Opinion

The Great Debate

Obama, Moses and exaggerated expectations

-Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own-

President Barack Obama is close to the half-way mark of his presidential mandate, a good time for a brief look at health care, unemployment, war, the level of the oceans, the health of the planet, and America’s image. They all featured in a 2008 Obama speech whose rhetoric soared to stratospheric heights.

“If…we are willing to work for it, and fight for it, and believe in it, then I’m absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick and good jobs for the jobless; this was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation and restored our image as the last best hope on earth.”

The date was June 3, 2008. Obama had just won the Democratic Party’s nomination as presidential candidate. He was also winning the adulation of the majority of the American people, who shrugged off mockery from curmudgeonly Republicans who pointed out that the last historical figure to affect ocean levels was Moses and he had divine help when he parted the Red Sea.

Obama took to the campaign trail again this month to help Democratic candidates for the mid-term elections on November 2 and he would need divine intervention to prevent his party from losing control of the House and possibly the Senate.

The vote is in part a referendum on his first two years in office and the adoration has faded, not least because it would have been difficult for anyone to actually meet the high expectations he raised in dramatic speeches.

Torching U.S. power

The following is guest post by Andrew Hammond, a director at ReputationInc, an international strategic communications firm, was formerly a special adviser to the Home Secretary in the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair and a geopolitics consultant at Oxford Analytica. The opinions expressed are his own.

The ninth anniversary of September 11 is being overshadowed by the news of Pastor Terry Jones and his now-suspended plan to burn copies of the Koran at the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. Even if the bonfire does not take place, the news of it is tragic for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, although President Barack Obama and other US officials have rightly condemned the pastor’s previously intended actions, the episode has exacerbated anti-American sentiment, especially in the Muslim world. This comes at a sensitive period at the end of Ramadan, when debate is also still raging about an Islamic group’s plan to build a community center, which includes a mosque, near Ground Zero in New York City.

from The Great Debate UK:

Does the Internet empower or censor?

What if the Internet is not really a utopian democratic catalyst of change?

The Web is often seen as a positive means of instilling democratic freedoms in countries under authoritarian rule, but many regimes are now using it to subvert democracy, Evgeny Morozov, a contributing editor at "Foreign  Policy", proposes.

The Internet can actually inhibit rather than empower civil society, Morozov, argued in a lecture on Tuesday at London's Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

Social media platforms are being used by certain governments to create a "spinternet" to influence public opinion. They are also being used as part of a process of "authoritarian deliberation" to try and increase the legitimacy of authoritarian rule, he said.

from Commentaries:

Why Russia needs America

In the wake of President Obama's decision to scrap the U.S. missile defence shield in eastern Europe, many are pondering Russia's response. The relationship will remain in the spotlight this week, when President Medvedev heads to the U.S. for the G20 summit. Although the precise nature of Russia's reaction remains to be seen, it has a big incentive to improve relations. It badly needs American investment and co-operation to help solve serious economic problems at home.

Critics of Obama's decision worry that it will "embolden" Russia, causing more aggressive behaviour abroad. Yet they forget that the Bush administration's antagonistic policies failed to provide security to Russia's neighbours. These policies didn't prevent Russia's war with Georgia, the repeated gas disputes with Ukraine, and a serious cooling of relations with countries such as Poland. Far from being restrained, Russia's confrontational attitude had a lot to do with its perception that the U.S. was busy encircling the country with missile bases and alliances.

The critics also imply that Russia is preoccupied with external expansion, but that hardly seems appropriate today. Russia's GDP is set to plummet by 8 percent this year. Russian analysts estimate that the country needs up to $2 trillion to renovate its dangerously clapped-out infrastructure. In major industrial cities, Russia's dilapidated factories are mulling huge job losses. For the foreseeable future, Russia's leaders are likely to be preoccupied with thorny domestic problems.

Faced with such daunting challenges, it's entirely logical that both Medvedev and Putin say they are keen to kick-start American trade and investment. Responding to Obama's decision -- which he described as "brave and correct" -- Putin immediately linked it to economic issues. He called for the U.S. to back Russia's entry into the World Trade Organisation (WTO), and scrap Soviet-era trade restrictions against Russian companies, especially those that regulate technology transfer to Russia.

from FaithWorld:

Lots of advice for Obama on dealing with Muslims and Islam

President-elect Barack Obama has been getting a lot of advice these days on how to deal with Muslims and Islam. He invited it by saying during his campaign that he either wanted to convene a conference with leaders of Muslim countries or deliver a major speech in a Muslim country "to reboot America’s image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular”. But where? when? why? how? Early this month, I chimed in with a pitch for a speech in Turkey or Indonesia.  Some quite interesting comments have come in since then. (Photo: Obama image in Jakarta, 25 Oct 2008/Dadang Tri)

Two French academics, Islam expert Olivier Roy and political scientist Justin Vaisse argued in a New York Times op-ed piece on Sunday that Obama's premise of trying to reconcile the West and Islam is flawed:

Such an initiative would reinforce the all-too-accepted but false notion that “Islam” and “the West” are distinct entities with utterly different values. Those who want to promote dialogue and peace between “civilizations” or “cultures” concede at least one crucial point to those who, like Osama bin Laden, promote a clash of civilizations: that separate civilizations do exist. They seek to reverse the polarity, replacing hostility with sympathy, but they are still following Osama bin Laden’s narrative.

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