult in even the best of times, such a scenario would be ominous when the post-Cold War order is being contested by the spread of religious extremism and terrorism, and the rise of powers that do not share America's vision of a liberal global dispensation. If the US is to remain the indispensable power in spite of its shortcomings, its electoral moods must not overwhelm its global mission.