People around the world have joined Americans in following a truly historic US Presidential election. It’s not only because we have our first-ever African-American candidate in Barack Obama, or because of the entrance of Sarah Palin as the Republican Vice-Presidential nominee. It’s because people around the world have immediate, direct and indirect interests in the outcome of our Presidential elections. While Obama and McCain debate further military involvement in the Middle East – maintaining "the surge" in Iraq, attacking Iran, and "shoring up" Afghanistan – people there and in other places (e.g. Pakistan, Georgia, etc.) weigh the implications for their lives and their societies. Just how are we viewed by the international community?
The recent BBC News opinion poll (9/10/08) of over 22,000 people in 22 countries yielded a clear preference for Democratic Party nominee, Barack Obama. The poll also indicated that people around the world felt that an Obama administration would significantly improve the image of the US and – in most cases – improve diplomatic relations with their respective countries.
In interviews I conducted with dozens of Greeks in my research on the term, "planetarch," the reasons for this preference for Barack Obama became clear.
The term, "planetarch," emerged in Greece in the immediate post-Cold War era, with the implication that the US had been left as the only remaining superpower. It is relevant that this term and its literal meaning – "ruler of the planet" – emanate from Greece, a European Union nation, and also reflects how the US is perceived in the rest of world. Greece is a smaller, weaker EU nation, intimately linked to the Balkans, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The public opinion in this "geo-political crossroads" country can tell us the perception of how the outcome of the US presidential elections may affect those "linked" countries and regions, shedding light on the realities there.
Certainly, the media hype centered on Barack Obama as the first African-American candidate for the US Presidency has fueled world interest in the elections, as have Hillary Clinton’s campaign to be the first woman candidate for the office, and even Sarah Palin’s emergence on the scene as a Vice-Presidential candidate. But the Obama candidacy has captivated people in Greece and around the world because they, too, are stakeholders in these elections. Whether we like it or not, whether we care or not, the lives of people around the globe will be affected by the US Presidential elections – the selection of the new "Planetarch."
Greeks and many other politically-savvy peoples realize that the US two-party system is a system of big capital at its roots. They have no illusions, as do many Americans, that a win for the Democratic Party will mean a turn towards socialism. That being said, many people around the world believe that a victory for Barack Hussein Obama – a man of color, with a non-Anglo name – would begin a catharsis for the image of the US and a revival of diplomacy, with a concomitant rejection of the so-called, "Bush Doctrine." People know and understand that the people that will ultimately surround the Obamas, Palins, etc. of the next administration will be technocrats who have been involved in previous administrations of the two-party system, and as such, they do not expect ground shifts in US foreign policy.
The neoconservatives of the Bush administration have framed their military incursions in terms of "democracy" and "peace." If, indeed, we were to adhere to the notion of ‘democracy’ at a global level – wherein many of the most important decisions are made outside of the "rule of law" – we would consider giving people outside the US a voice in determining the outcome of the US Presidential elections, since they are directly affected by the outcome. Not only is this not going to happen, but people generally understand the erosion of ‘democracy’ around the world with the way that ‘globalization’ has affected economies, political systems, societies and cultures.
In our times, people of North America and Europe understand the erosion of ‘democracy’ when their rights to decide on national or even local issues – like the status of "kokoretsi" (barbequed lamb intestines and tripe) or the authenticity of feta cheese – is to be determined by "the market" or by bureaucrats. If this is the case in the "developed" world, what must the situation be like elsewhere? How can people reasonably expect to be given a vote and a voice in determining the outcome of the most powerful bureaucratic position in the world?
It seems clear that a significant faction of capital understands that the current neoconservative course that the US is on is costly in both lives and money. We are all living the serious economic downturn, the weak dollar, and high energy prices. Obama’s support in the US and abroad seems to be related to a hope of the re-institution of diplomacy and a more benevolent and reasoned use of US power. That is why the global polls show that Barack Obama would be the clear winner in an election for "Planetarch."
When people don’t have power, they cling to "Hope."