Sunset Clause

There is going to be a lot of debate in years to come about when the decline of the USA began, and what triggered it. But the events of the last few weeks have shown beyond doubt that the world's superpower is now on a downhill slope.

The government is as good as bankrupt following a decade of wars in Asia costing in excess of a trillion dollars each. The previous President, George W Bush, started one of these thereby making the other inevitable, and also found time to cut taxes on the rich.

As a sign of how low American education standards have sunk, Republicans then expressed surprise at the resulting runaway fiscal deficits.

The stand-off in Congress (once we could have called it a "Mexican" one, but I think we are going to have to look at the terminology again) has brought us to the point where there is no agreed budget, and the Commander in Chief cannot put forces in the field, or even get on a plane himself to attend vital international conferences.

This may seem a strange time therefore to quietly sing the praises of President Barack Obama.

But let me tick off some of his achievements.

Top of the list is that by the simple act of becoming the first black President, he reignited the American dream. It really is possible for any young man to go all the way to the top.

Moreover, given that his most serious rival in 2008 was Hilary Clinton, he showed indirectly it is possible for any young lady also.

Second there is the social dimension. In a society that has millions of dysfunctional families, here is a man still living with and married to the mother of his children. And who smoked pot in his youth and is struggling to give up smoking – a real human being!

Then there is his signature domestic achievement, the Affordable Care Act which is making health care available to millions of Americans previously without coverage.

Realising that this was a terrible indictment of the United States, but realising also that the kind of socialised medicine prevalent in other advanced economies like Britain and Canada might not get the support of Congress, Obama grabbed an idea from the right wing Heritage Foundation – one that Republican Mitt Romney introduced successfully when Governor of Massachusetts –and put his plan together on that basis.

Now enacted and being implemented, the Act has been christened "Obamacare" by those who want to denigrate the achievement while overlooking their own previous support for the principles on which it is based.

Who says that John Boehner has no sense of humour?

Finally, Obama has acted with admirable restraint over Syria, and incidentally forced Americans to confront the reality of their own situation.

It would have been so easy to fire off a few missiles at Damascus once the "red line" of chemical weapons was crossed. But Obama took the legalistic view that since the United States itself was not under immediate threat, he needed Congressional approval. Suddenly realising that they would have to share the blame if things went wrong (which, looking over their shoulders at Iraq and Afghanistan, looked a distinct possibility), the members of congress from both parties turned cautious. Just in time to avoid another disastrous intervention.

Taking a simplistic view, America is not as strong as it was. But if the country has learned that it can achieve more by acting multilaterally rather than unilaterally, and through diplomacy than militarily, then it might in fact be stronger. Because the core values on which the United States was built will show through, unsullied by the hypocrisy of some of the country's actions.

Thanks Barack.