TO: PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
FROM: THE WORLD
know you are not quite there yet. Whatever. The rest of the planet now
has concluded you will be. Your honeymoon suite awaits with a euphoria
that spans the globe.
A word of warning, however, before you snuggle in for that first group hug. There are bedbugs. And they bite.
A year of rising expectations is about to fall on your shoulders, with a thundering weight many now predict will buckle you.
Here in London, Simon Jenkins of the Guardian nailed the point, announcing the end of the bull market in Barack.
Obamas now," Jenkins advised his readers. "They are overpriced and the
forward market has gone crazy. If he becomes president, the bubble will
burst, I guess in the spring of next year."
Your era will begin
with some immediate international advantages, it is true. Not least,
the sheer glee that your name is not George.
"The first thing the
world needs from America is the absence of George W. Bush," is how
François Heisbourg, director of the Paris-based Foundation for
Strategic Studies, framed things in an interview with the Star. "That guarantees a tremendous advantage. And for Obama - I assume it will be him - it will be all the greater."
bloated are the expectations? On the waterfront in Barcelona today,
artist Jorge Rodriguez-Gerada and an army of volunteers are shaping a
mountain of sand, earth and gravel into a giant portrait of you. This
is not a joke.
"The piece is ephemeral, it is not designed to last," Rodriguez-Gerada told the Daily Telegraph,
explaining the artwork, titled "Expectation," is intended not as praise
for you but rather, as a commentary on how desperately the world lusts
for the idea of you.
"Who knows if the euphoria surrounding Obama will fade away like sand or lead to something more permanent?"
Many anticipate your first step will be to reboot America's
conversation with the world. A kind of "great cleansing," in the words
of Charlie Beckett, director of POLIS, the journalism think-tank at
London School of Economics.
"Right now there is an enormous
residual 'turning off' when Americans speak. The feeling is that during
the Bush era, 'They caused mayhem, they ignored the world, they didn't
listen to us - so why should we listen to them.'
conversation will renew. Which is tremendously important for the world.
Especially for those of us who believe in America's place in the world
as a force for democracy and freedom."
That, of course, is the
easy part, given your deft oratorical skills. But the going is almost
certainly going to get messy soon thereafter, when talk collides with
realpolitik. As Heisbourg notes, "America's national interest is not
going to change just because the president changes."
We got a
sense of this in Berlin earlier this summer. Up there on stage, all you
could see was a throng of 200,000 people chanting your name. But where
we were, down in the crowd, we felt a distinct chill when you spoke of
a stepped-up effort in war-weary Afghanistan - a conflict that Germans
have just about had their fill of. And the rest of Europe is not far
But Afghanistan may in fact prove the least of your
worries, given the cluster of global crises on your morning-after to-do
list. Global economic meltdown, far and away, trumps them all. Yet the
interconnected issues of climate change and energy burn close behind.
to that the whole series of other urgent global challenges, from
bioethics to migration to nuclear proliferation, and the task ahead
wildly exceeds the bounds of a single brain, even one as well-appointed
Where to begin? Many of your unofficial global advisers
suggest the only way forward is a Herculean act of multitasking. You
need to dispatch individual teams on every one of these problems, each
with marching orders to map how the United States can lead in crafting
- and crucially,obeying - a new global rulebook.
Take solace in
two important facts as you go forward. First, know that for now, at
least, your name is the gold standard of global goodwill. People want
you to succeed. And, most importantly, know that however ridiculous the
expectations may be, nobody truly expects you to have the all the
"One of the ways to manage unrealistic expectations is
to recognize that the United States doesn't have to do everything. It
doesn't have to solve all the problems. It just needs to be a
constructive global player," said Ian Goldin, director of the James
Martin 21st Century School at Oxford University.
Goldin, a former
World Bank vice president, said the next leader's greatest challenge
would be to rise above national self-interest. To see the global forest
despite the domestic trees, and to understand that what is good for the
world will, ultimately, be very good for the U.S.
"It comes down
to a question of accepting there will be global rules and to abide by
them. The problem with a superpower is that when the world shows you
the red card, do you accept the red card or do you play the global
bully?" said Goldin.
"That's why there is so much optimism today.
There is a view that the United States now will not only participate
very actively in establishing the rules of the game. But also they will
be responsible players."