Surrounded by millions, bundled in heavy winter wear, newly inaugurated President Barack Obama carried with him the inexorable weight of expectation as he addressed his nation. Millions of people are now waiting to see if he will fulfil his various campaign promises. To describe this as tremendously demanding is an understatement: the Bush era has ended in the midst of the worst global economic disaster since the Great Depression; the United States is reviled in many countries; it has deprived itself of necessary friendships and allies.
The expectations carry with them hope for a possible lasting peace in the Middle East, and possible trials of war crimes for tyrants and demagogues. They carry the hope that America will begin to rebuild its tattered relationship with old friends and begin fresh dialogue with those who were alienated by the Bush regime.
What Obama must carry now is not just the inescapable weight of expectation of Americans, but the weight of expectation of transformation. Many world leaders and citizens alike breathed a collective sigh of relief when President Obama won the election. The Bush era, no doubt, had to deal with some of the most difficult challenges to face an administration in a very long time. However, the resulting debacle has no doubt crippled a once mighty super power. President Obama’s words of “our spirit is stronger’and we will defeat you,” resonate with a battle-weary people. Nevertheless they are alarmingly comparable to those of administrations past who have feasted on the war-hungry paranoia that has fed Americans. President Obama’s speech, though intensely subdued, reflected the state of the free-falling American economy and the general fatigue that has blanketed the nation. The weight of expectation also carries with it huge pressure to succeed.
The weight of expectation carries with it messages and hopes from world leaders who will begin new and open communications with the United States again. With that in turn comes pressure to end the double-standard of sending planes and armour to Israel, while punishing Gaza for having the same sent to them. Or perhaps the double-standard of hypocrisy towards the United Nations will come to an end; publicly declaring that respect for the institution exists and then skirting the rules of International Law. What of the United States’s relations with Hugo Chavez and various other South American leaders? Will the United States send aid to Zimbabwe and respond to pressure to intervene against the Mugabe regime?
Also, the strengthening of ties with Canada need to be a priority as many Canadians fear that President Obama will change the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to the benefit of the Americans and to the detriment of Canadians, as has been the case historically. There will be an expectation to rely upon renewable resources and to re-examine the Kyoto Protocols. There are expectations to end the war in Iraq and Afghanistan swiftly and to create new strategies for dealing with sensitive areas of the world. There are expectations to ensure that the fallout from Hurricane Katrina never repeats itself should another natural disaster beset the United States.
These expectations are undoubtedly immense. Barack Obama’s promises of change and accountability have captivated millions. Never before have approximately two million people stood on the Mall linking the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol Building just to watch a new President take the Oath of Office. If the rest of his four years in office are going to resemble his first day, then repealing salary increases, suspending war trials in Guantanamo Bay, speaking with leaders in Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt will become priorities. Already, President Obama’s actions speak volumes about the “transparency and rule of law that will be the touchstones of this Presidency.” For President Obama, it’s business as usual. There is a country to rebuild and hard work to be done. “… the challenges we face are real. They are serious and they are many. They will not be met easily or in a short span of time….“ And only time will tell how he will fare.
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This post was written by Safreena Rajan