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Issue 235, Friday 28 November 2008 - 30 Dhu al-Qa'dah 1429
Obama: living up to the euphoria
It was difficult not to be swayed by the euphoria around the world that greeted the election of Barack Obama as the next US president. The global reaction was compared with Nelson Mandela becoming President of South Africa. Only this time the hope is optimistic and more comprehensive, with the world expecting that as the first black US President of the world’s most powerful country, he would able to bring forward an ambitious agenda not only domestically but internationally to rectify some of the many ills around the globe. But such expectations put a heavy burden on Obama to live up to the euphoria.
The leaders of both close and potential allies fell over themselves to extend their congratulations in the hope of winning favour from the President-elect of the world superpower. Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, battled it out with Conservative Leader, David Cameron, in Parliament on who was the main beneficiary from his victory, while in France, President Nicolas Sarkozy was reportedly first out of the blocks to write an open letter, hailing Obama. “At a time when we must face huge challenges together, your election has raised enormous hope in France, in Europe and beyond,” he said. German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, also heaped praise, saying she was confident the US President-elect could tackle the “significant challenges” he would face immediately after taking office in January. “I am convinced that Europe and the United States will work closely and in a spirit of mutual trust together to confront new dangers and risks and will seize the opportunities presented by our global world,” she said.
To his credit, Obama galvanized apathetic and virgin voters by becoming only the third Democrat in the past 100 years to win by a clear majority. Although he was deemed to be the first black president, he essentially stood as an American, gaining most votes from youths, college-educated, suburb-swelling, socially liberal and non-white groups, including reportedly 95 per cent of Blacks, 67 per cent of Hispantics, 89 per cent of Muslim and 78 per cent of Jews. His primary message was that of inclusiveness and change which resonated with many people.
Ninety per cent of Americans already thought their country was going in the wrong direction. In effect, he can be seen as a legacy of the outgoing US President George W Bush, who succeed in reaching the highest disapproval rating of any American leader in the history of polling that goes back to the 1930s.
Obama will inherit a global financial crisis of unknown scope and a fragile world where peace has been threatened often by policies of his predecessor and where injustices continue to go unresolved. His other drawbacks are that he will not only have to address existing geopolitical realities that the burden of office places upon him but also accommodate his backers and paymasters as well as the numerous American lobbies, not least the pro-Israelis.
In his first 100 days, the President-elect has pledge to start discussions on withdrawing from Iraq and close Guantánamo Bay internment camp that has been such a stain on the US as well as end torture practices. But he will have to do much more if he is to finally end the so called ‘war of terror’ and release the thousands of Muslims lingering in unknown prisons after being kidnapped by the US forces. A crucial test is how he will handle the war in Afghanistan coupled with the turmoil caused in Pakistan.
The biggest challenge, which his predecessors have always shied away from, is the Middle East conflict, which can only be resolved by an American president bringing Israel to heel. To gain entry into the While House, he has appeased the Zionist gallery by going further than Bush in pledging to support Jerusalem to be the “undivided capital” of Israel. What also does not bode well is his appointment of Rahm Emanuel as his chief of staff that caused much disdain among Muslims given his ardent pro-Israeli credentials. Emanual’s father, a former member of the Irgun terrorist group, rubbed further salt into the wounds by promoting his son’s pro-Israel influence with the president, while making disparaging remarks about Arabs.
A worrying trend during the election campaign was the way the ‘Muslim card’ was played against Obama and in response, the extent he tried to distance himself from his roots. It was notable that he even avoided any visit to a mosque, whilst he visited a Synagogue and Churches. His team removed women with the hijab from the stage where he was going to speak. The distinctive air of Islamophobia as detailed on our front page even led the resignation of his Muslim-outreach coordinator, Mazen Asbahi, months before polling day. It remains to be seen whether this trend continues to be a tool used again the new president and how he confronts it.
Despite any scepticism, there is no doubt that the election of an intellectual and inspirational president brings the potential of a new dynamism to world politics that can be hugely symbolic and a possible role model for other countries to follow suit. His style has brought a fresh approach to American politics, devoting much time on peace and justice. A great plus was his talk about reconciliation in his victory speech and a willingness to work even with enemies.
Obama carries with him much hope from the goodwill of the world as a harbinger of peace and justice, which is so desperately needed. How he proceeds will depend more upon his actions than his articulate words. One major concern is that he may become bogged down in domestic problems and become isolationist. For the record, he already appears to favour protectionism.
As euphoria dies down, the world will watch and see how his rhetoric to bring about a more just and peaceful world is put into practice.
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