What Can We Expect Of the New American Presidency?

Posted by Admin on Sunday, 7 September 2008 | Opini

By Sayidiman Suryohadiprojo

On November 4 this year the American people are going to elect their new President and Vice President. The US Presidential election this year will be a very interesting event with various consequences which are not easy to predict.

It will be an interesting event because it is the first time in history that there is a black Presidential candidate. This fact in itself indicates that things are changing in America. Another significant fact is that also for the first time a female person becomes a Vice Presidential Candidate. Although in many other countries, including those in Asia and nations with a Moslem majority, it is not longer strange that a woman achieves the leading position, for the US it is still not a normal event. Also this fact is another indication of change in America.

There are significant differences between the candidates of the Democratic and Republican Party for this election. The Democrats have nominated Barack Obama as their presidential candidate. A relatively young black man of 47 years of age has seized the Democrat’s confidence which is an achievement in itself. Because among the members and leaders of the Democratic Party are many white people and many of them cannot be considered progressive in mind and heart. Although Obama is a US Senator, but competing with Hillary Clinton with a lot of experience as a former First Lady and a present US Senator of New York , was not an easy political struggle.

The Republican Party has nominated Senator John McCain as their presidential candidate. A Vietnam War veteran, including an experience as prisoner of war, McCain is 72 years old with a long history as US Senator. Thus very different from Barack Obama.

Although the Republicans are hammering on the lack of Obama in government affairs, in particular foreign policy and international security matters, surveys of public opinion of the American people indicate that the young and less-experienced Obama is more in their favor. Obama’s platform of radical changes in American life to improve the lot of the middle and lower classes, presented through very effective speeches and other ways of communication, has achieved to touch the hearts and minds of many Americans. Obama’s decision to choose Senator Joe Biden as his vice-presidential candidate was also received very positively by the American public. The 70 years old Biden with a long experience as US Senator and engaged in many foreign policy and international security problems will indeed be a strong support for Obama as president.

On the Republican side, McCain has also made a surprise by choosing Sarah Palin as his vice-presidential candidate. Not only has she bypassed very popular people considered as the right partner for McCain, like Senator Liebermann, her age of 46 years and relatively short experience as Alaskan governor seem to be no obstacles for Mc Cain and his campaign management to choose her. They are definitely aiming at the voters who are very disappointed that Obama has not chosen Hillary Clinton as his vice-presidential partner. Apart from that, Palin’s choice is also directed to the Republican camp itself where conservatives are considering McCain to be too liberal. Palin has namely shown her strong attitude in maintaining conservative values which she demonstrated in her own family life.

Very interesting is the fact that also McCain is now using Change as his campaign platform. He does not want people think of him as just an extension of the present Bush leadership and not able to come up with his own ideas for improving the future of the American people. Although he is a staunch defender of the Iraq War and the War against Terrorism, he want to show that his program will be more in accord with the wishes of the American people, and not just a continuation of the present Republican regime. It is very interesting whether the public is ready to believe him.

It is a fact that today Obama is a very popular man, not only in the US but also abroad. It is no wonder that in Indonesia where Obama has spent a part of his younger years as a elementary school student and had an Indonesian stepfather, he is very popular. At least among his schoolmates and the people who knew him when he was living in this country. But also in Europe, even in Germany where many people are disgusted with US policies under President George W. Bush, Obama has made a strong and positive impression of the changes he is going to accomplish in the US.

However, among my friends who are strongly behind Obama, there is still doubt that the American white people, or even non-white people, are really ready to have a black man as their president. My friends think that many American people may be in favor with Obama’s ideas and programs, but the psychological obstacle is very strong. Of course, they hope and wish that change in the US has also touched the human psychology, and that the race factor is no longer the most important factor in their mind.

What are then our expectations of the new US presidency? First of all is the US attitude and behavior in international relations and foreign policy. We in Indonesia, but also in many other countries, cannot agree with the American attitude demonstrated abroad since the end of the Cold War. Of course, we are realistic enough that the US has become the only Superpower after the demise of the Soviet Union. We can also understand that based on their power the US considers itself the “police man” of the world. The more so because the United Nations has not shown its capability to act like that.

However, if the US thinks that based on their power they have the right to build hegemony for all aspects of human life and insists or even forces other nations to accept that Whatever is Good For America is Good For the World, there they are going too far. It means that the US does not value cultural differences among nations as a significant fact of life which must be taken into consideration. US foreign policies that insist other nations follow its concepts of democracy and human rights literally, are clear proof of such attitude. It is much more difficult for other nations to follow US guidance for economic policies. Even American people with expert economic knowledge, like Dr. Joseph Stiglitz, agree that many programs of the Washington Consensus are harming conditions of many other nations, in particular developing nations. Therefore, the question is whether the new US president can demonstrate hegemonic power with a benign nuance rather than the present egoistic stance.

Another expectation is a change in the US attitude vis-à-vis other nations. It is a well-known fact that the US is a democratic country at home and preach the importance of democracy abroad. However, the practice which the US likes to demonstrate abroad is very often far from democratic. The preference of using a practice of “regime change” of other nations who do not want to follow US intentions, by activating intelligence operations, can not be considered as a peaceful democratic approach. That can be observed in many instances of US policies in Latin America and the Middle East, perhaps also in Indonesia. Much further from democratic and peaceful practices are habits of using military operations to force the other nation to submit. Of course, as a military superpower the US is able to achieve swift military victories. However, since the basic attitude is undemocratic and force, the military victory can never bring about a victory of peace. And the defeated nation is still able to resist through non-conventional methods and means. It results in a long situation of misery and many troubles in the life of the common people of the defeated nation. While it is far from sure that the US can achieve its real interests. A clear example today is the Iraq debacle, with in the past the US defeat in Vietnam. Therefore all sides are losers with no winners.

There is another expectation of many Indonesian people, in particular the Moslems, namely the solution of the Palestinian Problem. Although the problem is located far from Indonesia, but it is in fact causing a lot of sorrow among Indonesians. Although the Palestinian Problem is not exclusively a problem of Islam, but Indonesian Moslems feel close to their Palestinian brothers who are treated so unjustly. They remember their own tragic life under Dutch colonialism.

Every body knows that the solution of the problem is essentially in US hands. Only the US can make Israel accept a decision which gives the Palestinian people a better and just future. However, until today the US is always on the Israeli side and this attitude strengthens the Israelis in their actions to eliminate Palestine.

For many Indonesians the fulfilling of these three expectations is considered a real change of the US. Of course, a change in American domestic conditions improving the life of many people in the middle and lower classes is also important. But it will not directly make Indonesians think differently of America, if it is not accompanied by a change in international relations as mentioned above. The question is whether the new US President, whether it is Barack Obama or John McCain, is able or willing to make these changes.

We have seen in the past that there are no radical or dramatic differences between Democratic and Republican Presidents in international relations, apart from differences in nuance. The reason is clear : they have to achieve United States of America’s national interests. And this is especially paramount in international relations.

At the present time the US interests in energy matters are very significant. The US is interested in its oil and gas supply to maintain its economy. But oil and gas supply is limited, while many more nations also want to improve their economy, in particular nations with large populations like China and India. Therefore the US is encountering strong competition in its interests.

Can the new US president take a new and different attitude facing his task to achieve US interests abroad? Not to forget is the fact that he has to accommodate many groups in his own country which have strong interests abroad, in particular the oil and gas companies. These groups have strong lobbies encircling the US President, like the neo-conservative group. It is almost sure that John McCain as President is firmly in their circle. But even Obama will have many problems to free himself from their pressures. Will he then be able to demonstrate the changes mentioned above?

Another matter which causes quite a doubt is a change of US attitude in the Palestinian Problem. There are many publications about the essential American support to Israel in all aspects of life. Not only the strong Jewish Lobby in the US is the force to drive the US to a total support for Israel. It is essentially the majority of the American people with Christian background who consider US support to Israel as a principle mission of the American people. How can the new US president formulate a new policy which can result in a just solution of the Palestinian problem and at the same time accommodate the interests of the Israeli people? We very often read and hear statements of Israeli leaders saying that US foreign policies are the same as Israeli’s, in particular related to Palestine and the Middle East. Can a new US president, including Barack Obama, change that fact?

It is also doubtful that a new President can change the US drive for economic hegemony of the world, in particular the practices of the Washington Consensus. There are too many and strong economic interests in the US which do not want changes in the international situation except those in their favor. Obama must be a real strong personality to face down all these groups and able to form a strong group to support him in his endeavor for change. Even in the Democratic Party are representatives of all these groups which do not want to have change in US international relations and its hegemony.

But nothing in this world is impossible. It is therefore not impossible that a new US President, in particular Barack Obama, will make the changes in US international relations which we in Indonesia want to see. And let us hope that it will happen!

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Comment by Hanung Sunarwibowo
2008-11-09 14:36:17

Dear Sir.., My name is Hanung Sunarwibowo,I am an navy medical officer, an orthopaedic surgeon in Tarakan Naval Hospital East Kalimantan. Please allow me to confess that I really admire your personality. I think you are one of some of military academy graduate figures who really put their country above himself. From now on, I will try to read all your articles to help me understanding the problems of our nation.I wrote this comment after knowing that Obama won the election. Once again your prediction is right. Well… I hope that I can do a little thing to be part of our country solution for the future of Indonesia. Always faithful. Semper Fi…

Comment by Sayidiman Suryohadiprojo
2008-11-10 09:14:03

Dear Dr Hanung Sunarwibowo,
Let me first thank you for visiting my website and giving me your comments. Also for praising my qualities as a TNI officer. But , Dr Hanung, I am just a normal person who tries to serve his country as much as he can. When I started my website, my purpose was also to contribute the best I can to our nation’s struggle for a much better life and progress for the people, by sharing my knowledge and experience with my country-men and every body else who is interested in Indonesia. I am sure that as a medical doctor you can do a lot for our country, the more so since you are an active Naval Officer.
I am always looking forward to your comments and suggestions to improve my blog. Sincerely, Sayidiman S.

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