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Can he? Barack Obama Has Brought A Tsunami Of Hope

November 13, 2008

By Claude Arpi
The Statesman (India)
November 12, 2008

"Yes, we can!" is the motto of the new President-elect of the United
States. The election of Barack Obama as the 44th President has been
celebrated the world over as the victory 'for change'. Except for a
crude remark by Silvio Berlusconi ('He is young, beautiful and
well-tanned') and the cool congratulations of Russian President
Dmitry Medvedev, hundreds of millions went ecstatic: "Change has come."
President Sarkozy of France summarized what many thought: "In
selecting you, the people of America have made the choice of change,
of opening, of optimism. While the world is in a whirlwind, while the
world doubts, the people of America, faithful to the values which
have always symbolized the American identity, have expressed with
force their faith in progress and in the future. This message of the
people of American resonates far beyond your borders."

Hearts of millions

The fact that Barack Obama has brought a tsunami of hope not only to
the American people, but also to the world at large, cannot be
denied. November 2008 is being compared to August 1963, when Martin
Luther King, addressing millions gathered near the Capitol in
Washington D.C., told the crowd: "I have a dream". The hearts of
millions were touched. A few minutes later, Bob Dylan, the prophet of
his generation sang:

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin'.
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are

Times have been changing, but it often takes years or decades to
concretely concretize a dream. Martin Luther's has today partially
come true: the United States will have a black President.

The question however remains: can he change the world or at least
undo the harm that his predecessor has done to the image of America?
No doubt, Obama is a great orator and a gifted organizer. His
campaign can be considered as a model for all politicians. He was
able to find the right key theme (i.e "the change") and unfailingly
stick to it for two years. Each and every meeting, speech, TV
appearance was remarkably focused on this topic which appealed to an
electorate fed-up of the Bush era.

Obama and his team were also able to fully use modern ways of
communication such as the Internet or mobile telephony. It is said
that President Sarkozy's communication managers went to the US during
the campaign to study and learn from Obama's campaign. These
qualities should be able to help Obama to undertake serious
programmes 'for change' during his Presidency. I will not go into the
internal issues which, no need to say will not be easy to sort out.
How to reform the social security system in the midst of the worst
financial crisis since eighty years? How to reduce income taxes for
95 per cent of the citizens, when the State is broke? Impossible?

Can the Guantanamo base be immediately closed despite tons of legal
wrangles? Can the budget of the Pentagon be cut? Barney Frank, the
Democrat President of the Finance Commission of the US Congress spoke
of a 25 per cent cut? It seems difficult though it would have the
immediate advantage to put a break on the missile defence system to
be based in Poland, consequently releasing tensions with Moscow.

All these are issues for which decisions will have to be taken soon.
For us in India, the most serious priorities will be the 'global'
issues such as the stock market crash and the probable recession and
issues like terrorism or food scarcity.

That is probably why in his first press conference, the
President-elect stated that his first priority will be to tackle the
financial crisis and that he was thinking of several short-term
actions. When asked if he can have an impact on the economy in the
first 100 days of his Presidency, he told the media: "I'm confident a
new President can have an enormous impact ~ that's why I ran for
President -- I want to see a stimulus package sooner rather than
later, it will be the first thing I get done in my administration."

But these are short-term measures. The question is: can he change the
system, American in essence, which has brought about a global
collapse of markets worldwide. It is here that Obama will be judged.
Does he really want a new world order or just do some cosmetic
patchwork to bail out the sinking financial ship. Experts believe
that the only 'change' will be a change in the way the American
people live. They have got used to spending monies that they do not
have and by their overspending they have created unsolvable problems
for the planet such as the global warning (a US citizen produces 20
times more CO2 than an Indian).

Many observers feel that the time of a unipolar world is gone. What
is needed today is global governance to solve global issues (finance,
environment, terrorism, etc). Can Obama, as President of the most
powerful nation of the world, play a collective game? Can he have
enough humility to take into account the interests of other players
such as the 27 members of the European Union who are trying hard to
unify their voices, and also poorer nations and emerging countries
like India or China?

Without forgetting the interests of his own country, the new
President will have to listen to others, respect their opinions and
approaches; he will have to use tolerance and value the diversity of
the planet, concepts unknown to Bush.

The people of America have clearly voted for an equal space for
minorities such as Americans of African origin, Hispanics (and also
native Americans). Will this equal space be given to others outside
the United States? He will have to be open to other cultures, to
people with different economic and financial systems, to the problems
faced by poorer nations today in a death trap due to an unfair monetary system.

Wide enough vision

Will Obama and his Administration have a wide enough vision, in other
words, the humility to accept the existence of others?

Of course, his plan to withdraw the US troops from Iraq in sixteen
months will not be easy especially if he wants to deploy them in
Afghanistan. This seems to be a half-baked proposal quickly packaged
for electoral purposes. European countries will certainly not
increase their troops when Pakistan, the centre of terror next-door
is still 'sponsored' by the United States.

One Pentagon official said, "it is impossible to do everything with
less money." It means that many 'electoral' options will have to be
rethought taking into account the ground circumstances. It is why
India should not worry too much about the loose talk about Kashmir
and former President Clinton being sent as a mediator. What is more
worrying is Obama's choice of the abrasive Congressman Rahm Emanuel
as Chief of Staff. It is said that he was "so ferocious that even his
own mother calls him by his nickname of Rahmbo." Perhaps to allay the
fear generated by his nomination, Emanuel told ABC News: "We have to
govern in a bipartisan fashion. And if you look at the way his
campaign is run and also the ideas, he has always said that we have
to be bipartisan."

Can the new US President act in a less partisan manner with other
nations? Can he do it? The world will be changed.

The writer is an expert on China-Tibet relations and author of the
Fate of Tibet.
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