Sunday, January 27, 2008

Obama - is the world ready?

By Etse Sikanku

Let's face it: We live in a nation long considered to be the most powerful in the world. Decisions made by an American president affect millions across the globe. Pundits have been questioning whether America is ready for Obama. The question that should be asked is this: Is the world ready for Obama?

Some may deny the existence of an American hegemony. Like the respected political scientist, Samuel Huntington, they may argue what rather exists is a "uni-multipolar system with one superpower and several major powers." However, the influence of whoever occupies the White House in international politics as chief executive of the American people is unquestioned.

Even before Obama announced his candidacy for election, he had already attracted attention, not only from America, but indeed from all over the world. Africa saw a connection through his father, so Kenyans claimed him as their own. Obama himself called the people of Kibera his "brothers and sisters." He is a political hero in Indonesia. The media across Europe have covered Obama extensively.

Indeed, it is thought the foreign media have never covered American elections with such intensity and so early in the race. At the Springfield rally, where he announced his candidacy, crews from Japan, England, Australia and other parts of the world were part of the 600 journalists - more than twice the number that covered Romney's announcement - at the Old State Capitol.

It is instructive for domestic issues such as the economy and health care to dominate electoral debates. Why else does the concept of national interest exist? However, considering the concrete implications U.S. policy has on billions of lives in different continents, it is quite inconceivable why issues as palpable and as rudimentary as fair trade and economic justice do not form part of the election check list. Americans must be as resolute and unwavering in demanding fair and less harmful policies toward developing countries from presidential candidates. For instance, despite all their work in the searing sun, peasants in Africa reap little or no profits from the work of their sore hands because of U.S. agricultural subsidies.

For all the whining over Obama's identity, the question to ponder is this: Will a black president be more favorable toward Third World countries? What do Africa and the developing world stand to benefit from a black president? Considering how popular Obama is in Europe, Africa and Asia, coupled with his naturally amiable persona and enhanced by his solid international background, will his presidency see the end of hatred toward America? Or will it compromise the nation's foreign and domestic policy goals? Obama may be a slick idealist, but he is also a brazen progressive. By putting him in the White House, the United States may very well produce its most-liked president since the reconstruction.

In the new international world order - where the only thing that binds leftists in Latin America, religious zealots in the Middle East and Arabian extremists together is anti-Americanism - it may be hard to measure how a candidate with the middle name "Hussein" will be received by the United States and rest of the world. Nevertheless, an American president with a more favorable outlook and appreciation of the ever-fluid and transient nature of global politics may just be the political jujitsu that could salvage the United States, rather than the most complex military artillery.

Barack Obama may only be a first-term senator with little Washington experience, but he understands that realism in American policy can be achieved without the risk of power politics. With his background and experiences, Obama is not a humanist per se, but he is not unreceptive to human interest policies, both at home and abroad, which will implicitly eliminate the need for animosity toward the United States.

In acknowledging that the power of the United States is finite, Barack Obama carves out as a foreign policy pragmatist, much different from neoconservatives who have a more straight-jacketed view of the world. Obama may not be a "foreign policy wonk" but will he be up to the task of providing the farsighted leadership that former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan had called for from America when he said, "The system still cries out for farsighted American leadership?"

Charisma and charm may not win wars, but military correctness won't either. What is incontrovertible is that until American voters consistently demand of beguiling politicians what fate awaits the developing world - and are resolute in these demands - seeds of poverty, oppression and injustice will continue to foment violence and antagonism toward the United States.

Failure of the electorate to demand action is unlikely to stem the tide of hardships, calumny and resentment in countries where unhonored promises and the deepening gap between rhetoric and practice are stark reminders of how asymmetrical the world is we live in. It's a real conundrum.


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