While the election of Barack Obama, an African-American, as president of the United States marked an historical first, it was by no means the only one this year. Also for the first time in U.S history, the possibility of a woman becoming the nominee of one of the two major political parties was within reach with the groundbreaking and tenacious campaign of Hillary Clinton, former first lady and junior Senator from N.Y. Anyhow, November 4 2008, a date, which most of the world’s inhabitants remember where they stood when Barack Obama was declared president-elect of the U.S, now belongs to the ages. Bill Bennett, former Education Secretary and conservative icon, said it best “This election will not erase the history of this country but with the election of Barack Obama a lot of questions have been answered”. Succinctly put, while the U.S’ racist past cannot be forgotten, a new page that shows America’s ability to reinvent itself has been turned. Bernard-Henry Lévy, a French writer, eloquently called the election of Barack Obama “a planetary shockwave”.
Indeed, the election epitomized what is best with America; even those who did not vote for Barack Obama, for ideological reasons or otherwise, recognized the significance of this transformational moment. John McCain, the all-American hero, who failed to achieve his lifelong dream of becoming president, personified that ideal. Magnanimous in defeat, McCain’s concession speech will likely be remembered as one of the finest ever given by a U.S politician. Because recriminations from supporters and friends are harder to swallow than a defeat at the hands of a formidable adversary, it is hoped that Senator McCain would be spared these ignominies. Moreover, he was running against an earth-shattering tide that could not be stopped, gave his very best but ultimately failed.
Now that the tears of joy from many Americans, who never thought they would see that extraordinary day, have dried out and the euphoria subsided, the president-elect needs to be prepared for the challenges that come with winning the White House. An intelligent and thoughtful man, Barack Obama is certainly aware that even the best predisposition does not guarantee success and history will not be kind to him in the event he fails to meet the American people’s expectations. The economic mess notwithstanding, the country is at a crossroads since a host of pretenders to the throne is ready to take over the destiny of the world in the event that America does not rise up to the challenges of the 21st century. Accordingly, a successful Obama presidency could cement America’s preeminence in world affairs while an ineffective stewardship of the office would usher in a new world order in which America is still relevant but not powerful enough to lead.
The presidency of the United States affects every corner of the globe and the significance of this epic November 4th election is manifold. The White House is where the intricate issues of war and world peace are decided and the U.S, the leader of the free world, is facing an economic crisis unseen since the days of the Great Depression, an unsettling reality that could negatively affect its notion of exceptionalism. Moreover, with Islamist terrorism primarily directed at U.S interests; two wars (Afghanistan and Iraq), the seemingly unstoppable ascent of a regional power like Iran, a resurgent Russia and the global outreach of China, Barack Obama, the president-elect, inherits greater challenges than any U.S presidents since WWII. Without a doubt, these developments could set in motion a global geopolitical realignment and no American president would want to preside over the weakening of U.S preeminence, which stands unequaled in the history of the world.
The late British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill once said that he did not become His majesty’s prime minister to preside over the dissolution of the British Empire. Unfortunately for the old lion, he did. Overtaken by events that coincided with the precipitous decline of Britain’s military and economic might at the end of WWII, the British Empire, which encompassed a quarter of the globe, disintegrated. This is a lesson of history that should not escape American policy makers since the similarities are too obvious to ignore.
At the end of WWII, Britain, weakened in its struggle against Nazism and deeply indebted, bowed to the inevitable ascent of the U.S, a continent-size nation possessing a huge economy and a powerful military. In 2008, a deeply indebted America, fighting Islamist terrorists all over the globe and confronting a protracted economic crisis, must contend with the rise of newly rich and powerful China and, to a lesser extent, the E.U and a resurgent Russia. While no one is anticipating America relinquishing its global supremacy to China or any other pretender to the throne in the near future, its authority could be undermined or challenged nevertheless.
While no one should underestimate this country’s ability to extricate itself from this crisis, the dynamics are not what they used to be. Contextually, at the peak of its power, America disregarded the changes taking place around the globe. Unless necessary steps are taken, America, the nation that has achieved the greatest accumulation of power and influence in the history of the world, could have the shortest span of dominance. This is the reality awaiting Barack Obama, the first African-American to reach the U.S presidency, and the weight of history will be upon him on the day he enters the oval office.
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