Ask not from Obama

Barack Obama’s election, as is universally acknowledged, is the triumph of hope over fear, of audacity over complacency. Even before his election, some noted that his greatest obstacle as president might be the irrationally high expectations of his people and of the rest of the world. On the one hand, the disaster of the Bush years highlighted the need for restoration, for the fixing of damage; on the other, the man himself, along with his inspired rhetoric, moved people to believe in his powers far more than one could rationally expect of a 47-year-old, first-term senator. In the two-and-a-half months since the election, expectations have grown even greater, as the economic uncertainty and the need for decisive intervention in the world’s trouble spots heightened the sense that the transition period was torturously slow. Obama’s choices for his administration strengthened his image further, as he appeared to pursue the best candidates for the job, irrespective of their ideological stand. But he also made clear that he would not dilute his policy on core issues such as closing the Guantanamo prison, moving to pull US troops out of Iraq and making an effort to save Afghanistan. Though Obama wants to be the unifier of a deeply divided country, it is clear that he is also firm. As the Bush years are forgotten, Obama will stand alone on the stage, with the whole world waiting to see how he will move to solve problems – such as climate change and a global recession – that could have disastrous consequences for the planet if they remain unsolved. Obama, head of the world’s largest economy, commander in chief of the most powerful military machine the world has known, is in a position to make the greatest changes possible in order to lead a planet asking for someone to take control in seeking a future that is better for all. Most countries seem to have a laundry list of what they expect from Obama. Greece is no exception, although a history of dependency on the United States and frequent disappointment has contributed to the very Greek hybrid of unrealistic expectations and cynicism. Greeks would like to see the USA intervene decisively with Ankara so that Turkey stops pushing Greece to concede sea and air rights as well as territory; they want to see support for a just and lasting solution to the Cyprus problem, recognition of the ecumenical nature of the Patriarchate in Istanbul, the reopening of the Orthodox seminary on the island of Halki and so on. Athens and Washington have also been at odds over a final name for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and that country’s accession to NATO – which Greece has blocked while the name issue remains unresolved. On a purely bilateral level, some hope that Greeks may eventually be allowed to visit the US without a visa. But all these expectations will lead to disappointment if Greece continues to do what it has done all these years – sit back and expect others (or time) to solve its problems. What we and everyone else on the planet should expect of Obama is that he use his powers wisely in proposing solutions for the world’s major problems. But in dealing with our own national and regional problems, by far the most useful thing that we can expect of him is that his example may make us find our own new leaders – bright, inspired people who will dare to tackle the problems that plague our society and our politics. We have never seemed close to finding such leaders. Now that we have seen what they are like, we have no excuse for not ending our own complacency and fear.

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