One of the more peculiar (and least convincing) arguments for a Barack Obama presidency is that the mere election of a non-white president would somehow eliminate the animosity much of the world has for the United States. Electing Obama, the argument goes, would show that the United States is not just run by warmongering, rich, old white men (it is), and, as Israeli writer Igal Moria argues, would “rekindle global faith in America’s basic goodness”:
America is perceived as a threat to traditional tribal and religious values, as an enemy of indigenous cultures, and a menace to the environment. This disillusion with America – and, by proxy, with modernity – pushes youngsters to follow extremist leaders who give them a much-craved for sense of worth in a world that otherwise relegates them to underdog status.
This is why the candidacy of Barack Obama is so promising. Obama is, indeed, an audaciously hopeful human being who exudes positivity and shuns cynicism. Just as he is inspiring the American young to embrace the political process or reaching across racial and political divides, I believe that he will also be able to rekindle in the hearts of many the belief in the basic goodness of America.
Put yourself in the shoes of a youngster in Africa, Iraq or Indonesia: can you imagine what effect it would have to see the non-white face of Obama –of Barack Hussein Obama – as the figurehead of the United States? Do you know how vital it would be for the psychology of youngsters in the developing world to be infected by the relentless positivity that Obama exudes? Do you think Hillary Clinton’s image and message would have the same effect? Or McCain’s?
Not by a long shot. Only Obama can re-inspire the lost confidence in America. And every youngster inspired by Obama is one less potential recruit for Osama.
The idea that electing someone like Obama would erase the world’s memory of the United States’ actions over the past, say, 60 years, is not only ludicrous, but it also assumes that the rest of the world’s attention span is as short as, well, the typical American’s. The simple fact is that, more often than not, Barack Obama supports a continuation of the same foreign policy which has engendered so much hatred toward the United States in the developing world. I seriously doubt that the average person outside of America (that area known as, “Not America”, as I like to call it) dislikes the United States because its leaders lack “relentless positivity” when they order the invasion of poor, third world nations. And I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I’d venture to say that I don’t think it matters to the average man or woman in countries such as Iraq or Iran whether the leader of the United States orders their country to be bombed or embargoed while wearing a smile or a sneer. I know it might sound crazy, but I think they probably would dislike the fact that their friends and loved ones are being killed by the U.S. war machine, regardless.
Daniel Larison of The American Conservative, who has made critiquing the church of Obama something of a hobby, has more to say on the topic:
This is a huge assumption that Obama fans often make about the man’s potential to change foreign perceptions of America, which seems to require that you believe that foreign perceptions of America are driven almost entirely by superficial and symbolic things and that the problem with America’s reputation is not what our government has done in our name but rather with the packaging of America. This is the Bush administration’s argument that the problem is not content, but marketing, not policy, but “getting the message out” that we are all swell and friendly. Obama’s virtue, then, is that he will show the world that Americans are actually swell and friendly, so they will immediately drop whatever objections they may have to the (as they see it) baneful cultural influences of Americanisation or the forcible export of democracy or U.S. hegemony in their region. This is crazy. Mr. Bush gave us Karen Hughes to run a public relations campaign in lieu of real public diplomacy; the Obama fans present Obama as a more appealing Karen Hughes.