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Barack Obama has run perhaps the best organized and most inspiring of presidential campaigns in US political history. He has risen above sleazy political tactics, challenged stereotypes, eschewed divisiveness, focused on issues that are important to Americans, and maintained his poise and principles in the face of tremendous pressure from his opponents. It has been truly awe-inspiring and admirable.
There is little wonder that almost 53% of American voters and perhaps a larger percentage of the world population have found themselves strongly attracted to Barack Obama. He has become a shining beacon of â€œhope” and â€œchange” for a country in a crisis of self-confidence, and a world participating vicariously through the blown up â€œreality-TV” of American presidential elections.
Without taking anything away from the greatness of Obama’s achievement, and the historical importance of this event for American culture and identity, I feel constrained to point out that those who think an Obama presidency will improve the way that the United States has been engaging with the world may need to take a reality-check.
I say this as one who instinctively likes Barack Obama, has tremendous respect and admiration for him, shares with him the same alma mater, has close friends and relatives all across the United States, and has followed the campaign speeches, events and reporting on the US election with pathological interest.
I am addressing this article only to those who are already aware of the many ways in which the United States has been uniquely responsible for undermining international law, stability, peace and prosperity in the World. Those who are offended that I could even make such a suggestion should investigate elsewhere, and read no further.
The insight I share is a simple one: nothing that Barack Obama has done or promised gives rise to the â€œhope” that an Obama presidency will usher in the â€œchange we need” in the world. The gloomy conclusion comes from asking a series of questions, and for each one recognizing the answer to be â€œno he won’t”:
- Will president Obama allow the United States to recognise the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC)? The ICC is the preeminent global mechanism for holding egregious human rights violators to account, when they are able to escape being held to account by national jurisdictions. It is a mechanism championed by Europe and enthusiastically adopted by much of the world, but almost fatally undermined by the United States formal renouncing in 2002, and keeping a clutch of countries that depend on US support away from it â€“ Sri Lanka being amongst that number.
- Will president Obama bring the United States into the Kyoto protocol or at least an equivalent and sufficient compact on responding to Global Warming? The United States with less than four percent of the global population is responsible for more a quarter of the annual emissions that cause global warming â€“ by far the highest per-capita pollution rate. The negative consequences of Global warming will be borne disproportionately by the poor of the world who have benefited the least from the industrial activities over the last hundred years that have brought about the problem.
- Will president Obama bring the United States back in to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with Russia, or an acceptable equivalent? President George Bush in 2002 withdrew the US from the 1972 ABM treaty, because Russia could no longer compete in the arms race. This withdrawal from the treaty and subsequent plans for missile deployments in countries close to Russia has been the principal reason for souring relations with Moscow. It has begun a new version of the cold war, with attendant threats to the security of the world. (Georgia being the first bit of grass to get trampled as the Elephants position them-selves in the fight).
- Will president Obama reverse the longstanding US policy of blindly supporting Israel as it continues to deny the people of Palestine a just return of their lands and the right to a dignified existence in their own territory? Israel routinely receives upwards of 2 billion dollars in military aid alone from the US each year (together with about another one billion in non-military aid, Israel receives one sixth of the US foreign aid budget each year), and at the U.N. Security Council the US routinely exercises its veto power in favour of Israel anytime the rest of the world tries to even voice their concern about the injustice. This unprincipled support has been the chief recruiting sergeant in the Middle East for Al Qaida-style organizations, which are undermining stability and peace in the world.
- Will president Obama choke off the still strong political and military support by the US for the utterly corrupt, repressive, authoritarian Saudi Arabian regime? The Saudi regime is amongst the most corrupt and repressive in the world. That regime and US support for it remains the second most important driver of Al Qaida recruitment. It monopolises the massive wealth from oil revenues for the aggrandizement of a small circle of family, friends, and multinational oil companies, denying much of the local population even a semblance of fair share and perpetuates that injustice by repressive laws, restricted freedoms and denial of democracy.
- Will president Obama after closing down the Guantanamo Bay prison camp (even McCain would) apologise and pay compensation to those who can’t be charged — the large number of innocent people yanked in there by mercenary schemes, tortured, and denied any semblance of justice for now almost 7 years? Guantanamo Bay prison has — in large screen technicolour, brazenly and shamelessly — flouted numerous international covenants on civil, political and human rights. Since it’s inception in January 2002, Guantanamo Bay prison has shown the middle finger to the universal values of civilised cultures and made these values seem cheap, subservient, and disposable when inconvenient. Such an iconic prison camp that ends with unrepentant impunity will have terribly undermined the power of these values to shape the world.
- Will president Obama change the US position in 2001, when it became the only country to oppose the international UN treaty on curbing the flow of small arms? This treaty â€“ spearheaded by Sri Lankan Jayantha Dhanapala, then under-secretary-general to Kofi Anan â€“ aimed to provide some simple global standards and tracing methods to curtail the illicit flow of small arms in the world (much of them manufactured and sold by the US). These weapons expand the power of organized crime, fuel militia gangs, arm child soldiers (including those of the LTTE in Sri Lanka), and are estimated by the UN to kill at least half a million people each year.
- Will president Obama withdraw US intransigence at World Trade talks (which have been failing to reach consensus since the Doha round in 2001)? The US (which together with the EU spends more than 100 billion dollars per year on farm subsidies) wants to continue denying farmers from poor countries the same access to the markets of very rich nations, as has been secured for multinationals from those countries into the markets of the poor? Even the global western institutions such as the IMF and World Bank admit openly that this lack of symmetry in trade access is one of the principle causes of poverty in the African continent, the poorest region of the world.
I have considered here only a few of the burning questions of the world. I think they highlight the bleakness of this grand â€œchange” in America, in terms of having a positive effect on the way that American power is wielded in the world. With a George Bush presidency, there was at least no illusion about the selfish abuse of military and institutional power by the United States. An Obama presidency that continues these wolfish tendencies in sheep’s clothing will not make the world a better place.
The election of Barack Obama is shrouded in the illusion that US engagement in the world will now be moral and benevolent. But the time for that has not yet arrived, and is not likely to arrive until US economic and military power diminishes more significantly. For those who were listening, Barack Obama has in fact been threatening the world, by the trade, military and foreign policy positions that he has articulated consistently throughout his campaign â€“ and there is no reason to think he didn’t mean what he said.
Has Barack Obama offered â€œhope” for Americans? Resoundingly â€œYes!” But the hope that President Obama offers Americans is not hope for the world.