THE US has a new president-elect, Barack Obama. He is the first black man to be elected to the office of the president.
In the past, black candidates did run for this high office but none crossed the primaries. As a first-generation immigrant child and 45 years after Martin Luther King Jr declared his dream for a colour-blind America, Obama has shattered a barrier more than two centuries old.
It is immaterial who or how many states voted for whom, or whether the Bradley factor and the Hillary factor influenced any part of the popular vote. What matters is that America has elected a new president with a comfortable lead both in the popular vote and the electoral college. But then it has elected a president every four years. What is so special about this election? It is a barrier crossed. The last citadel has been stormed. It is America’s new deal.
Obama’s election is a victory for America’s people and its democracy. His presence in the White House will be seen as a miracle which could happen only in America. But Obama made it not because he is black; he made it because he is younger, smarter, fresher, more dynamic and more energetic with a short history and no baggage. He embodies the America of today and tomorrow. His very nomination as a presidential candidate was hailed across the globe as if he had already won the presidency.
But there is another reason for this miracle to happen. America was fed up with George W. Bush, seen by the entire world as the problem of our times. In Obama’s case, the Bush factor has been the most decisive element. For the majority of American voters, Obama represented youth, vigour and an exit from eight years of domestic incompetence and a disastrous foreign policy. He symbolised hope for change which the American people, and in fact the whole world, have wanted to see as a departure from the go-it-alone belligerence of the Bush era.
As Josef Joffe, the publisher and editor of the prestigious German weekly Die Zeit, wrote on the Web: “The spirit of the times is for Obama — even if less so in Asia, Africa and Latin America than in western Europe. But an optical illusion may be influencing our mood — notably the comforting picture that it is not America but George W. Bush that is the problem. Out goes the ‘cowboy’, in comes Change and Hope, and we can love America again.”
Obama promises a new America for Americans and for the world, an America which hopefully will be at peace with itself and with the rest of the world. No doubt, the whole world has been holding its breath for his election because the incumbent US president, George W. Bush, in his eight years has played havoc with the world. Across the globe, there is a new mood altogether on the prospect of impending change in Washington. Everyone looks at Barack Obama’s victory as a sign of change in America’s global policies and behaviour and for peace in the world.
Washington’s overbearing global conduct during the Bush era has sparked unprecedented anti-Americanism reflecting a global aversion to US unilateralism and America’s might and power, its self-righteousness, its international conduct including the blatant use of force in Iraq and elsewhere, its intrusions on national sovereignty, its unabashed use of military power, and, in Robert McNamara’s words, “its contempt for moral and multilateral imperatives”.
No other nation has done greater damage to its own global prestige and credibility because of its misdirected policies and misplaced priorities. Ironically, most of these policies have given no relief to the world in terms of peace and development, nor have they brought any political or economic dividends to the US itself. The US has landed itself in one of the worst financial crises of its history. No wonder then that billions of people around the globe feel the outcome of this election will have a bearing on their lives.
Against this backdrop the change of leadership in Washington is a watershed for a change of direction of America’s thinking and behaviour towards the rest of the world. The US must avail this opportunity to redress the root cause of global anti-Americanism. A paradigm shift in US global policies and priorities is needed to address its negative perception as an arrogant superpower which is interventionist, exploitative, unilateralist and hegemonic.
President-elect Obama has been explaining how he would make a difference in America’s policies and in the lives of Americans as well as those of the people of the world. At the Denver convention, laying out his vision of change, Obama depicted America’s defining moment, “a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil and the American promise has been threatened once more.” He spoke of more Americans out of work, and more working harder for less. The blame, he said, lay squarely on “a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush”.
And he promised change for the world. “America, we are better than these last eight years,” he said. Obama also promised to end the war in Iraq and to “finish the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.” He also promised to restore America’s moral standing so that it is once more the last, best hope for all those “who believe in freedom, who long for peace and who yearn for a better future.”
Beyond this sense of hope, what does Obama’s election mean for Pakistan? There will be no big change in the focus of policy. Terrorism is an issue above party lines in Washington and evokes equal concern in the Democratic and Republican camps over Pakistan’s crucial role in fighting the roots of terrorism in the tribal areas. The modality of pressure might perhaps shift from direct military operations to greater diplomatic and economic engagement. The idea will be not to weaken democracy in Pakistan but to strengthen it to be a more effective and more reliable partner in our common pursuits.
Obama’s vice-president Joe Biden has already advocated the need for new dynamics in the US-Pakistan relationship with greater mutual content and people-centred socio-economic development. But given our governance failures and aggravating credibility crisis, any future US assistance to Pakistan will henceforth be based on performance and subject to rigorous oversight and accountability. The era of blank cheques is over. So should it be for our transactional relationship with the US which also needs to be rebuilt as a ‘new deal’.
The writer is a former foreign secretary.