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US shutdown leaves the world scratching its head

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US shutdown leaves the world scratching its head
As the U.S. government creaked toward a shutdown on Monday, the world looked on with a little anxiety and a lot of dismay, and some people had trouble suppressing smirks.

"To be honest, people are making a lot of jokes," said Justice Malala, a political commentator in South Africa.

Over the years, Malala said, South Africa often has been lectured about good governance by the United States as well as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which are heavily influenced by Washington.

"They tell us, 'You guys are not being fiscally responsible,' " Malala said. "And now we see that they are running their country a little like a banana republic. So there is a lot of sniggering going on."

Washington's meltdown was barely a blip on the radar across much of the world on Monday. Malala said South Africans were much more concerned with last week's Nairobi shopping mall massacre, Syria topped the news in the Middle East, and the Indian news media was keeping tabs on a corruption scandal involving a politician and a cattle-feed company.

Still, many analysts abroad said they were dumbfounded at the game of political chicken playing out in Washington. They worried that instability in the United States would further damage the already shaky world economy.

"It would be great if we didn't add something more onto this precarious recovery; we really don't need this," said Jorge Castaneda, a Mexican academic and former foreign minister.

"Everything that happens in the United States affects us directly," he said. "The last thing we want right now is another problem in the United States which will make things worse in Mexico."

In Britain, there was a sense of incredulity about the looming U.S. shutdown. Some commentators worried that the chaos in Washington could damage Europe's recovery from economic crisis. Others used the moment to trash American politicians, singling out the tea party movement for most of the blame.

In the Guardian newspaper, columnist Michael Cohen decried Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas as the Republican Party's "self-made monster." He argued that Republicans had reached the "point where Cruz's brand of crazy, heartless, morally wanton, uncompromising conservatism is now the default position of the party."

A Times of London editorial slammed President Barack Obama along with the tea party, saying, "An argument that is so bitter, prolonged and apparently incapable of resolution cannot but damage America's diplomatic standing."

In South America, where U.S. proselytizing about fiscal responsibility has rankled some countries, economists and policymakers watched the shutdown drama with disbelief.

"It's incredible, it's surrealism," said Jose Antonio Ocampo, a former finance minister of Colombia. "I had to negotiate budgets and debt ceilings in Colombia, and this situation is frankly unreal."

Ocampo said he was astonished at Republican efforts to overturn Obama's health-care law, a key factor contributing to the potential shutdown.

"I don't remember, as minister of finance of Colombia, a blackmail so absurd like the one that the U.S. government has had to face," said Ocampo, who spoke by phone from New York, where he teaches at Columbia University.

"This is not some small economic or political matter," said Ignacio Arcaya, a former Venezuelan ambassador to the United States. "This is a question that could affect the whole world and have unseen consequences."

In Pakistan, analysts note that the country's 66-year-old national government has never had a formal shutdown, despite three coups, decades of military rule and dire economic challenges.

Economist Saqib Shirani said there "are lessons to learn" for Pakistan from events in Washington. In a country with 12 major political parties, he said, "there must be political consensus on economic issues, and taking the political bickering to extreme can backfire."

"But we are good compared to the U.S. on that," he said. "Major political forces here are usually able to achieve consensus."

In India, a government minister said the U.S. problems were similar to an ongoing struggle between his government and political opponents trying to block its policies.

"It's heartening to note that administrative paralysis is not unique to a particular democracy," said Manish Tewari, India's information and broadcasting minister.

In the Middle East, few expressed interest in a crisis seen as complex, distant and unlikely to affect the Arab world. But in a region where political strife stemming from the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings has battered economies, some analysts were sympathetic to Washington's politically driven financial woes.

"It's a political struggle that is being played out on the economy's battlefield," said Rashad Abdo, a finance professor at Cairo University.

The U.S. crisis has received only fleeting attention in Moscow, where the Russian government is wrestling with its own budget problems. In past years, President Vladimir Putin has scolded the United States for what he has called profligate economic policies. But this time Putin has been silent.

Others seemed to take a certain measure of satisfaction from problems in the world's richest nation.
German officials have frequently seized on fiscal-policy chaos in the U.S. Congress as a reason to disregard American advice about their handling of Europe's financial problems.

The looming shutdown seemed only to fuel that impulse Monday, when the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper mused in an opinion column that Obama appears to have an easier time negotiating with Iran than with the tea party.

The newspaper noted that Obama used the word "respect" after he spoke with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Friday. But, the paper said, "Obama then mentioned a few other adversaries, which he described as extremists and arsonists. He did not mean Iran's Quds Force, but the congressmen of the right-wing tea party."

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Washington Post staff writers Anthony Faiola and Karla Adam in London; Juan Forero in Bogota, Colombia; Tim Craig in Islamabad, Pakistan; Kathy Lally in Moscow; Annie Gowen and Rama Lakshmi in New Delhi; Michael Birnbaum in Berlin; and correspondent Sharaf al-Hourani in Cairo contributed to this report.

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Tags: US, Obama, Washington Post