Friday, January 11, 2008

The Soft Power of Barack Obama

Despite Tuesday's setback in the polls , this IntLawGrrl, like Diane Amann, still favors Obama for President. Apart from the substantive policy reasons laid out here for choosing Obama, there's the tremendous soft power value of Obama at a time when our nation is in dire need of a boost in world opinion. From Berlin to Jakarta, Obama-mania seems an international phenomenon. For our allies in Europe, as noted particularly by the German media, Obama's message of change inspires hope that America can return to her role as protector of rights and democracy; his candidacy promises the opportunity "to mend fences abroad as well as at home." For allies living in "rogue states", as noted by an Iranian blogger, "Obama's ideas on foreign affairs and Iran make reformists happy . . . peace and dialogue is like poison for a group whose political existence relies on violence and war." Those living in states in crisis, like Kenyans, see in Obama's message of change "hope for how we might be able to move forward out of this situation we are in." In addition to Kenyans and other Africans, Muslim nations may view Obama's election as the entree of an empathetic figure into the White House; indeed, Indonesians already view the Bahasa-speaking Obama as "one of their own." It will be a challenge for Obama to live up to his reputation of being all things to all people, and of course, his election alone won't magically erase the many very serious problems faced by the international community today. But I think there's real power in Obama's inherently global identity, in the ability of a man said to be a distant cousin of both Dick Cheney and Raila Odinga to make our world a smaller and safer place. As Zbigniew Brzezinski points out, Obama's experience of living abroad endows him with real sensitivity to other cultures and "superior intuition on foreign policy", as exemplified by his greater willingness to meet leaders of hostile nations and his early resistance to the war in Iraq. As a mixed-race child of immigrants with a funny name who spent half her childhood living overseas, I am compelled by Obama's promise that, "The day I'm inaugurated, America will look at itself differently, and the world will look at America differently." Now there's an audacious cause for hope, and one that might make Joseph Nye smile.

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