The inauguration of Barack Obama for his second term in office takes place today in the White House. It has been described as a 'private' ceremony to which the press have been invited. Perhaps they think the hacks won't report it.
We don't know what will be in Obama's speech but we do know roughly what is going on. As regards Britain the President intensely dislikes us and it was only the fact that his principal opponent was such a manifest fool that prevented this blog from coming out for Romney.
Other than tinkering with the deficit (Americans tend to believe that they only need a boom run to sort everything out and repay $16 trillion) I believe Obama's main policy over the next four years will be to redirect America's focus from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Indeed he has already started to sow the seeds of this: 'We are a Pacific nation', he said in a recent speech, and there is no doubt he meant that with a capital P.
The implications of this are enormous. America will abandon its roots and go to the part of the world where things are happening. Things are happening economically in the Far East, and America needs to sell both its exports and its debts to the emerging rich. And things are happening politically: as China grows it becomes an ever greater threat to the region and America's role as policeman will be switched from the Russian-European border to the swathe of countries between India and Hong Kong.
But the biggest effect of this shift will be in Europe. since 1916 the Europeans have expected America to fight their battles. Since the financial boom of the 1960s Europe has had the luxury of enjoying security without paying for it and America, rightly I think, believes this wealthy continent has been swinging the lead (normally America would have singled out Britain as the exception but, as I said above, Obama doesn't like us). This first became apparent, oddly enough, in Libya. The British and French thought that something should be done and Obama said simply 'that's your patch'. The American Mediterranean Fleet slung a few missiles, and then only when it became apparent that we were woefully under equipped, but left us alone. The Germans decided not to take part at all. Now, in Mali, Mrs Merkel has contributed a couple of transport planes, nothing more. Germany still doesn't like the idea of military commitment. Someone told me once that German soldiers are not allowed to fight at night, I don't know if that's still true.
Now there is a credible argument that the presence of well funded terrorists in North Africa is not something we need worry about. But Europe does need a defence plan and it can't just rely on Britain and France having decent standing armies. Money is short and defence is expensive. The reason Europe needs to do something quickly is Russia. As the American defence umbrella is withdrawn, Europe has allowed itself to be increasingly dependent on Russian gas. President Putin, who has been known to turn off the taps when someone disagrees with him, will search for and find Europe's weakness.
Without America, Germany, as the leading economic power in Europe, will have to become a significant military power. This will require a lot of soul searching and some constitutional changes but it is about time the Germans, and several others, pulled their weight. The war ended nearly 70 years ago and pacifism is luxury which, without America, Europe can no longer afford.