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The Obama phenomenon and the U.S. revival

Opinion News - Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Jusuf Wanandi, Jakarta

I have always believed in and have written about the enormous capacity the U.S. has to revive itself, again and again.

After the great depression of the 1930, FDR (Franklin Delano Roosevelt) came to power in 1936 and started the New Deal to lift up those that have been left behind in the depression and to make the U.S. a great nation again.

In 1960 there was a feeling of malaise due to the competition by the U.S.S.R. in the economic and technology sphere and Kruschev's victory by launching Sputnik, the first satellite, into orbit.

Fortunately, a young leader by the name of John F. Kennedy (JFK) emerged to take over the presidency of the U.S. and led the young generation of the U.S. to renew their belief in themselves.

Beyond that, he also became the hero for all the young people across the globe. Many cried when he was killed in Dallas in 1963 by Lee Harvey Oswald.

Later on came Ronald Reagan, who ended the sense of drift at the end of the Carter Administration.

That happened after the Vietnam War, the domestic crisis due to Watergate and its aftermath -- and then the hostage taking in Iran, with the botched rescue operations to liberate them.

Reagan rebuilt the self-confidence and the optimism of the U.S. as a nation and laid down the basis for the collapse of the U.S.S.R. and the triumph of U.S. liberal-capitalism and democracy, that effectively ended the Cold War.

Now, after the debacles of the Bush Administration by going unilateralist, especially in the Iraq War, and in view of a coming recession that created a sense of pessimism, the U.S. is now having the most interesting up-lifting and enthusiastic general elections for the presidency.

This time it is Barack Obama, who has a new vision on how to overcome the ideological, religious and racial divide in the society at large. He also brings hope and optimism back to the U.S.

He has become the hero not only for the younger generation of the U.S., but also across the world, because of his sincerity, his balanced views and his reaching out to the world again in a human and empathetic way.

He has demonstrated he has the capacity to abandon the old politics of divisions and antagonisms in U.S. politics.

He even has been able to get the U.S. young generation enthusiastic again with politics after decades of gridlock and divisions in the U.S. body politic.

Kishore Mahbubani, Dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said in a column in Newsweek a month ago, that Obama as president could overcome 50 percent of the negative image created by President Bush's unilateralist policies, especially on the war in Iraq.

He lamented the fact that while 6 billion people will be affected, only 126 million Americans decide on the fate of the world.

But with Obama as president, many people globally will feel he is one of them and trust he is going to take care of them too.

As Jorge Castaqada, the former foreign minister of Mexico said in his Newsweek column, following Kishore's piece, Obama is brown and that is the color of most of the people in the developing world.

They are accepting that Obama is like one of them and having the possibility of becoming the U.S. president will be a revolution for them and in their appreciation of the U.S. in the future.

It will heal a lot of wounds in Latin America for having been neglected or intervened unnecessarily and against their interest.

According to an American scholar who just visited the Middle East, some people there were saying they are willing to love the U.S. again, if Americans will choose Obama as president.

For Indonesians, Obama is special. He lived for six years in Indonesia when he was a child.

He was brought to Indonesia by his stepfather, who is Indonesian and married Obama's mother after his biological father returned to Kenya.

Obama is considered the "Indonesian" candidate for the U.S. presidency and there is a lot of sympathy and support for his candidacy here.

If 230 million Indonesians (with 150 million voters) could participate in the U.S. presidential elections of 2008, Obama would win overwhelmingly.

But support also comes because he opposes the Iraq War, because of his empathy to others in the world, especially the poor, and because he has reached out again to make the U.S. inclusive. And this is how Indonesians used to know this great country.

He reminds Indonesians of JFK and Martin Luther King, with a vision, ideas and empathy toward his own people and toward the world.

And as Obama's campaign has shown so far, he is a good organizer and a tough person if he needs to be.

So there is a golden opportunity for the U.S. to make real history for herself and for the world.

But his greatest contribution would be to overcome the divide in the U.S. body politic, between the red and blue states, and rebuild a united U.S.A. that is so crucial to global peace, stability and development.

That leadership could only be effective if there is trust again towards the U.S. across the world.

A U.S. that is united at home, has a bi-partisan foreign policy, adheres to its idealisms and to the rules as well as institutions it has helped create. It will be regarded as a strong partner by most nations in the world.

And that is what Obama can bring as the next president of the U.S.

The writer is vice chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta.