OPINION> Commentary
Home truths for Obama
(China Daily)
Updated: 2009-01-22 07:45

For many, the most hopeful aspect of a Barack Obama presidency is simply the fresh face of America that he promises to present to the world.

The world was holding its breath awaiting the end of George W. Bush's wrecking-ball approach to world affairs.

When Obama took the oath of office as America's new president on Tuesday, he inherited two wars in distant lands, one highly unpopular and the other going badly. Along with them is a worldwide financial crisis that is being measured against the Great Depression.

A clear message he delivered at his inauguration was to reassert the US' global leadership. He told his fellow Americans and the world that the US is "ready to lead once more".

The US leaders have never been shy of talking about their country's ambition to be the leader of the world. For them, it is a divinely granted destiny no matter what other nations think.

Many see Obama as the epitome of the American dream. But his appeal is not solely based on the fact that he is black or that his middle name is Hussein or that his father was Kenyan or that he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia.

They want to see him as a leader to bring his country's foreign policy back to a sensible, multilateral track.

It is an approach that the world welcomes.

To no one's surprise, Iraq and Afghanistan will top his administration's to-do list on the foreign policy front.

Obama will have to clean up the mess his predecessor has left. Under the Bush administration, relations with the rest of the world became strained, with many unhappy with the unilateral goals of the US government and the means with which it pursued them - including the invasion of Iraq.

Obama's inaugural speech left a note of hope as he said the US will cooperate and pursue understanding with other nations.

Goodwill is likely to play an important role in how US re-engages with the world after eight years of Bush's unilateralism.

Yet more are required.

Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger warns Obama not to rely on his popularity alone and encourages him to forge partnerships with other countries, particularly China, in charting a course toward a more stable world order.

Obama will confront two truths about his foreign policy goals.

One truth is that the US financial crisis will limit his power to act, drawing his attention away from pressing global problems and putting strains on overseas alliances he seeks to nurture. Though Obama is wildly popular abroad, his defense of US interest will inevitably clash with those of other nations.

The other truth is that even with wider international support, it is unlikely for Obama to win wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, broker peace between Arabs and Israelis, prevent Iran from building a nuclear program or stabilize African countries beset by civil strife.

The realities on the ground are more complex than presented by Obama.

(China Daily 01/22/2009 page8)