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Obama’s world

Whatever the domestic compulsions for political change, the United States of America badly needed to elect Senator Barack Obama President in order to restore some of its standing in the wider world. So unpopular and disastrous an administration has George W. Bush run that the stock of America internationally has perhaps never been lower. Not even at the height of the Cold War or the Viet Nam war did so many people in so many countries regard the U.S. as a major source of instability and violence in the world. And never before was a global wave of sympathy for the American people — as was seen post-9/11 — squandered so callously by an administration bent on full-spectrum dominance. Even Washington’s rhetoric about democracy and the rule of law rang hollow against the stark reality of Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, torture, and extraordinary renditions. Reversing course on a wide range of foreign policy issues and rehabilitating his country’s standing in the eyes of the international community will not be a task President Obama can accomplish overnight. But if he sticks to his campaign promises on shutting down Guantanamo, ending the war in Iraq, and reaching out to Iran, he will at least have made a credible beginning.

In India, Mr. Obama’s crushing victory — powered by a massive urge for change — seems to have generated a measure of irrational apprehension as well as misguided hope in official circles. Apprehension because there is a feeling that a Democratic administration may not share Mr. Bush’s approach to India; and hope springing from the President-elect’s tough rhetoric on Pakistan. These misperceptions within a regime that is only slightly less lame-duck than the Bush administration need to be corrected quickly — if India’s international policy interests are to be served well during the 10-week transition to an Obama administration and beyond. The truth is that all sections of the U.S. establishment support the ‘strategic partnership’ with India and are anxious to take it to the next level of military-to-military cooperation and greater access to the Indian economy for U.S. corporations. It is highly unlikely that the Obama administration will do anything to jeopardise the bilateral agenda its predecessors set. But is there reason to be ‘hopeful’ of a change in U.S. policy towards Pakistan? Not if the new policy is led by the dangerous idea of staging air strikes inside Pakistani territory as an extension of the Afghan war. What the region needs is for the Pakistani military to end its involvement in politics once and for all. This is a goal Mr. Obama says he supports. If he is able to use the moral and political clout of his presidency in this direction, Afghanistan and the rest of South Asia will become a safer place.

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