(photo courtesy of the Huffington Post)
Last Tuesday was undeniably a historic night for the United States in the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the USA. Heralding Obama’s entrance to the White House as an end to the policies of the deeply unpopular Bush administration, millions of American citizens as well as global onlookers reacted with ecstatic joy, optimism, and nervous hope for the new President. Kenya, the home country of Obama’s father, declared Thursday, November 6 a national holiday. The city of Obama, Japan cheered on their namesake (and in another part of Japan, this video sprang up). The new President-Elect received congratulations from nine world leaders, including Nicolas Sarkozy (prime minister of France), Angela Merkel (German chancellor), Stephen Harper (Canadian prime minsister), Lee Myung-Bak (President of South Korea) and Gordon Brown (UK Prime Minister).
Obama’s new foothold in American foreign policy was also tested in his receipt of a congraulatory letter from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which marked the first time an Iranian leader has congratulated the winner of an American election in decades and sparking the possibility of diplomatic talks between the two countries. In the letter (translated here by the Washington Post), Ahmedinejad advised Obama to “choose to honor the real interests of people and justice and equity over the insatiable appetites of the selfish minority.” Obama has not officially accepted the congratulations, saying that he would instead review the letter closely first.
As the new president assembles his new administration, international hopes remain high. Obama’s reaction to Ahmedinejad’s letter has sparked some doubts that the new administration would significantly improve US relations with the Islamic world. Some have noted that Obama’s appointment of pro-Israel Rahm Emanuel as his new Chief of Staff indicates that his policies towards Palestine will remain no different from that of past administrations.
The new President’s first priority, of course, is aiding the recovery of the troubled American economy, and he is rapidly putting together a transition team to smoothe the process as much as possible. Soon, however, Obama will have to turn outwards and face a world that has extraordinarily high and hopeful expectations for him. In the past, Obama has shown the calm-headedness and efficiency to face off against (and defeat) the insurmountable challenges of the Clinton campaign and the Republican party. Whether or not he can channel those skills into an effective foreign policy to regain the United States’ favor in the world remains yet to be seen in the coming months.