WASHINGTON: Barack Obama will enter the White House Tuesday with a crushing burden of expectations both at home and abroad. How he manages those expectations will go a long way to defining his presidency.
Incoming White House press secretary Robert Gibbs pleaded for time, as new polls showed that America’s first black commander-in-chief is the most popular incoming president since Republican icon Ronald Reagan in 1981.
“We did not get into the situation overnight. The problems and the challenges that our country face didn’t happen all last week. It’s going to take us some time, Gibbs said on “Fox News Sunday.
The expectations game is “more of a curse than a blessing, but it’s manageable, said William Galston, a former White House adviser who analyzes the presidency at the Brookings Institution.
“He’s done a pretty good job of telling the American people that however wise his policies are, economic recovery is not going to come quickly or easily, he said.
Internationally, Galston said, “last November we conducted something like the first global election in history, in terms of the universal interest.
“There may be some people around the world who feel that Barack Obama is their president too.
In practice, that means a sky-high level of expectation that Obama will usher in a new dawn for US diplomacy after eight tension-filled years under President George W. Bush.
The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, summarizing contributions received from Middle East writers, thinkers and social activists in a new report, said the Arab world was agog at Obama’s victory.
“Obama’s election was in a sense a public diplomacy triumph for the United States, the first real success the United States has won in the Arab world in a long time, and probably the most important one since president (Dwight) Eisenhower backed Egypt’s efforts to regain control of the Suez Canal in 1956, it said.
“Yet the success may prove to be short-lived: Arabs were reacting to a concrete change (over Suez), not to words, and are likely to revert to the old hostility unless Obama’s words are backed by concrete changes in US Middle East policies.
While Bush was accused of ignoring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for much of his presidency, Obama has no time to lose in addressing that perennial headache of US diplomacy following Israel’s bloody incursion into Gaza.
In Europe, there is palpable relief at the ending of the Bush era – but one Obama adviser said America’s NATO allies must now “show the love by stumping up more troops to take on the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.
Galston said Afghanistan was a defining test of transatlantic goodwill towards Obama, noting the reluctance shown already by European nations to take in detainees from the Guantanamo Bay internment camp and so hasten its closure.
“If the idea across the Atlantic is that America should be left to twist in the wind, even when it’s trying to change course, that would not be very smart, he said.
Despite Obama’s warnings that the Pakistani government must do far more against Al-Qaeda militants, there appear to be warm feelings for the new president in the nuclear-armed South Asian nation.
Republican Senator Lindsey Graham spoke glowingly about Obama’s popularity Wednesday after returning from a trip with vice president-elect Joseph Biden that took in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“I cannot tell you how much enthusiasm we saw in Pakistan for the new president, he told reporters.
“There is a moment in time for this country to re-engage the international community, said Graham, who ironically is the closest Senate friend of Obama’s vanquished presidential rival, John McCain.