Barack Obama

US needs to move on from the Bush years

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 November, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 November, 2008, 12:00am

Americans vote for a new president today with history to be made, no matter which of the main candidates - the Republican Party's John McCain or the Democrats' Barack Obama - is elected. Opinion polls overwhelmingly tip the latter, who would be the first African-American to hold the office. If the former were to win, he would be the oldest contender to take the presidency. Whichever is the victor, we hope that the era of change both men claim their election will usher in for the US, and the world, quickly comes to pass.

The US lost many friends around the world during Republican George W. Bush's eight years as president. His policies and directives have turned the nation from being a benign and respected global leader to a unilateral-minded power with a reputation for having scant regard for international law, sovereignty and basic rights. The pillars of the American way - the US economy, military and morality - were shattered. In their place, as the Bush presidency comes to an end, are mistrust, insecurity and economic meltdown.

Senators McCain and Obama have, in consequence, had much to campaign on. At first, during the long months of state primaries and caucuses, debates and speeches, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq took centre stage. These quickly gave way to domestic issues such as social security and taxes. But it is the financial crisis that resulted from the credit crunch and collapse of the housing market that has driven the final weeks of electioneering.

The US is known as the world's superpower for good reason: its cultural, economic, military and political might is such that decisions made in Washington can easily have a global impact. This has been clearly shown with the financial crisis, which threatens to mire much of the developed world in recession. No country is immune - even China, which has intentionally shielded itself from complete global economic integration, is hurting. As stock markets the world over plunge, unemployment figures rise and personal financial prospects worsen, the world turns to the source of the trouble - the US - for guidance and salvation.

It is these circumstances that the next American president, no matter what his ethnic origins, age or the experience of his running mate, has to immediately contend with. Two wars and the anti-Americanism and financial drain they are causing will also be high on the agenda. Where Asia is concerned, the presidential hopefuls do not differ much on the region's diplomatic and security challenges. Their variance on issues such as China, North Korea, Afghanistan and Pakistan has been largely a matter of style and tone. They have, however, had a vastly different stance on trade, with Senator Obama speaking of protectionism and Senator McCain firmly adhering to his long pro-trade track record. Nonetheless, it is good that neither resorted to the China-bashing of previous campaigns - both are keenly aware of the need for relations to be carefully nurtured.

There are only subtle differences as to how each would tackle the war in Iraq, Iran's stubbornness on nuclear proliferation, the perennial conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians, Georgia, Cuba and the like. Beyond economics and foreign policy, there are a myriad of domestic issues that need tackling. Opinion surveys plainly show Americans believe Senator Obama is the best placed to take on the job. If he is elected, he has to start work immediately by choosing people for his cabinet with the credentials to find solutions, implement them and put the US back on a steady course.

At present, the US is sickly and dispirited. The change that senators McCain and Obama have promised is sorely needed. It has been mapped out to varying degrees of succinctness by both, but must have the same result no matter who wins: a clean break with the Bush presidency.