Obama's promise for change and US

A strange thing happened on the way to the office the other day. On the way to the Oval Office, that is Barack Obama, the young senator from Illinois and the presumptive candidate of the Democratic Party for the November presidential elections hopes to replace George W. Bush in the Oval Office. Obama's campaign slogan all along has been his emphasis on change.

By Claude Salhani (View from Washington)

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Published: Sat 9 Aug 2008, 9:37 PM

Last updated: Sun 5 Apr 2015, 4:12 PM

Obama is still six months away from moving into the White House — assuming he wins the election — but already he has brought about some amazing changes in the manner in which the United States is viewed overseas.

As my good friend Debbie, an analyst working for one of the largest firms contracting with the US government pointed out last week, she was pleasantly surprised that for the first time in decades the crowds who turned out to welcome Obama during his stop in the German capital were seen waving US flags instead of burning them, as regretfully has often been the case in the past in many parts of the world when an American president drops into town for a visit.

Obama's most recent trip to the Middle East took him to Europe on the way back where he stopped in Berlin to deliver a keynote speech on his vision of what US foreign policy should look like.

In front of a crowd of about 200,000, many of them Germans, though hundreds, if not more, had travelled from as far away as Norway, Italy and other European countries to attend this very unusual, it would be safe to say, rare pro-American public event.

An anomaly, at a time when most popular gathering having to do with the foreign policy of the United States end up with protesters clashing with police forces and some flag burning. There were no riots or police firing tear gas when Obama stood at the foot of the Victory Column in Berlin, not far from the Brandenburg Gate where on June 26, 1963, in the shadow of the Berlin Wall President John F. Kennedy made his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech and on June 12, 1987, President Ronald Reagan challenged then Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down this wall."

The Berlin wall did eventually come down and now Obama faces a very different type of wall to breach, a wall not built with bricks and cement and topped with concerting wire, but constructed with hate and deeply engrained fear of the other going back generations.

Indeed, if Obama were to be elected, he would be very different from past occupants of the White House.

"I know that I don't look like the Americans who have previously spoken in this great city," said Obama. "My mother was born in the heartland of America; my father grew up tending goats in Kenya. His father, my grandfather, was a cook for the British."

Replying to allegations of racism from his opponent's campaign, Obama admitted that he was far from what has so far been the typical presidential candidate: "I don't come out from central casting when it comes to presidential races, for a whole range of reasons," said the senator from Illinois. "I'm young, I'm new to the national scene; my name is Barack Obama, I am an African American. I was born in Hawaii, I spent time in Indonesia. I do not have the typical biography of a presidential candidate. What that means is that I am sort of unfamiliar. And people are still trying to get a fix on who I am, where I come from, what my values are...."

So what has been an approach of the McCain campaign has been to say, 'He's risky,' to try and divert focus from the fact that they don't have any new ideas when it comes to fixing the economy, or dealing with healthcare and dealing with education.

Obama admitted that presenting him as "risky," is not disputable, and was made by most of the mainstream media. "That's a fact," said Obama. "In no way do I think that John McCain's campaign was being racist. I think they are being cynical. And I think they want to distract people from talking about the real issues," said Obama.

Indeed, a victory by Obama in November would go a long way in mending Washington's tarnished image brought about by eight years of President George W. Bush's foreign policy established by the neo-conservatives. A foreign policy often lacking logic, where its initiators seemed to dictate policy from their hearts rather than their minds; yet a process which resulted in the loss of hearts and minds of millions around the world.

Senator Obama's reception in Berlin, where young Europeans waved the Stars and Stripes instead of desecrating the flag, is just one example of the many changes in relations the United States could enjoy with the rest of the world under a President Obama. But November, in election parlance, is still very far away.

Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times and a political analyst in Washington

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