Friday, June 06, 2008


Barack Obama

Over dinner a few nights back we were discussing Barack Obama, and the very distinct possibility that he may become the next president of the USA. Just how possible was the subject of a lot of debate, as was what the effect might be on Syria and the region. Which took us onto subjects like the current peace talks with Israel and Olmert's personal problems with his pocket money.

There is, I would say, cautious optimism about Obama here among the people I speak with. The caution is of a "wait and see" nature, given that he has relatively little of a track record from which to draw conclusions, and there is a huge step between candidacy and power. The optimism is based on the possibility that the next leader of the USA may actually base decisions not on a narrow, pre-formed dogma but on a readiness to examine situations before reaching conclusions, and to understand that win-win creates a more sustainable base for lasting change. Around here, rhetoric is appreciated as a ploy, so Obama's speech to AIPAC is seen so far as the necessary pragmatics of US politics, but again "wait and see" applies. The prospect of intelligent leadership in the world, however, is something which people are looking forward to with hungry anticipation.

I lowered the tone of discussion by comparing expectations with those that we had in the UK with the arrival in power of Tony Blair and New Labour. The same rhetoric of ideals and change, a promise of a more ethical and moral approach to government and foreign affairs, a concern for society, an emphasis on the power of education to help people transform their lives. It was something we had dreamed about after years of Conservative ineptitude, cronyism and arrogance. A decade on, all the promises had been long broken. New Labour proved to be as inept, corrupt, self-serving, power-hungry, unaccountable and PR-focused as their predecessors - often more so. And Tony Blair, as happens to political leaders, became less and less interested in the mire of domestic affairs and determined to show himself off as a world statesman, with disastrous results.

So I hope Obama, if he becomes President, can hold true to his ideals and provide a new political model for the rest of the world to admire. We all want to respect America; it's like everybody's big brother, a country we look up to. And when we see it, as it is now, acting as a selfish bully just because it can, we look away, ashamed for it and for us. Obama seems to offer an America that will believe in its power to do good, its power to persuade, its power to lead, its power to set an example. Not its power to threaten and destroy. Not its power to coerce by sheer might. So I am a fervent supporter of Obama. The Clintons, much as I enjoy the fun, carry too much baggage. McCain, for all his energy, is the same old same old, with an emphasis on the old; some of his speeches come across like Reagan in his later years, rambling, anything but crisp.

Two Syrian-Americans who were part of the discussion were amazed that people here were so informed about the primaries compared to the general level of awareness in the USA. Point is, who the next President is matters enormously to the future of this region. People here care, because they are fed up with the problems, and look to the US finally to take on the role it should be playing, to stop painting the picture solely in black and white, to ask intelligent questions, to talk with rather than talking at, and to look at and understand the picture impartially in its true complexity. Maybe, just maybe....


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