President for the World

by Peter Spiro

Or should that be President of the World?  The global reactions have been overwhelming, not the least because Obama carries in himself a mixed global identity.  As Philippe Sands put it:  “People feel he is a part of them because he has this multiracial, multiethnic and multinational dimension.  He represents, for people in so many different communities and cultures, a personal connection. There is an immigrant component and a minority component.”

Many implications, but here are two:

1.  Here’s another reason on top of the financial crisis to believe that the war on terror is over.  It just has to be the case that Obama’s ascendancy takes a lot of the wind out of Taliban and al Qaeda sails. (See this from Joe Klein, for instance.)  Not that the new Administration won’t have a lot of messy loose ends to tie up, but terrorism’s no longer likely to pose the peremptory threat that it has since 9/11.

2.  As president for/of the world, to whom do representational duties run?  That’s been an easy question in the past: it’s been to Americans, and only incidentally to others.  Most Americans would hew to that today, but it’s not quite as easy to get there as in the past.  Obama’s speech threaded the identity issue with this: “our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared.”

I expect we’ll see some elaboration in the inaugural address.  Perhaps something alongs the lines of his “citizen of the world” riff at Berlin?  The speech will easilly be the most internationally-directed (and consumed) inaugural address in U.S. history.  How much will he speak to Americans, singularly, and how much to the world, shared?

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