Obama in August 2008. The world awaits, with great expectations (AP photo)
All eyes, all over the world, on Obama
COMMENTARY | January 16, 2009
He takes office facing huge crises and high expectations. The East African, in Kenya, says: “As a transitional leader who embodies the effort to reconcile conflicting races and cultures of many kinds, Obama seeks nothing less than to bend the arc of history. This is surely more responsibility than any individual can bear.” (The overseas press.)
By Lauren Drablier
As Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration approaches, a quick tour of the news across the globe highlights several major themes: First, many are concerned with how Obama will handle the Palestinian-Israel conflict and what the effects will be on Middle East relations. Second, Canada and South America are concerned with the U.S. relations with Latin America under the new president. Third, Obama’s economic policies weigh heavily in international coverage. Finally, many question what his policy on torture will be and if he will actually close Guantanamo as he has promised.
Expectations for Obama are high, but with mounting crises at home and internationally, everyone seems to understand that he has a lot on his plate in the coming months.
Canada’s National Post believes Obama needs to focus on relations between the United States and Latin America in an editorial entitled Obama, Canada and the Latin problem:
“Washington has neglected Latin America since 9/11 and snubbed advice or direction from other regimes when dealing with troublesome issues such as the embargo against Cuba or dealing with Venezuela’s anti-American President Hugo Chavez.
“Americans should be more interested in dealing with Latin American than they are in dealing with more troublesome regimes such as Azerbaijan or Kazakhstan.
“Mexico is the most critical problem facing the U.S. and the hemisphere today. Some 4,000 assassinations of government and police officials have occurred in the past year alone in the country as the cartelistas push back against efforts to curb drug smuggling into the U.S. Mexico threatens to become the next Colombia – a failed state weakened by lawlessness, corruption and intimidation.
“The implications are grave: More illegal immigration spilling into the U.S. from Mexico as opportunities and economic growth stalls as well as disaster for Mexico’s tourist/snowbird industries as a result of more murders, kidnappings and robberies.
“Chavez is quite unleashed and is accused of gulag-like jailings, undemocratic policies and paranoia about American hegemony. He is reportedly ordering billions of dollars worth of weapons from the Russians and is trying to organize other disaffected regimes in the region into a gigantic anti-American trading and political bloc.”
In Vancouver Palestinians don’t expect change from Barack Obama, Canada’s the Straight does not expect Obama’s position to be different than Bush’s towards Israel:
“Many believed that the election of Barack Obama was going to mean change across the board. But the president-elect’s silence on the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip has led to speculation that the U.S.’s support for Israel is about to continue unabated.
“Some Vancouver Palestinians say that Obama was never change they could believe in.
“’We’re not expecting him to say anything,’ Khaled Barakat told the Straight. ‘We understand that what rules in the U.S. is the institution and not an individual, even if he is called the president and even if he is not white.’
“’He has been very bad on the issue, even before he was elected,’ Hanna Kawas, a member of the Vancouver-based Canada-Palestine Association told the Straight. ‘He has been very bad for the Palestinians.’
Venezuela’s Latin American Herald Tribune focuses on the importance of Mexican-American relations in President-Elect Obama Promises New Page in U.S. Relations with Latin America:
“President-elect Barack Obama promised here Monday at a meeting with Mexico's Felipe Calderon that his administration will mark a new chapter in relations between the United States and Latin America.
“Obama…promised that, despite what he called the "tensions" over the last few years in Washington's ties with Latin America, his mandate will open ‘a new page, a new chapter.’
“Obama praised the ‘extraordinary courage’ of the Mexican leader in his fight against drug trafficking, while Calderon said that Monday's meeting represents ‘the beginning of an extraordinary epoch of cooperation’ between the two countries.
“Calderon said that he had asked Obama for a strategic alliance between the two governments to confront common problems, mainly security and the fight against organized crime.”
"’The more secure Mexico is, the more secure the U.S. will be,’ Calderon said.”
Another article by Venezuela’s Latin American Herald Tribune focuses on how Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez does not believe that Obama’s position towards Israel will be that different from Bush’s in Venezuela's Chávez Challenges Obama on Israel Stance:
“President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela threw down the gauntlet to his soon-to-be counterpart in the United States, Barack Obama, demanding to know where he stood on Israel's military action in the Gaza Strip.
“Chávez made it clear he didn't hold out much hope Washington's stance would significantly shift after January 20, when Obama is due to be sworn in as president of what Chávez caustically derides as ‘The Empire.’
“Chávez, who expelled Israeli Ambassador to Venezuela Shlomo Cohen on Tuesday, said Obama had said ‘almost nothing’ about Gaza, except that he was worried. ‘We're going to wait,’ Chávez intoned. ‘We're not that optimistic, we not deluding ourselves.’
“The Bush Administration has served as an easy target for Chávez' brand of populist, nationalist anti-Americanism, but the prospect of Bush being succeeded by Obama has posed questions about how the Venezuelan leader would handle his dealings with the new president.
“Chávez' motives for making Israel such an issue are under question. One suspicion is that he's out to whip up support for his stance on Gaza in a bid to boost his votes at a referendum on successive re-election that could take place in mid-February if all goes to plan.”
In Stakes high for Obama on Iran, the UK’s BBC believes that Iran is a significant issue for Obama in what is being called a “cold war for the soul of the region”:
“President-elect Barack Obama's nominee as Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, made it clear in her confirmation hearings that the new US administration will seek a policy of engagement with Iran.
“Nobody here, though, is hugely hopeful that this will necessarily secure an agreement by Tehran to halt its uranium enrichment programme. In this respect, the Obama Administration inherits a dossier where time is running out.
“‘Time is clearly working in Iran's favour,’ Gary Samore, a proliferation expert at the Council on Foreign Relations says. ‘If they can proceed in this way for the next two years or so, they will have reached the point where for all intents and purposes, they have a credible nuclear weapons option.’
“Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, put it this way: ‘For many people in the United States, what's taking place in the Middle East is a sort of a ‘cold war’ between the US and Iran for the soul of the region.’
“For Mr Samore, this is the bottom line: ‘If Obama is not able to build support for a much stronger package of economic sanctions, any diplomacy is doomed to failure.’
"’When you have a US President who comes with a different philosophy of engagement and dialogue it is going to create cleavages in Tehran, between those people within the Islamic Republic who say its about time we had a different relationship towards the world and we did away with this 'death to America' culture of 1979, and those who are very firmly entrenched in this revolutionary ideology and are really incapable of changing,’ says Mr Sadjadpour.
"’Some Iranians think they need nuclear weapons; others argue that to build nuclear weapons would be a mistake, because it would upset their neighbors, destabilize the region and make them a target of international hostility,’ Mr Samore says.
“He is clear though that there is a pretty strong consensus, at least among the ruling elite in Tehran, to create a nuclear weapons option.
“So the stakes facing the new Obama team are high, and with so much uncertainty about Iran's intentions, there is clearly no guarantee that new thinking in Washington will be met by an equivalent response in Tehran.”
The UK’s Financial Times focuses on Obama’s disappointment with the Bush administration’s handling of the $350 bailout package in Obama to boost help for families:
“Barack Obama expressed disappointment yesterday with the Bush administration's handling of the first $350bn tranche of the financial sector bail-out and pledged greater support for struggling homeowners.
“Aides to Mr Obama are pushing the White House to request the final $350bn (€260bn, £230bn) of troubled asset relief programme (Tarp) funds from Congress this week so the cash would be available soon after he takes office on January 20. The White House has acknowledged it was talking to the transition team about the release of the second tranche of Tarp funds but said no decision had been reached.
"’I, like many, are disappointed with how the whole Tarp process has unfolded,’ he (Obama) said on ABC's This Week. He said the Bush administration had not done enough to help avoid foreclosures.
“‘I think that we can regain the confidence of both Congress and the American people that this is not just money that is being given to banks without any strings attached,’ he said. ‘But rather that it is targeted very specifically at getting credit flowing again to businesses and families.’
“His new target to save or create 4m jobs, announced on Saturday, was the second time in three weeks he had raised the goal. He originally said the stimulus would generate 2.5m jobs before upping it to 3m last month.
“Some senior Democrats and economists have warned that Mr Obama's plan may not be big enough to revive the economy and want a stimulus of $1,000bn or more.”
Germany’s Deutsche Welle (Across The Pond) examines a poll to see what countries around the world think of Obama and what he hopes to accomplish in Global Poll Finds Decline of America's Image And High Hopes For Obama:
“A new global poll compiled by Austrian research company Triconsult right before the U.S. election (October/November 2008) provides some interesting data. It is essentially another confirmation of America's declined global image and the high hopes for President-elect Barack Obama. Here's a quick snapshot:
“Western Europeans (Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Switzerland, Spain, the Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Austria, Finland) think that the U.S. will pay more attention to human rights under President Barack Obama and that America's image abroad will improve.
“In every country polled, a majority of people think poverty in the U.S. will tend to decline under Obama rather than increase. Americans also are of that opinion, but to a lesser extent than all the other countries.
“In every country but Russia people are convinced that environmental issues in the U.S. will improve under President Obama.
“Every country has higher hopes than the U.S. that the chances for world peace will improve under Obama. However, even in the U.S., more people agree rather than disagree with that view.
“A large majority (90 percent) of Western Europeans (75 percent of Americans) think that tensions between Muslims and Christians will remain the same or decrease.
Russia’s Novosti argues that under Obama and Clinton, foreign policy will be not an assertion of “hard” or “soft” power, but rather “smart power” in Clinton vows to restore American leadership through "smart power":
“The ‘lady in the pantsuit,’ as Clinton often described herself during the election campaign, has a clear preference for using "smart power" in pursuing U.S. interests abroad, a neoliberal response to the neoconservative failure.
“The idea is to charm the world and, if and when necessary, enforce the U.S. will on it by integrating military and other ‘hard’ instruments with such ‘soft’ elements as trade, diplomacy, economic and other assistance, and the spread of U.S. cultural and political values and lifestyle.
"’America cannot solve the most pressing problems on our own, and the world cannot solve them without America,’ Clinton said in a confident and businesslike appearance before her former colleagues on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
“U.S. allies, who have long been using a mixture of ‘hard’ and ‘soft’, of diplomacy and defense, advocated this wise approach long ago. But the trouble is that when the White House approves an idea, nobody knows what it will turn out to be, a dreadnought or an icebreaker. We have seen both.”
India’s Sify News looks at the challenges ahead in Obama faces stormy waters as 44th US president:
“No US president in recent memory has entered office facing such huge crises or such enormous expectations as Barack Obama. The Democratic president-elect is to be inaugurated on January 20 as the country's 44th president, elected with a strong 53 per cent majority by voters disillusioned with eight years of Republican George W Bush.
“The American public believes Obama will not only lead them out of two increasingly unpopular wars and restore the country's tainted image abroad but also rescue them from the economic free fall that has brought worst worldwide financial crisis in more than 70 years.
“Yet even though Obama felled the ultimate US racial barrier by being elected the first black president, that feat has faded to a footnote as he rolled up his sleeves in the first week of January to begin bartering with a resistant Democratic Congress over his request for another $800 billion to stimulate the flagging economy.
“All told, he has projected supreme confidence that he can conquer whatever came along, while warning that the economic recovery will be slow.
“For a world which sees the US tarnished by Bush's go-it-alone attitude, the controversial Guantanamo prison camp and the US military abuses against detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, Obama has pledged to restore Washington's international standing through more direct diplomacy and a return to the respect for human rights that has been one of the nation's historical hallmarks.
“He has signaled it would be a ‘challenge’ to close down Guantanamo in his first 100 days in office, despite huge international pressure to do so. But he indicated he would move ‘swiftly’ to find a ‘new approach’ to the Iranian nuclear crisis, which he regards as one of his biggest diplomatic challenges.”
In Palestine-Israel conflict, a test for Obama, China’s People’s Daily Online questions how the new president will deal with the conflict, especially with regards to his policy towards Israel, which will weigh heavily on the outcome of Middle East relations for years to come:
“The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is bound to be an international crisis U.S. President-elect Barack Obama has to face when he takes office. It will also pose a direct test for him to display his capability and wisdom in managing international crises.
“The Israeli army's choice of timing for the offensive shows its worries for Obama's election as the US president: First, Barack Obama has not been so pro-Israel as his predecessor President George W. Bush.
“Second, Israel has a lot of doubts in mind about the Middle-East policies of the new US government. In view of Obama's open speeches or statements, the Israeli side deems the new US administration could possibly adjust its policies toward Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas with a fear that such adjustments will disfavor Israel or be disadvantageous to it.
“Thirdly, Obama's endeavor to adjust the U.S. foreign affairs policy and security policy would even misplace Israel's interests. Obama said he would withdraw combat forces from Iraq and instead switch his focus to Afghanistan and Pakistan. This indicates U.S. would possibly lower its attention to Israeli security.
“The test of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for Obama is, in essence, a test for the U.S. Middle-East policies, which will inevitably weigh impact on the future development of the Middle East situation. How Obama tackles the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will provide a new basis for the future US-Israel ties and US-Arab ties. If the conflict fails to be handled properly, the U.S.' Middle East policies for the years ahead will be hampered, and the entire Middle East Peace process will be put to a severe test.
“Moreover, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict can also possibly jeopardize the adjustment of U.S. policies concerning Iraq and on the war against terrorism. The aggravated conflict will give rise to intense vibrations in the Middle-East region, and this could possibly compel Obama to observe carefully again and mull over to shift the anti-terrorism center to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“So, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be the first major international crisis Obama has to face squarely when he enters the oval office, and it will be a direct test for him to show to the full his diplomatic wisdom and his capability in coping with crises.”
In The US and Gaza: Obama’s Challenge, Middle East Online also believes that the conflict in Gaza will be an extraordinary challenge for Obama:
“Soon-to-be President Barack Obama will have to move quickly both to distance himself from the Bush legacy and to set America on a bold new path in its relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds. The Obama administration must send a clear message that America stands for self-determination and the rule of law and human rights for all, Palestinians as well as Israelis. It is time for the United States not only to pressure Hamas, but also to place similar pressure on a ceasefire, an end to Hamas rocket attacks, and Israel’s destruction of Gaza and collective punishment of those who under international law have a right to resist occupation. America’s continued uncritical support for Israel has not been to the United States’ advantage. It has fuelled the legitimate anger of the Muslim world, supplied justification for terrorism, and sullied our image, reputation and moral stature globally.
“The road to a just and enduring peace will require that the United States take a new path that denounces illegitimate acts of violence, whether Palestinian or Israeli, as not acceptable. The US can no longer support or turn a blind eye to Israel’s illegal occupation and partitioning of Palestine, territorial expansion and continued settlement building.”
The Khaleej Times (Dubai) deems it necessary that the US adopt a “more objective and balanced role in the Palestine-Israel conflict” in About Time the US Saved Israel from Itself:
“…It’s also imperative that that the US plays a more objective and balanced role in the Palestine-Israel conflict. There can be no peace in the region unless the US gives up its policy of one-sided and totally biased support for Israel.
“The humanitarian catastrophe of Gaza demands Obama’s urgent and just intervention the Middle East. He needs to go beyond the regulation lip service of successive US governments that promised a state for Palestinians and an end to the violence in the region. Obama’s pledge to work for peace in Middle East must be wholehearted just as he had promised during his campaign: ‘We are going to engage effectively and consistently in trying to resolve the conflicts that exist in the Middle East.’
“Despite the presence of powerful Israeli lobby in the US, Obama must not give in to any pressure from the group.”
In an editorial entitled Obama’s team needs Arab insight, the United Arab Emirate’s The National believes that in order to develop a solid foreign policy, the US needs to “tap the wealth” of its immigrant population otherwise Obama will not be able to achieve the pervasive change he is striving for:
“The gravity of what Mr Obama must accomplish at home and abroad requires him to build a broad coalition – and on balance he has. But among the team that Mr Obama has assembled in Washington there are far too few Muslims and Arabs.
“Mr Obama should not opt for diversity simply for diversity’s sake, but in understanding the Middle East, the inclusion of Arab and Muslim American voices would seem to be essential. While Mr Obama has chosen Ray Lahood, a Republican of Arab ancestry, as his Secretary of Transportation, Mr Lahood’s policy portfolio does not have much bearing on America’s stance or standing in the Middle East. President Obama’s policies will be heavily influenced by his Vice President, Joe Biden, and Hillary Clinton, his Secretary of State. Both are experienced in foreign policy but that may be as much of a burden as a blessing in fashioning new policies for the Middle East. Both are among Israel’s most unapologetic defenders.
“In developing its foreign policy, America has the great advantage of tapping the wealth of its immigrant communities and experiences. The American Muslim community is seven million strong – roughly the same as the number of American Jews – and there are nearly four million Arab Americans. By not drawing from the richness and expertise of these communities, Mr Obama misses an important chance to bring to the world ‘change we can believe in’.”
Qatari based Al Jazeera focuses on Obama’s need to focus on human rights in Obama urged to act on human rights:
“Barack Obama, the US president-elect, should put human rights at the centre of his foreign, domestic and security policy to undo ‘the enormous damage’ of the Bush years, a leading rights group has said.
“The Bush era, which saw detention without trial in Guantanamo Bay, revelations of abuse at the US-run Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and the seizing of al-Qaeda suspects around the world, has cost the US moral high ground on human rights, the report (Human Rights Watch) said.”
Another article in Qatari based Al Jazeera, Obama 'to shut Guantanamo in days', examines Obama’s plans to shut down Guantanamo and the possible obstacles surrounding the closure:
“Barack Obama will issue an executive order to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, probably in his first week as US president, two of his transition team advisers have said.
“The prison is unlikely to be shut until a solution is found on where to house its inmates, but a presidential order would start the process of deciding what to do with the estimated 250 detainees remaining there, most of whom have never been charged with a crime.
“What remains the thorniest issue, the advisers said, is what to do with the rest of the prisoners, including at least 15 so-called ‘high value detainees’.”
In, Has America lost its mojo?, Kenya’s Business Day believes that if the incoming administration can offer consistency in policy making, it would be a “big boost for confidence” in the United States:
“The complete policy paralysis that has prevailed during the interregnum between Presidents Bush and Obama has not helped. US policy has devolved into a sort of ‘wheel of fortune’ game for financial firms.
“One day you get bankruptcy, another day loans with few strings attached. One hopes that President-elect Obama’s all-star economic team will at least adopt a coherent and consistent policy. Consistency alone would be a big boost for confidence.
“The basic elements of a recovery package include, first and foremost, a rational approach to rebooting the financial system.
“The US economy may have lost a fair chunk of its mojo, but it will require a lot more bad luck and policy blunders to get to a second worldwide Great Depression.”
In Oh, for an Obama we can call our own ..., Kenya’s East African describes the country’s longing for a leader like they one they see in Obama:
“Obama is an inspiration, and his victory a deeply affecting one, but he’s not our president — our claims on him ring hollow, and the true beneficiaries of the revolution (and its true authors) are people who live 16,000 kilometers from here.
“Yet our expressions of hope and elation signify a yearning for something — for an Obama we can call our own, without the compromise of celebrating a foreign leader.
“We yearn for our own Obama, given the fact that the one we could have had is the one we let slip away.
“So, for Obama, the next four years will reveal the reality behind his rhetoric.
“The expectation is that, to a large extent, he will be able to fulfill his promise (something about the content of his character implies that he is a man whom challenging times will hone to greatness).
“We look 16,000 kilometers away hoping that the coming morning will be an endless November 5 — a tableau of hope and history and joyous tears.
“While we make up our minds about what incarnation of Barack the Legend we seek, we will satisfy ourselves with the half loaf that is an ersatz Kenyan, in his guise as the most powerful man in the world.”
In another article from Kenya’s East African entitled Why Obama keeps his friends close, his enemies even closer discusses how Obama can potentially transform world politics:
“Barack Obama’s choice of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State, his retention of Defence Secretary Robert Gates and his reliance on much of the same economic team that bequeathed us the current financial implosion has led many supporters to wonder whether his promise of change amounts to little more than spare change.
“Others say he’s simply being shrewd, employing establishment figures to enact a transformative agenda.
“He appears to be following the dictum reputedly made famous in his favorite film, The Godfather: “Hold your friends close and your enemies closer.”
“Given his hybrid identity and harsh apprenticeship, Obama may simply be a split-the-difference pragmatist. Or he may represent a new genre of politician for a post-partisan age, a “both-and” leader seeking to break out of the either-or dichotomies that so bedevil politics as we know it.
“Obama is thus perhaps best seen as a potentially transformational figure in American and global politics.
“Obama’s integrative approach, listening to conflicting points of view, then synthesizing their best elements, could begin to unlock the immense creative potential inherent in conflict.
“As a transitional leader who embodies the effort to reconcile conflicting races and cultures of many kinds, Obama seeks nothing less than to bend the arc of history. This is surely more responsibility than any individual can bear.
“If we want a world that actually addresses its challenges rather than exacerbating them, we’ll need to engage in the hard work of reconciling not only the conflicting constituencies in our politics but the conflicting impulses within ourselves.
“Obama presents an admirable example of how to transform a potentially crippling inner conflict into a potentially healing political process.
“Now it’s up to the rest of us to enact the change evoked and embodied by his emergence.”
Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald asks whether Obama will prosecute senior Bush officials for practicing torture and what the new US policy on torture will be in Obama faces a torturous dilemma:
“As the inauguration of Barack Obama draws closer, a debate rages in the United States: will he or won't he act to bring to account the senior Bush Administration officials who authorized and promoted the use of torture?
“Is it enough to have voted for a new president who has promised his administration will not torture? Will that alone prevent it from happening again? Many Americans think not.
“The issue was the No. 1 question submitted by users of a website set up by Obama's people, Change.gov, to find out what Americans cared most about. It asked: ‘Will you appoint a special prosecutor … to independently investigate the gravest crimes of the Bush Administration including torture and warrantless wire tapping?’
“Adding weight to this view, this week Obama said on the issue: ‘We're still evaluating how we're going to approach the whole issue of interrogations, detentions and so forth … we're going to be looking at past practices and I don't believe that anybody is above the law.’
“But Australians should care about the torture debate taking place in the US. Just like the Americans, if we do not engage with this issue, what is to stop it from happening again?”
Lauren Drablier, based in Paris, has a masters degree in nternational affairs from Sciences Po Paris.
01/16/2009, 06:34 PM
"“Chavez is quite unleashed and is accused of gulag-like jailings"
this is the first time i hear such lie.
Go back to school kid, you must have dropped out of the ethics course, or may be your school did not teach such subject.
You are just a sad mercenary pen hire to lie and misinform. What a shame.