Obama and the world

Elections — By on April 24, 2008 at 7:40 am

I’ve long believed that, if Barack Obama were to win this year’s presidential election, the most important outcome would be a sea change in America’s relations with and image in the rest of the world. I just came across two articles that look at how some foreign leaders see the prospect of an Obama presidency and, although there are never any guarantees for how events will unfold in reality, their responses seem to at least confirm a shared hope for change.

In the first story, Newsweek interviewed Juwono Sudarsono, the Indonesia minister of defense. Here is an excerpt from his interview:

How do you think an Obama presidency would affect U.S.-Indonesia relations?
Symbolically it would be very, very important for us, as it would be for the whole Asian [and] African continents. If Obama is elected as president, I think it would reignite the United States as the real light star of hope—that it symbolizes a multiethnic, multicultural, multireligious nation. That’s the most important aspect, the symbolism of it. Translating it into American foreign policy will be much more difficult…

So you want to be friends with America, then?
I would like to engage Indonesians, particularly poor Muslims, that under Obama, America will be a much better force for good for the world. That its size, reach, economic and political influence can provide hope … If he wins, it would create an optimism among Indonesians, particularly minorities, that perhaps in the next 10 to 15 years there can be a non-Javanese president in Indonesia. It’s doable.

In the second article, Scott MacLeod of Time recounts a fascinating discussion that he had with some Iranian leaders, who suggest that an Obama presidency could potentially transform relations between the countries. MacLeod’s whole piece is worth reading for its insights into the mind of Iranian strategists, but here is the relevant section about Obama:

Besides reflexively sympathizing with an African-American with Islamic family roots, they believe Obama’s personal experiences in that regard make him more understanding of the developing world and especially the Muslim world and hence more capable of approaching Iran with a better perspective and with more sincerity. They are also impressed with what they feel is Obama’s diplomatic, respectful language, which they see as being in utter contrast with insulting U.S. rhetoric dominant during the Bush administration.

Some Iranian officials and analysts go so far as to say that Obama’s election could be a historical turning point. As one Iranian put it to me, “This could be a moment of truth for the U.S. and for Iran.” What he probably meant was that Obama’s possible willingness to make a significant outreach to Iran could be what is needed to convince Iran’s leadership that Washington is truly serious about ending the 30 years of hostile relations…

Iranians believe such a bold diplomatic initiative by Obama would be a moment of truth for Iran in the sense that Iran’s leadership would have to decide whether to continue its “controlled” hostility to the U.S., which it uses for domestic and international support, or bite the bullet and enter into a cooperative relationship entailing major compromises on issues like the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. Iranians realize that another Obama may not come on to the American scene for quite a while, and that rejection of his olive branch–if one is indeed extended– might inexorably push the region to the World War III that Bush has warned about.

 Interesting stuff. What do you think?



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