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13.03.2009 US & Canada

'Obamamania', US Foreign Policy, And Africa

By Dr Vladimir Antwi-Danso -
'Obamamania', US Foreign Policy, And Africa
MAR 13, 2009 US & CANADA

Gradually and systematically, Barack  Obama climbed the impregnable for blacks and coloureds the US political ladder to the very apex. He was only three years as a Senator and promised himself to lead America one day.

His meteoric rise proves the firmness of a possibility mentality, so lethally embedded in his being that he knew no withdrawal.

Soon, he was to be the toast of a world that wanted to see change in global affairs and especially, in American foreign policy. So tired was the world of Bush's foreign policy that everybody threw his support for Obama.

For Africa and the Arab world expectations were high. Even in Europe, people expected Obama to win (at least the crowd and reception in Berlin, Germany, during the campaigns tell a story).

This new sensation came to be called 'Obamamania'!
And he did win the elections in a fantastic, historically emblemic, and emotionally infectious manner. He was 'crowned' January 20, 2009 as the 44th President of America. Since then commentators have speculated on what kind of foreign policy to expect.

 The Palestinians have made it clear that they are not expecting any sea change in policy however, they think that Obama is 'accommodatable'.

That was at least how the leader of Hamas put it. Iraqis (not the government though) are excited that Obama would want to withdraw American troops from their country.

Europe is anxious to see a new 'trans-Atlantic cooperation'. China and India have expressed optimism in the new and expected US-Asia relations.

Indeed, no continent feels the warmth in expectation than Africa.

This is understandable. At least a son of Africa is now the President of America! Many in Africa think that with Obama in the saddle, Africa's woes are a thing of the past.

Soon, indeed, in the not-too-distant future we shall all see that we were all suffering from what I call 'expectation gap syndrome'! First there is no correlation between the Obama phenomenon and the imperatives of foreign policy.

So Obama cannot have an Obama-specific foreign policy, unrelated to the pillars of US foreign policy. People wanted change.

They found the change in the charisma, oratorical potentiality, and infectious appeal of the man called Obama. This does not represent American foreign policy.

Second, there are strictly no revolutionaries in US socio-political as well as economic thinkers. America has values, from which it would be extremely difficult to deviate.

Even as interventions are sought to bail out distressed banks and corporate entities, nobody wants to call it 'socialism'. An attempt to label it as such was quickly parried by the administration, saying the interventions were needed in order to shore up liberalism.

And finally, foreign policy is invariably rooted in domestic cravings, (i.e., foreign policy is crafted on the canvass of domestic imperatives). Today, the domestic problem is mainly hinged on the financial crisis.

Notice that even though ex-President Bush was eager and ready to re-craft the global financial architecture through the G-20, whose Summit he attended November 25, 2008, Obama has been quite cautious. T

he domestic pressure is not for a global load-carrying; it is for participation. Lets see what happens in London soon on this issue as the G-20 meets again.

 It is clear then that the new US administration has limited options to change American foreign policy drastically. Obama is surrounded mostly by a field of Clinton's aides.

What this means is that US foreign policy will re-contour itself, not change. Mrs. Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State has set the tone very well by courting Asian friendship, particularly China. Why not?

The balance of trade payments deficits (BOP) with China runs well into trillions of dollars. China has also assisted the US tremendously in the latter's domestic economic woes.

In the Middle East, Mrs. Clinton has not been harsh with the Palestinians. Neither has she been threatening the People's Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea).

Overtures to Europe are suggestive of the fact that only issues that are of American interest would be stressed. In all these, however, the US feeling of leadership obligations is high. Expectations of American isolationism are wishful thinking.

More intriguing is the current financial crisis. The various bail-out programmes have been criticized as protectionist by the EU. But nobody should make the mistake of thinking that the US would shirk its interest in the name of a new foreign policy.

This is particularly so where Africa is concerned. I do not expect a sea change in African policy. The Sudan, Somalia and other places in Africa will ever be on the radar of the US.

African products, especially oil and gas will continue to feature prominently in US interests. In this vein only friendly African countries will gain the support of the US.

Never think that the anxiety to see stability in parts of Africa as part of the great design of US foreign policy is going to abate. Therefore, the search for a home for AFRICOM on African soil, for example, shall never wane.

What is being suggested over here is that US foreign policy is rooted in some pillars, which cannot change overnight or else the whole of the state called US may collapse.

Notice that the time table for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq is being revised. Meanwhile, troop-surge to Afghanistan is being seriously contemplated. The military-industrial complex must survive!

For those in Africa, who thought and/or still think that Obama Presidency means more aid to Africa, be advised: Aid will flow when and if we play ball with American values – democracy and good governance, liberalism and private sector development, less flirtation with pariah states and/or perceived American enemies etc., etc.