Great Expectations: Can Obama change the world?

Are our expectations of the 44th US president too high?

As the first African-American ever to hold presidential office, Barack Obama certainly already has made history, but will he be able to make the difference that many are dreaming of? Or are the expectations of his citizens and in fact the world at large simply too much for him and his administration to achieve?

Mr Obama is a striking, charismatic figure whose compelling speeches have captured the attention and support of millions, both at home in the US and further afield. His face adorns the usual t-shirts, posters, flags and banners, but he’s also inspired haircuts, paintings and, bizarrely, sets of Russian dolls.  “Obamamania” is stretching as far as China and Japan, as well as his father’s home country of Kenya, where the party has already started in earnest.

The new Mr President’s daughters will no doubt be asking him to redeem his promise to get a puppy when they move into the White House, but what do the rest of us expect and hope for from Barack Obama?

Many Americans are concerned about the economic situation, on both a global and domestic scale, as are most other countries at the moment. Other issues which are likely to be a priority are climate change, Iraq, Afghanistan, closing the Guantanamo prison camp,  improving international relations and last but not least, healthcare reform.

The BBC’s Panorama focused on the US healthcare system in its recent programme “What now, Mr President?”, and described the list of tasks which must await Mr Obama as “the inbox from hell”.

However the general mood worldwide is one of optimism, particularly in terms of US international relations and foreign policy. Europeans in particular feel that US relations with other countries will improve with Barack Obama as president – nearly 80% of those involved in a poll conducted for BBC World Service by Globescan were of this opinion. He is already perceived more favourably around the world than his predecessor, and this can only be an advantage.

The gravity of the problems that President Obama now faces would lead us to hope that we can cut him some slack and not be too impatient for him to resolve the key issues – after all, problems such as the economic downturn were not created in a few months, or even a year or two, but are the result of years or decades of decisions and factors. It will take perhaps just as long to undo what has been done, and as is sadly often the case with politics, could take more than one term of office to put right. Let’s hope Obama gets the chance to see at least some of his measures through to their conclusion during this first term of office, and then stands a good chance of a second term to put more into practice.

As millions of Americans gather to watch the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the world watches with baited breath as the man in charge of what has been called the most powerful nation on earth prepares to make his first move. Whatever he decides to do first, it is bound to mean change, and probably for the better.

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