Explore Harvard's Nieman network Nieman Fellowships Nieman Lab Nieman Reports Nieman Storyboard

Overseas, reality mixes with euphoria about Obama

COMMENTARY | November 15, 2008

His victory is seen as monumental, his talents as enormous and there is great good will. But many have questions regarding what the president-elect can accomplish, given U.S. and world conditions.

By Lauren Drablier

PARISNow that Barack Obama is to become president on the 20th of January, the international community has started to question what his platform of change will mean for them – and if there will be any change at all.

The support for Obama remains strong internationally but the harsh reality of the current political and economic situations has led many to believe that a complete makeover may not be as easy as it once sounded. 

Most emphasize the unique abilities of Obama, citing his phenomenal campaign and “ruthless” desire to win, but they also recognize that he is placed under many constraints.  He is restricted by not only politics and the current international climate, but also be the simple fact that he must tend to his nation first – everyone else will just have to wait.

Everyone is full of anticipation for what is to come, but most still approach the situation cautiously, with a healthy dose of reality for fear of disappointment by being too idealistic and placing too much demand upon a single man.

The Jamaica Gleaner in Barack's burden highlights that Obama’s message of change is much easier said than done and that he may not deliver on his promises or the expectations placed upon him:

“Obama's worldwide acclaim - from the college campuses of First-World Europe to the shantytowns of Kenya - will soon be dampened by the harsh challenges of the real world.

“The euphoria of an Obama honeymoon could soon translate into the heartache of a bad marriage.

“History's failures baulk at the prospect of Obama's optimism. His lyrical speeches will not have the soporific effect on the big bullies halfway across the world.

“The world may in months see that the left-leaning Obama doctrine gradually becomes more centrist in trying to leash a de facto Putin regime determined to expand and entrench its influence in a mad march to dominance.

“Obama's greatest challenge will be domestic - resuscitating an economy suffering from the triple shock of credit constipation, record foreclosures and job losses.

“The Obama mantra, 'Yes, We Can', will crash into the cold, harsh headwind of 'No, You Can't'. The world awaits the clash of ideologies. The world awaits President Obama.”

In Obama's Revolution and the Middle East, The Palestine Chronical sees Obama’s victory has monumental but believes that only time will tell whether his presidency will be:

“Senator Barack Obama's victory is no less important than storming the Bastille more than 200 years ago in 1789 which was perhaps the one iconic event that ushered the dawn of the French revolution that ended up changing the French people along with France and Europe and subsequently the entire world.

“By all accounts, Obama’s victory is poised to start a revolution, not only because of its historic precedent as the first president of African decent which could be the single most important historical event in American history, when it comes to the issue of race, after Abraham Lincoln’s emancipation proclamation that freed the slaves in 1862.

“Obama is philosophically inclined to understand the third world that exists inside American borders and outside it, more and better.

“But the difficult question is that will an Obama administration withstand the storm some members of the ‘Ancien Regime’ will try to wage against him and his new republic, or will his wagon be able to move forward and change things in this country as he promised the American people to do through out his campaign?

“…he in this case will start the winds of change to blow not just in the American prairies but also around the world.”

Canada’s Macleans believes that the revolution already started through Obama’s campaign alone in The Obama Revolution:

“Barack Obama has given every indication that he is a moderate, pragmatic and prudent politician.

“His appointment of Rahm Emmanuel, himself a smart and promising politician, is hardly the stuff of revolution. And yet, when you examine how Obama won and how he conducted himself, you know politics as practiced in the past 40 years is in for transformational change.

“His elaborate and sophisticated use of the Internet, the power of the words he delivered in a truly inspirational tone, and the appeal to unity and the better nature of mankind is something that we have not seen since Bobby Kennedy spoke in Indianapolis the day Martin Luther King was killed.

“But forty years after the death of Kennedy, we have become accustomed to politics as a bloodsport, one in which tearing down the opponent, distorting the meaning of opposing ideas, and polarizing blocs of voters has become the rule.

“By first winning against the redoubtable Clinton political machine and then the Republican attack machine, Obama was able to demonstrate his superior organization skills and his capacity to once again make politics a force for change.

“He did it through innovation and technology; he did it without trying to divide voters and destroy his opponent; and he did it by appealing to “the better nature of angels.” On the night of November 4 and the morning of November 5, Americans and non-Americans, conservatives and liberals, young and old, white and black, and the rest of American mosaic felt better. Tears of joy and pride flowed in Grant Park on victory night and way beyond. In my book, that’s a revolution!”

In Kenya: What the Global Left Can Learn from Obama's Victory, AllAfrica.com concludes that Obama has been created and defined by his context – a country that is in much need of change. The election has been less about him as a person than about the need and desire for something different:

“In his timeless historical appeal, the new president-elect merits comparison with Nelson Mandela and will likely be remembered favourably by posterity regardless of the potential ineffectiveness of his policy over the long-term.

“But in our excitement, some of us have propelled Obama to near messianic, almost mythical heights, even though the man himself (and his very down to earth spouse) frequently reminded his huge audiences that he is a very fallible human being with more than a couple of foibles just like the rest of us.

“It is my argument that if Barack Obama had never been born 47 years ago, history would still have invented him…What I am saying is that the concrete historical and material circumstances in the United States provided the fertiliser that allowed a neophyte first-time African-American senator like Barack Obama to knock on the doors of destiny in the early 21st century.

“The specific set of socio-economic and political circumstances created the pre-conditions that allowed the talents, the vim, the fervour, the vigour, the inspiration, the charisma of a biracial Illinois constitutional professor turned senator to galvanise a grass roots movement…

“What is the difference? The time. Or rather the timing of his remarkable rise. It was important for Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice and co. to rise to power to enable Obama to make history.

“He is a leader who is needed in the United States at this time.

“In other words, what I am also saying is that students of Obama-mania must also examine the role that US progressive forces, particularly anti-war activists, radical democrats, anti-racists, feminists, LGBT (Lesbian-Gay-Bi-Sexual-Transsexual) foot soldiers, youth advocates, environmentalists and other militant groups have played in confronting the excesses of Bush and his big business supporters. We must factor in democratic and anti-imperialist forces around the world, from Latin America, to Africa, Asia-Pacific, the Caribbean, North America and Europe who have mobilized and organized against the neoliberal global agenda. It is not an accident that there were 200,000 people in Berlin to drink in Barack Obama's every word a few months ago. In today's globalized world, we are all Americans to the extent that US imperialist policies impact on every one of our countries and therefore we all had a life and death stake in helping decide whom the next occupant of the White House will be.

“Of course, Obama's complete legacy will not be determined nor can it be examined until after he leaves political office, whether it be after four years or two terms from now. Since that task is not only premature but impossible to carry out today, in early November, even before he has been sworn in, let us restrict ourselves to lifting our glasses in a toast to his famous victory for now at least.

“Obama's historic triumph is therefore both a welcome democratic breakthrough as well as a challenge to all progressive humanity to keep their eyes on the ultimate democratic and revolutionary prize.”

In Don't count on a new Bretton Woods, The Independent (UK)  points out that what the world expects of Obama may not happen, after all he has too look out for the American people first:

“The belief – the hope if you prefer – that Obama will bring a decisive shift in US policy towards multi-polarity rests in any case on a misunderstanding of his position and his policies. The new President has been voted in by an electorate above all concerned with its own problems of recession. The president-elect certainly represents change if for no other reason than he will dispense with most of his predecessor's obsessions and confrontations. But that does not mean he is ready to give up America's pre-eminence by ceding power in all sorts of reformed or novel international institutions, from the UN to the World Bank. He isn't. Nor can he be. His primary responsibility is to help his own people through dire times and there he will concentrate his focus, as we can see from the early spat between himself and Bush over aid to General Motors.”

The Australian highlights the luck factor in Obama’s election but feels that he has the “ruthlessness” that it takes to invoke change in Obama will need his ruthless streak:

“Barack Obama is an incredibly talented politician. However, the degree to which his political career has been helped by good fortune and a certain ruthlessness has been underreported.

“Obama's ruthlessness is only one of his key attributes and one he masks effectively; however, following its influence on his presidency should be interesting.

“The question is whether Obama's luck has run dry now that he faces a presidency weighed down with a legacy of problems from Bush. Is the presidency a poisoned chalice?

“The problems Obama faces in Iraq and Afghanistan are incredibly unfortunate. Mistakes can easily be made with every policy decision. America has become responsible for the security and stability of these two nations. Obama's goal should be to reduce violence in both countries while judiciously disabling al-Qa'ida. Sustaining reductions in violence may be difficult as there will be pressure from Americans to bring the troops home from Iraq. In the case of Afghanistan foreign governments are already setting withdrawal dates for their troops. Obama will need to call on all of his talents, including his ruthlessness, to have any chance of dealing effectively with these challenges.”

The Guardian does not believe that Obama will transform the United States as many believe, but notes that he has ushered in a new era for politics in the US in Why America will not turn to the left:

“…analysis of the votes and of Obama's own personality reveal that much less may change than we think

“Now, as America faces up to the fact that Barack Obama will be its next president, many are wondering at the scale of the political changes that his remarkable campaign has wrought.

“Many Democrats are hoping that Obama can be a left-wing version of Reagan. He can change America for a generation. Every politician after him, including Bill Clinton, had to run on the pro-business, tax-cutting, hawkish, anti-government playing field that Reagan created. Now many liberals say Obama has the mandate to do the same thing. But in reverse.

“But if Obama's election does not quite represent an American embrace of the left, it does show one thing: a clear rejection of Bush-style Republicanism. In that respect a new era has dawned.

“Obama will pick a careful path through the desirable and the possible to take the country on a different road. But there is one area of American politics which has been truly transformed. The campaign of 2008 has put a black man in the White House. The symbolic power of that cannot be reversed. It has broken down a barrier that was seen as insurmountable just a generation ago.

“At the same time, Hillary Clinton and then Palin overcame obstacles to women running for the highest office. That too has set America on a fresh path from which there is no turning back. A future flow of minorities and women into both parties is inevitable. In that sense, the campaign of 2008 has created a brave new world.”

In Can one Obama Change Everything?, Moscow News sees the challenges facing Obama and emphasizes the need for diplomacy:

“But given the tremendous damage that Bush has done to the Oval Office himself, Obama will need a whole construction crew to rebuild the reputation of the White House.

“So this brings us back to Barack Obama, who has inherited a kitchen full of dirty dishes in the midst of financial meltdown. Barack Obama and the American people should work closely with Dmitry Medvedev and the Russian people. After all, there is nothing to gain from stewing over old animosities, many of which are vestiges of the Cold War.”

The NiemanWatchdog.org website is no longer being updated. Watchdog stories have a new home in Nieman Reports.