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‘Opportunities for International Co-operation after the US Presidential Elections’

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Meg attended the recent Council meeting of the Socialist International as the representative of the UK Labour Party. She spoke on the opportunities for international co-operation following the election of Barack Obama as President of the USA, her remarks are below. For details about the Socialist International visit: http://www.socialistinternational.org/

 

Opportunities - What can we expect an Obama presidency to do?

I would expect the new President to take advantage of the opportunity for change, a new beginning, put simply he is not George Bush. Whatever the current President of the United States has done, good or bad, it is clear that the American people want change. Barack Obama has a mandate for this, including for tackling difficult issues.

 

It is an important time for climate change in the run up to the global conference in Copenhagen in 2009. We no longer have a USA being dragged reluctantly into a deal, instead an America ready to accept its responsibilities as the world’s biggest polluter. In addition, Obama has changed the approach by talking of the need to respond to climate change as an opportunity to develop a new economic focus for green industries.

 

We should also see a greater readiness for the USA to get involved in international development; an America looking outwards toward the world instead of being focussed inward. It’s perhaps ironic that we will remember George Bush for his role on the international stage, which is not how his Presidency began.

 

With Barack Obama, we should see a greater willingness from the outset for the United States to have an increased role in international organisations; to take an active part in multilateral responses to the world’s problems. At the moment we have a focus on reforms of the international financial institutions, but there is also a need to advance reform in other international institutions such as the United Nations.

 

We should also expect a greater involvement and re-newed energy in the Middle East peace process. The Israel Palestine relationship remains vital to the region, and renewed attention and energy are required for meaningful negotiations. The new President may decide to appoint a Special Envoy to the region, and provide economic and diplomatic support to President Mahmood Abbas.

 

Obama’s stance towards Cuba will be interesting. He has indicated that he won’t lift the US embargo, but that he generally believes “in direct diplomacy, with friends and foe alike, without preconditions.” He has also called George Bush’s policies towards Havana “disastrous”. Obama is expected to lift restrictions on Cuban Americans, such as travelling to Cuba and sending money to family there.

 

These measures fall significantly short of the policy adopted by the European Union. We are seeking improved human rights in Cuba in exchange for increased political dialogue. Whatever the pace of change towards greater economic liberalisation and improved human rights, there is no doubt that the positions of the USA and the EU should move closer with the new occupant of the White House.

 

We can also expect the closure of Guantanamo Bay, but to achieve that will mean overcoming real challenges. It is far from clear as to where all the existing inmates should go.

 

Challenges

We need to be realistic about some of the difficulties that Obama will face as President. His greatest burden will perhaps be the expectation that the world has of him - the answer to every problem, international or domestic. He is bound to disappoint.

 

As we in the UK know, from the highpoint of the election of a Labour Government in 1997, the reality of government could not possibly meet every expectation from the public. It’s said, “We campaign in poetry and we govern in prose.”

 

For one thing he will have his own priorities, and they may not be ours. Obama is already facing strong pressure to give his attention to domestic issues; a recent poll showed that 60% of Americans want him to concentrate on those. These will be particularly acute during the current economic crisis, with a push for protectionist policies to be adopted. These would be a danger, both in terms of their impact on the world economy, but it would also send a signal about America’s priorities regarding international issues.

 

Partnership

The Socialist International should welcome the opportunities that the new Presidency brings. Social democratic parties in government need to work hard to develop relationships, not just with the new President, but also across his new administration.

 

If the Socialist International can rise to the challenge of reform discussed at the Congress in Athens it can become the effective and transparent organisation that President Obama may want to pay attention to.

 

We should support a thoughtful and pragmatic approach by President Obama. We will want to argue for improved human rights around the world, and this should be done through engagement and persistent diplomacy.

 

When dealing with the threat of international terrorism the new President will need strong international support. Any quick move to withdraw from Iraq would be neither sensible nor desirable. Our involvement in Afghanistan requires us to continue to make the case that supporting democracy is important in itself, but is also in our own best interests. Cutting and running would be a victory for terrorism.

 

Being in power

The change of President in the United States of America gives us hope. It is a super power, and the actions of its President make a difference in the world.

 

Too few of us in this room are in government. To make the most of the opportunities presented by a new President we have to ensure those in government stay there, and those not achieve it. We need more than speeches and carefully drafted statements. Without power to effect change, we are just a talking shop.

 

Power also brings with it realism. Only when the people in our countries are convinced that we have the answers to the problems of the future, will they vote for us as they did for Barack Obama.

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