Thursday, January 22, 2009

Welcome to the world, President Obama

Just about every non-American I know was thrilled by what happened on Tuesday. President Barack Obama took the oath of office to lead Americans, but billions of non-Americans are eagerly looking forward to his leadership. There's a lot of hope that he will enact a foreign policy that will be to their benefit in one way or another. I worry about this, because no world leader would possibly be able to do half of what the world expects of Obama. But on the upside, I do look forward to traveling in the Middle East without having to be quite as concerned about people's reaction when they catch sight of my passport!

But for the U.S. citizens and U.S. residents who read my blog, I thought I'd go ahead and outline here what I see as being the reasons non-Americans like our president so much, and what their expectations are for him.

Why do people like Barack Obama?
- His last name is not Bush, he doesn't look like either of the Presidents Bush, he's not related to any Bush's as far as we know. Sadly, this single fact is probably his biggest selling point.
- He is a Democrat. Most non-Americans probably don't know what that means, but they know it means he's from the other side of the aisle as the Pres.s Bush. And that he is allied politically with Bill Clinton, a guy much of the world remembers fondly.
- He's Black. Which I think subconsciously translates to many Americans as "he doesn't look like an American."
- His dad's from Kenya. A non-American. And even more intriguing, a non-Christian. Most non-Americans I've spoken to about Obama don't really think of that fact as having any deep consequence, but they do seem somewhat intrigued and excited by the prospect. Maybe it gives them a sense of ownership in the United States.
- He seems like a nice person.
- He talks about having an open foreign policy in which he actually engages other people. He says he's going to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq. Not all of his comments about foreign policy have been appreciated, notably what he's said about the situation in Palestine, but most non-Americans still figure they're going to like his policy better than that of his predecessor. (And, to be honest with ourselves, the fact that they expect to like his policy probably means that they actually are likely to like his policy, regardless of what the policy actually is.)
- Because people remember Bill Clinton fondly, they are looking forward to Mrs. Clinton (Senator Hillary) heading up President Obama's foreign policy.

What are people expecting out of Barack Obama?
- World peace and prosperity
- Salvation
- The end of the AIDS pandemic
- Peace in the Middle East, probably next week
- The end of the global economic crisis
- Cash gifts
- Adulation
- Heaven

Most people seem to really expect the U.S. to provide all that now that our president's name is Barack Hussein Obama. However, those who actually think carefully about these things probably have more realistic expectations, including the following:
- Middle East talks which involve all players: Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah, and all the other "scary names" sitting at the same table with the United States' allies. The hope is that, under Barack Obama's and Hillary Clinton's leadership, real peace talks can ensue in which each entity is given an equal voice and respect.
- A U.S. pull-out from Iraq. The wise know better than to expect that that will mean peace is restored in Iraq tomorrow, but they resent the fact that the U.S. ever got involved. Which means they are desperate for the U.S. to stop being involved.
- Much less U.S. spending on military, and greatly increased spending on international humanitarian concerns. I personally haven't interpreted Obama's speeches to promise this specific switch, but many people I know who support Obama also support a policy of moving spending out of military and into development. We'll see how much of this actually happens: will Obama actually give as much as, or more than, Bush to health and relief in Africa?
- Efforts on poverty reduction in the U.S., including universalised health care, coupled with economic policies that help get the global market back on track. I'm not sure how non-Americans expect Pres. Obama's domestic financial policy to help them, but I think they do expect it.

As everyone is saying, it's a long road ahead...

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