IN Washington this week we have been witnessing that most remarkable of democratic spectacles: the graceful exit of one government, and the peaceful ascendancy of another.
With the slenderest margin of victory in terms of the people's vote, Bill Clinton has toppled the old regime and assumed the presidency of the American superpower. It is the will of the people. It was achieved without the rumbling of tanks, the volleys of rifle fire, and the thrust of the bayonet that are the mechanisms for change in some countries less free than the United States.
Even those Americans who did not support President Clinton have acquiesced this week in the celebration of his accession to the White House. He has asked for their support of the presidency, which they owe him whether or not they support his specific policies.
Americans have a tradition of uniting patriotically after divisive political campaigns, but Clinton is right to ask anew for such a coming-together and to pledge to work on its behalf.
But if Clinton expects others to set aside past animosities, he is obliged to do the same. Particularly disturbing are reports that British Prime Minister John Major heads the new administration's "enemies list" because he favored George Bush during the presidential campaign. After the election, Clinton snubbed Prime Minister Major when the latter attempted to meet with him.
Now is the time to put this nonsense aside and reestablish one of the most important foundation stones of American foreign policy - the Anglo-American alliance.
Britain is America's oldest and sturdiest ally. Individual Englishmen may, with amused hauteur, find Americans brash. Individual Americans may, with their uninhibited ebullience, find Brits stuffy. But nation to nation, they share the same principles and standards and many of the same traditions. Cultural and linguistic diversity may sometimes cause minor misunderstandings, but these are swamped by the moral affinity of the two peoples.
The alliance was perhaps at its strongest in World War II, when Hitler's armies threatened to swarm across the English Channel and add Britain to the Nazi leader's list of European conquests. British stubbornness held the Germans at bay until the Americans could come to help. Mountains of Spam and other American food were shipped across the U-boat-infested Atlantic to keep Britons going. Then came the American armies, almost swamping Britain with their men and material, as they marshaled for the invasion
and liberation of Europe.
Such common peril reforged and tempered the Anglo-American alliance and it has endured until today, when the British (and on this occasion the French) fly with the Americans in a bid to rein in international renegade Saddam Hussein.
Britain may no longer be a major world power, but its allegiance is important to keeping America a world power. Its moral suasion in international councils remains significant. The British stood solidly with the Americans in the face of a Soviet nuclear buildup in the cold war. Britain, despite its own internal protesters, provided bases for American submarines and warplanes.
Later, it was from British bases that American planes flew to punish Libya's Muammar Qadaffi for his terrorist activities. It was the British who were swift to volunteer forces for the Gulf war.
The alliance has been mutually beneficial. When Britain launched a war against Argentina to reclaim the invaded Falklands, it was the US that supplied (sometimes clandestinely) intelligence and supplies and basing rights that helped Britain win the war.
Japan and Germany are important to the US. Russia beckons and China looms. But the nurturing of the Anglo-American alliance is a priority. A complex world confronts Clinton. That requires him to be presidential, not petty.