That includes military action, notably in Afghanistan: "I will build a 21st-century military and 21st-century partnerships as strong as the anticommunist alliance that won the cold war to stay on the offensive everywhere from Djibouti to Kandahar" (2). To anyone who still supposes a multicultural president with a Kenyan father would signal the start of a new era with everyone holding hands, the Democratic candidate has already said that, with all respect to Pink Floyd and George McGovern, his foreign policy is actually a return to the "traditional bipartisan realistic policy of George Bush’s father, of John F Kennedy, of, in some ways, Ronald Reagan" (3).
Multilateralism is not on the agenda, but imperialism will be softer, subtler, more inclusive and perhaps not quite so murderous. But the eight-year embargo imposed by President Bill Clinton killed a lot of Iraqis.
Barack Obama is talented. His book, The Audacity of Hope, shows a mixture of historical acumen, cunning, political empathy with his opponents - he says he "understands their motives and recognises that they have values which he shares" - carefully balanced statements that say very little but go down well with almost everyone, humour, and conviction. Conviction tempered with a disturbing respect for Clinton who, he said, "had wrung out of the Democratic Party some of the excesses that had kept it from winning elections" (4). What excesses? Opposing the death penalty? Supporting welfare? Defending civil rights? Redistributing incomes?
Barack Obama is ambitious. But where will the legitimate ambition to win elections take him? The evidence of recent months suggests to the right. Not so far as to be interchangeable with Republican candidate, John McCain, or justify the jibe "six of one and half a dozen of the other". But far enough from his progressive pronouncements early in the campaign and even further from what his most idealistic supporters thought he meant by them. "Yes we can" has become yes, we can criticise an extremely conservative Supreme Court when it prohibits the execution of rapists not found guilty of murder; yes, we can give a speech to the pro-Israel lobby, supporting the most inflexible positions taken by Ehud Olmert’s government; yes, we can automatically associate creativity with the private sector, complete Clinton’s and Tony Blair’s mission to redefine "progressive" and promote a class alliance in which managers and executives are the key players.
It gets worse. Emboldened by the massive contributions to his campaign fund, Obama has just dealt a serious, possibly fatal, blow to the system of public funding for election campaigns, announcing that he would be the first presidential candidate since Watergate to waive the fixed state payment ($84.1m in 2008) allocated to all the main contenders in return for an undertaking to limit their expenses to that amount. The role of money in politics is a major problem in the United States and yet Obama has indicated that he is not about to solve it. Elsewhere there is still some chance that he will not prove to be a disappointment and that the true friends of the American people can retain the audacity of hope.
(1) Barack Obama, "Renewing American Leadership", Foreign Affairs, New York, July 2007.
(2) Ibid. This will mean increasing the defence budget and adding "65,000 soldiers to the army and 27,000 marines".
(3) Speech at Greensburg, Pennsylvania, 28 March 2008.
(4) Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope, Crown, New York, 2006.
Translated by Barbara Wilson