Sunday, July 19, 2009

Oh, And Another Thing

Tomorrow we will be six months into the Obama administration. I'm sure plenty of ink and electrons will be spilled in discussing the president's success, or lack thereof, in the first half year of his term. Of course, most of the new president's time has been spent cleaning up the messes left by his predecessor, so much so that cleaning the Augean stables must have looked like a walk in the park because there would have been much less crap to shovel. In the face of all those messes, President Obama has still been able to work on new initiatives, most notably health care reform. Whether we will have a viable bill emerge remains to be seen, but at least Congress has been focused on it. If nothing else, Mr. Obama has proved he can multitask.

I'm not real good at giving grades, so I'm going to withhold any assessment this early into the term. However, I do feel compelled to point out that much of the media coverage of this first six months has, perhaps by necessity, concentrated on President Obama's domestic policies. At the same time, however. the president has done some important traveling: to Europe to mend fences and to work with the G8 on the world economic crisis, to Russia to lay the groundwork for another round of nuclear arms reduction, to the Middle East to make it clear that he intends to return the US to the role of honest broker when it comes to the Israel-Palestine issue, and to Latin America to reassure those nations that the US wants to be a good neighbor as well as a good trading partner.

He has also most recently gone to Africa, and his speech there was significant for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which was his signal that the US would no longer be ignoring that continent. I found an interesting take on the president's visit to Ghana at Watching America. The opinion piece was from France's Marianne.

The pseudonymous author briefly reviewed the Clinton administration efforts with respect to Africa, beginning with disastrous military interventions in Somalia and Liberia. However, even after that, President Clinton continued to pay attention to that continent, with substantial developmental aid packages and successful encouragement of commercial investment in the various countries on the continent, one that is rich in natural resources.

And then came 2001.

These initiatives were largely abandoned during the Bush administration, which was more concerned with the war on terrorism and seeing African countries as more like lands potentially favorable to the development of terrorist activities than a land of opportunity. Thus, the United States lost footing on the African continent for eight years, all the more so as American unilateralism reinforced Washington’s negative image in the region, like elsewhere in the world. ...

President Obama's visit to Ghana has to be seen more in terms of a response to the last eight years than as a nod to his personal heritage. This is especially so given the fact that another world power, China, has filled the vacuum caused by the Bush/Cheney diplomatic withdrawal. President Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would be well-advised to pay attention to the success of China's efforts on the continent and to offer an American program that equals those efforts in scope and in content.

Currently, even if Obama benefits from an exceptional image on the continent where some of his family lives, China is the country that brings what Africans need most: massive investments. And on that front, the economic crisis that the United States faces doesn’t invite any optimism as for a massive return of American investments. The Chinese demographic presence equally plays a role in Peking’s strategy on the African continent. More than 150,000 Chinese have thus moved to Africa. This strong presence comes not only from the implantation of numerous small businesses, but also an enormous continent of workers from the BTP, who sometimes, when they finish missions, choose to stay in a place where they are generally well accepted. And all that combines to make China a country that is still more popular than the United States in Africa, notably in Ghana, as is indicated in multiple investigations devoted to the question published by American think tanks. In spite of appearances, the task for the first American president of African descent will not be so simple in Africa.

Of course it won't be so simple, but, even with all of my criticism of Barack Obama, I believe he is capable of a foreign policy that will not only undo the disasters of the Bush/Cheney administration but will surpass even the efforts of the Clinton administration.

I certainly hope so.

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Blogger Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Obama's 6-mos grade: D-minus

6:07 AM  
Blogger Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

I mean, at least he's not Bush...

6:08 AM  

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