Sunday, August 31, 2008



Sunday Standard
August 31,2008

With Barack Obama securing the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, a race is enjoined to determine the nature of the United States’ future engagement with the world.

As the candidate’s tour of several Middle Eastern and European nations several weeks ago revealed, the world has high hopes for his campaign.

This is particularly because he promises a departure from the approach favoured by Republican incumbent George W Bush and, possibly, by Obama’s rival John McCain.

The Times of London reports the yearning for change is also strong in the US: "Four fifths of Americans say that the US is on the wrong track; Republicans in Congress are heading for a setback of historic proportions; the desire for a change in political direction is palpable."

Obama’s address this morning to Democratic Convention delegates, American voters and, indeed, the world reflected his party’s consensus on what this direction ought to be. Next week in Minnesota, McCain gives his party’s take on the same issue.

What the world will be hoping for, whatever American voters make of these two men and decides on November 4, is a more thoughtful superpower, less infatuated with militarism and open to diplomacy’s potential to bring about change.

Much attention, particularly here in his father’s home country, has gone to the fact that Obama is the first African-American to lead a major party ticket.

His Kenyan roots make for an interesting backdrop to his campaign ‘story’ or an obvious target for the Republicans’ attack machinery, but it is on matters of foreign policy and global security that his campaign holds the greatest hope for the world.

Political analysts say the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, allowed the US to finally abandon an approach of deterrence and containment in favour of a "first strike doctrine" to deal with threats to its national security. The doctrine, aggressively pursued by the Bush administration in its ‘preventive wars’, continues to have significant repercussions for the world.

Chris Dolan, an American political science lecturer says: "A global strategy based on the first strike doctrine could mean the beginning of the end for the very international institutions, laws and norms the US built and strengthened for more than half a century."

Foreign policy

Obama’s pledge to end the iniquitous war in Iraq at the earliest possible chance is likely to be replaced by a more pragmatic approach should he win, but it suggests the right kind of change in American foreign policy.

McCain, who presents himself as a maverick, has in the past supported many of the Bush administration’s positions. His campaign is, however, distancing itself from the unpopular president on many issues. His openness to respect for international law, consensus with key allies and more restraint in the ue of force will determine how the world receives him should he win.

"What is at stake", Dolan reminds us, "is nothing less than a fundamental shift in America’s moral and political leadership of the post-9/11 world."

A powerful legacy of the Iraq war, a multination survey has found, is a loss of trust in the US to act responsibly in global affairs. The so-called "indispensable nation", the world’s only super-power, should take note of the fact that many in the world would like to see Europe grow as a rival power to it, precisely because of the legacy of the last eight years. With China expected to match or exceed the US’s influence within the next 50 years, the precedents set for international engagements in this generation take more significance.

There are many other reasons why all eyes will be on America in the next few months. For democratic nations around the world it is, as an American colonial governor once put it, "the shining city on the hill" that leads by its example. This year’s presidential contest once again showcases the potential for a mature democracy’s institutions to manage difficult transitions. Hopefully, it will also turn the US into a more friendly giant.