Next Question: Can Barack Obama Do It?

The most exciting and closely watched US election in recent memory concluded with a decisive victory for Barack Obama. Not only Obama supporters in the US, but also a good part of the world's population have taken a big sigh of relief.

The most exciting and closely watched US election in recent memory concluded with a decisive victory for Barack Obama. Not only Obama supporters in the US, but also a good part of the world’s population have taken a big sigh of relief.

This is only to be expected given the enormous implications of what Obama will bring to the table for the US and the world. In his acceptance speech, Obama pointed out two things: the American people have said “no” to the status quo and that they are “slamming the door on the country’s racial past.” Obama’s presidency will be watched closely on both counts. So far, Obama has not touched the race issue in any significant way. It was perhaps prudent for him to stay away from it during his campaign. But now that he has been elected the first African-American president of the US, he will be duty-bound to tackle the race issue in a way that will have to go beyond his personal success story.

Together with the race issue, Obama will have to try to chart a new social contract for a post-Sept. 11 and a post-Bush America. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were a turning point for the US and the rest of the world. But the policies that followed them were nothing short of disaster. It will take America a long time to recover the lost sense of credibility and trust at home and abroad.

While America is still the most powerful nation on earth, Obama is taking over some serious problems. America’s enormous social and economic difficulties are as big as America’s global power. Experts predict that it will take the new US administration several years to put the economy back on track and prevent future financial crises. Other pressing domestic issues include education, the healthcare system, wages, immigration and crime, and Obama’s team will have to deal with them on a daily basis. With so much expectation having been built up around his presidency, Obama will feel the pressure of doing something quickly to get things right. And this is the first danger he will face.

The rest of the world will be more concerned about Obama’s new foreign policy. There is a long list of issues that await Obama when he takes office in January: the worsening security situation in Afghanistan, the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, Iran’s nuclear program, the Middle East peace process including the Syrian-Israeli talks, improving relations with Africa and numerous other regional issues.

Obama has tremendous support from world leaders and peoples at the moment. Losing the momentum he generated during his long campaign trail will hinder him and his team from introducing any novelty to world politics. Given the frail security situation around the world, another terrorist attack on the US will push Obama to a policy line of putting security over everything else. And this would be a terrible start for the Obama presidency.

Obama’s biggest challenge, however, will come from a combination of domestic and international issues. If Obama succumbs to the pressure of needing to prove himself to the establishment because of the race issue over defense and foreign policy, he will quickly become a president of survival rather than new vision. If the various power struggles inside and outside the US win over his vision, he will spend all of his presidency trying to get cleared by the “system.” Given the enormous responsibility (and pressure) of being the kind of president he is expected to be, these worst case scenarios are not at all premature or unthinkable.

The whole world would like to see Obama as a vision-oriented president, not an issue and balance-oriented politician. This means being courageous and maintaining his vision from his first day in office. Yes, Obama did it, yesterday’s Washington Post headline reads, “Obama Makes History.” The big question now is whether President-elect Obama can continue to make history.

A quick note: A very important meeting is taking place between the Vatican and the Muslim delegation of the initiative titled “A Common Word between Us and You” in R

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