With the U.S. presidential elections only days away now, it seems we might just have a president that is more popular abroad than he is at home for the first time in many years.
The French are ecstatic, and have high hopes of reverting back to their name for fried shreds of potato.
Other Europeans offer more succinct explanations. Simon Heffer of the Daily Telegraph says,
Many Britons will feel it would be rather nice to have a vote, too. Well, maybe not a whole vote: I would settle for one worth 50 per cent of those cast by American citizens.
Canada is no exception, with “Obamania” sweeping the country. Some Canadian commentators attribute this to an anti-Bush sentiment – frustration with unilateralism and naked self-interests at the rest of the world’s expense.
But Thomas Walkom offers a word of caution,
Which U.S. presidential candidate talks of expanding the war on terror by attacking more countries? If you answered John McCain, you’re wrong. The correct response, of course, is Barack Obama.
Obama the Hawk?
Walkom is obviously referring to Obama’s statement this summer that he would be willing to strike targets in Pakistan. But these need to be taken within context, as an expression that the War in Iraq was a mistake and a diversion from their primary target.
Walkom also notes that Obama has yet to publicly denounce the doctrine of preemtive regime change. The Bush doctrine, completely contrary to principles of international law, was first developed in 1997 by the Project for a New American Century (PNAC).
In contrast, Obama has received considerable critique for even suggesting that diplomacy should be an option in all situations. Despite momentary doubts, he firmly opposed the Iraqi conflict throughout, citing by name PNAC architects Rove, Perle and Wolfowitz .
Public opinion is probably the significant factor holding Obama back, and he indicates he first needs what he terms a “permission structure.” If it’s provided, he might just be able to restore international goodwill to America by directly addressing the world’s primary contention,
…for most of our history our crises have come from using force when we shouldn’t, not by failing to use force.
Is Obama A Mixed Blessing for Canada?
There might still be a downside for Canada if Obama wins, according to some experts.
The Rideau Institute released a report, How the next US president could affect our country, where Rideau president, Steven Staples had some harsh words for both major parties,
By virtue of conjoined geography, history, economies and political cultures, Canada and the United States are inextricably linked, and it is only a matter of time before the shifts in U.S. politics realign Canada’s politics as well.
One need look no further than the dramatic rise of the U.S. national-security state in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks when President Bush embarked on the U.S.-led War on Terrorism, and challenged nations of the world, including Canada, to join the war or be considered unfriendly to the United States’ interests.
In Canada, the Chrétien government quickly implemented far-reaching national security measures to harmonize with U.S. priorities – with terrible results, as Canadians saw when Maher Arar was trapped and tortured by the post-9/11 secret security apparatus – while famously refusing to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, emphasizing instead Canada’s military role in Afghanistan.
…Like Martin, Conservative Prime Minister Harper has carried on Canada’s march alongside the U.S., helping it to erect a new Fortress North America, with Canada firmly ensconced behind the U.S. security perimeter walls.
Canada’s attempts to curry favour with the Bush administration has been costly to our country, but those costs pale in comparison to the damage his administration has inflicted on the United States.
Of particular concern throughout the report is Afghanistan and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
A shift away from Iraq by America towards Afghanistan could make it more difficult for Canada to meet its 2011 withdrawal date. It could also make it easier though, given there would be less of a need to rely on Canadian troops.
Although Obama might seek to renegotiate NAFTA to better meet American needs, this might be an opportunity for Canada as well.
A Soft Spot for NAFTA
Many Canadians feel NAFTA has failed their national interests, especially when it comes to softwood lumber, one of our largest exports at $10.5-billion per annum. The issue has been one of the longest trade disputes in history, and remains without any ratified conclusion.
In 2005 the Canadian government had to give lumber associations $20 million to assist them with their legal costs, and has paid several million themselves in the dispute, forming the single largest budget item of the Department of Justice (DoJ).
The 2006 U.S. Court of International Trade Agreement decision, Tembec, Inc vs. United States, indicated that the actions of the United States Trade Representative was ultra vires and their actions were not authorized by the Uruguay Round Agreements Act.
Renegotiating NAFTA could also help raise environmental issues as a priority.
The methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl (MMT) dispute over gasoline additives cost Canada US$201 million under a Chapter 11 NAFTA and Agreement on Internal Trade (AIT) claims. A lawyer involved in the dispute raised additional concerns,
The problem with the MMT case is, with the secrecy permitted under NAFTA, we will never know the full story.
Without minimizing the importance of American trade, there are reasons to ensure we’re not wearing blinders to our detriment.
The 2007 The Conference Board of Canada report, Mission Possible: Sustainable Prosperity for Canada, predicted the current volatility in American markets. They recommended Canada strengthen its economy by diversifying its trade partners.
Renegotiating our NAFTA agreement with the U.S., and perhaps even clarifying our role in NATO, might actually be in our best long-term interests.
The Black Elephant in the Room
Of course the one thing that everyone is talking about is Obama’s race. It’s only relevant because with the demise of apartheid South Africa, the U.S. is probably the most racially polarized country in the world.
Race matters in America, more than even gender, and the world knows it.
But Obama is not only black, he’s half white. Like other biracial celebrity figures, he has the potential to heal the racial divide. With the recently thwarted white supremacist assassination attempt, the enduring legacy of racism in America is something voters will be directly facing in their own subconscious.
At times, this election has demonstrated extreme ignorance and insensitivity to the plight of racial minorities in the U.S. Granted, Obama is not the descendant of African slaves but a second-generation African. But this too has proved to be a liability.
Obama’s paternal grandfather was a Muslim (his father died an atheist), which is not that surprising considering that half of Africa is still Muslim today. Since most Muslims use Arabic names (even when not Arab), he has inherited a distinctly non-Anglicized name that has proved unsettling to many. Obama himself struggled with this issue during his youth, transitioning to “Barry” Obama and back.
Of course we ignore that an Arab has been running for president for many years. Ralph Nader is of Christian Arab heritage, but hasn’t attracted nearly the same attention, possibly because he doesn’t appear as obtusely foreign.
A Scandalous Trade in Xenophobia
The United States Patent and Trademark Office rejected an application by Alexandre Batlle of Miami Beach last year to trademark the word “Obama Bin Laden.” The sections of the Trademark Act cited by the registrar included,
§ 1052. Trade-marks registrable on principal register; concurrent registration.
No trade-mark by which the goods of the applicant may be distinguished from the goods of others shall be refused registration on the principal register on account of its nature unless it –
- (a) Consists of or comprises immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter; or matter which may disparage or falsely suggest a connection with persons, living or dead…
She also cited In re McGinley, In re Mavety Group Ltd., and In re Wilcer Corp, saying,
To be considered “scandalous,” a mark must be “shocking to the sense of truth, decency or propriety…
Scandalous is determined from the standpoint of “not necessarily a majority, but a substantial composite of the general public,… and in the context of contemporary attitudes.
When Collin Powell recently endorsed Obama he affirmed that Obama is a Christian, but continued on to say,
Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America.
Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?”
Unfortunately that is America, or at least what it has become. It is not what it has to be for the future.
What is really scandalous is a survey last week indicated income disparities in America are approaching that of African nations, with one important distinction – it runs along racial lines in the U.S.
The Healing of a Nation
Beyond any of the issues above, what appeals to me the most about Obama is his position on healthcare.
I’ve worked in the health sector in the inner cities of the U.S., and seen first-hand the intersection of race and poverty, and how it affects the lives of millions of Americans, even those who are insured.
Obama’s mother died in 1995 from ovarian cancer.
When asked during the second presidential debate, “Is health care in America a privilege, a right or a responsibility?”, Obama related his mother’s story of having to fight the insurance company for coverage and said,
I think it is important for government to crack down on insurance companies that are cheating their customers.
Healthcare is not just a right, it is the most basic of rights, without which no other rights can be enjoyed.
Despite our challenges, the public system in Canada is far superior to that of the U.S., and every other industrialized nation in the world has realized the benefits of a public model.
Any attempt to even move in this direction is immediately derided as “socialism,” as if the concept was mutually exclusive from democracy, is synonymous with communism, or cannot achieve a balance with capitalism. Never mind that nothing Obama has ever said even resembles socialism, even the type we have in Canada.
Health is probably the one thing that without question we are all in together, as communicable diseases and the threat of pandemics have demonstrated. A healthy underclass ensures a productive and safe workforce, and prevents a greater burden on society in the long-term through preventative screening and health promotion.
A Plausible Hope for Real Change
I lived in the U.S. for more than half of those two terms. I saw first-hand how two unnecessary wars were started, largely though institutionalized racism and promoting xenophobia. Major areas of the world were destabilized, and the threat to safety of people everywhere, including here in Canada, increased.
More importantly, I saw how in a completely unbridled free market capitalism, significant portions of the population are ignored, shunned, and left to decay in their own desperation.
Obama represents a choice to express their frustrations through the political process instead of socially destructive behaviour, because he provides a plausible hope for real change.
Whether or not the American public will allow him to make significant change, even if elected, is something else that is entirely up for debate.