On November 4, 2008, Barack Hussein Obama, 47, breaking the age-old racial barriers, became the first Afro-American to be elected to the office of the President of the USA by winning majority both in the electoral college [349 electoral votes out of 538] and in popular votes [52 per cent of votes cast] defeating his main Republican rival Senator John Sidley McCain. Obama polled about 63.8 million votes and McCain polled 56.36 million votes. McCain got only 163 electoral votes. There were 255 other candidates too for the US Presidency. Obama will be the 44th President of the USA with effect from January 20, 2009. President George Bush had won just 271 electoral votes in 2000 and, 286 votes in 2004. Ronald Regan had won 525 electoral votes in 1984, and, Nixon had won 520 electoral votes out of 538 votes in 1972.
Democratic Party has won majority both in the Senate and in the House of Representatives. So far it has gained 19 seats in the House of Representatives and five seats in the Senate over its strength in the previous Congress. So the President as well as the Congress both will be Democrats this time. Democrats have given a body blow to the Republican Party.
Obama'sbattle theme of ?change that we need? appealed all sections of American voters cutting across race, age and classes as all sections of Americans are hit badly by housing crisis and failing banks. News in September and October of falling Dow Jones, and stories that the US economic crisis was going to be worse than 1929 Great Depression electorally helped Obama. Obama rode high on the popular discontent against policies of Republican President George Bush, especially against US deployment in Iraq and sagging US economy. Lehman Brothers, a big investment bank filed for bankruptcy on September 14 and by the time McCain responded on September 24, a public image of McCain had been framed of an ?erratic old Republican? who could not be trusted to handle a crisis, economic or otherwise. In context of subprime housing crisis McCain could not quickly reply how many houses he owned. No wonder from September onwards graph of Obama in opinion polls again started looking up.
Obama consistently maintained that within 18 months of taking office he will withdraw all US forces from Iraq in phased manner whereas McCain asserted that he would keep US forces in Iraq for hundred years till victory was achieved. McCain was thus seen as a war-monger who could get US involved in military conflict with Iran too. In any case bulk of Americans never saw any material advantage in Bush invading Iraq and maintaining US forces there.
The main reason of Obama'shistoric success has been his ?consistent and persistent line of political attack on his Republican rival that McCain would represent third term for failed policies of George Bush. Obama maintained this line of attack till his last campaign rally at Manassas [Nov 3]: ?McCain has stood with President Bush every step of the way.? Other reasons are internet linking of Obama campaign with common ordinary voters, better planning, better political strategy and strict discipline & secrecy among campaign staffers.
Like Hillary Clinton?s, McCain campaign also suffered with bickering among staffers, lack of funds and lack of ideas & strategy to politically pin down Obama. McCain supporters started hinting about Islamic roots of Obama but it was done half heartedly, in blow hot blow cold manner. At a rally in Florida on November 1 Sarah Palin supporters had raised slogans: ?John McCain! Not Hussein!? If it was decided to hint about Obama'sIslamic past, the simplest and legally correct way was to mention every time full name of Obama by all members of McCain campaign including McCain himself.
McCain campaign tried to portray Obama as a ?socialist? and a ?pall? of terrorists but again it was done too late and half-heartedly. At Blountville, Tennessee, McCain said: ?Obama is in the far left lane of American politics and he is stuck there.? McCain started attacking Obama on substantive economic matters the main concern of many voters very late in the race. McCain started alleging very late that Obama would raise taxes if elected.
McCain did not enjoy support of the rank and file of his Republican Party. Within the party he was seen as a liberal. Grassroot Republicans doubted commitment of McCain to core principles of the Republican Party.
In the wake of rough treatment to Hillary Clinton in the Democratic Party, it was a master stroke on part of McCain to have picked up a woman as his Vice Presidential mate but he should have selected a more experienced one as McCain was himself pointing at ?inexperience? of Obama.
The basic mantra of any successful electoral platform is to raise only those issues on which the ?leader? and others consistently and persistently speak in one voice with full force to the extent of saturation otherwise not to raise such an issue at all. Blow hot and blow cold discredits the campaign and weakens it. This golden mantra was often broken by myopic strategists of Hillary Clinton and McCain.
Obama without seeking public funding collected $750 million to run his campaign. McCain got only $84 million from public funds and another $240 million was raised by the Republican Party. Because of the nature of the Electoral College map, McCain actually challenged Obama in fewer states than Hillary Clinton did; then he gave Obama the unexpected gift of pulling out of the expensive battleground of Michigan in early October. With overflowing funds Obama stationed his volunteers in states traditionally considered to be ?Republican? and won victories in those states also.
Addressing the Indian-American community in early 2008 Obama said: ?He believes that India is a natural partner for America in the 21st century and that the US should be working with India on a range of critical issues from preventing terrorism to promoting peace and stability in Asia… And that is why I will move forward to build a close strategic partnership between the US and India when I am President of the United States.? One may expect the Obama Administration not upsetting ?strategic? elements of the Indo-US relations which started taking shape during the Bush Presidency.
Obama has publicly opposed outsourcing of jobs which in his eyes amounts to shipping out American jobs. He has promised to renegotiate NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] so as to prevent shipping out of Americans? jobs and factories abroad. He has also promised to remove tax concessions to those US companies which ship out jobs. Therefore, Obama administration will be more protectionist adversely affecting employment opportunities of Indian professionals as well as Indian exporters.
Obama has publicly committed to ?snuff out? Osama bin Laden and go whole heartedly for Al Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries in Afghanistan/Pakistan. Obama has been criticising Bush'sIraq policy for diverting US forces to Iraq without first totally defeating Al Qaeda & Taliban in Afghanistan. So during Obama administration one may expect increased activity of US/NATO in Afghanistan/Pakistan. And Pakistan may use this opportunity to plead good offices of US in resolving Kashmir issue with India so that Pakistan could focus on eliminating Al Qaeda elements. On question of ?solve Kashmir first? attitude of Obama friction may develop with India.
Obama in his article in the Foreign Affairs (July 2007) has written: ?I will join with our allies in insisting not simply requesting that Pakistan crack down on the Taliban, pursue Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants, and end its relationship with all terrorist groups. At the same time, I will encourage dialogue between Pakistan and India to work towards resolving their dispute over Kashmir and between Afghanistan and Pakistan to resolve their differences and develop the Pashtun border region. If Pakistan can look towards the east (India) with confidence, it will be less likely to believe its interests are best advanced through cooperation with the Taliban.?
As the Obama administration prepares Pakistan and Afghanistan to isolate terrorists, Taliban and Al Qaeda, it will be tempting, for Democrats to push a ?Kashmir solution? as a carrot for Pakistan to undertake tougher actions in its frontier provinces on its northwestern border. Already Pakistan Army Chief Ashfaq Kiyani has played this card and told US generals that he cannot concentrate whole-heartedly on two borders simultaneously.
Concerns over Pakistan'ssensitivities had ceased to be an inhibiting factor in the Bush administration while formulating US policies towards India. This may undergo unwelcome change under the Obama administration which may try to re-hyphenate India with Pakistan.
India could expect more active cooperation with the Obama Administration in fighting terrorism.
Obama has strong views on non-proliferation, which was evidenced by two killer amendments he had moved in the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee while approving the infamous Hyde Act. In this Committee he had suggested [Senate Amendment 5169] that supply of nuclear fuel to India should be actual need based of an imported nuclear reactor [Section 103(b) (10) of the Hyde Act] so that India is not able to create its strategic reserves from imported fuel. Obama also suggested ensuring that US should not facilitate nuclear exports by other countries to India if such US exports were terminated. This second Obama amendment is reflected in Section 102(13) of the Hyde Act. One may expect renewed pressure from the Obama Administration for India to sign CTBT and the Fissile Material cut-off Treaty. Non-proliferation ayatollahs of Democratic leanings may give openings to India to get out of the unequal 123 agreement.
Obama is an admirer of Mahatma Gandhi. Obama wrote in an article, ?In my life, I have always looked to Mahatma Gandhi as an inspiration, because he embodied the kind of transformational change that can be made when ordinary people come together to do extraordinary things. That is why his portrait hangs in my Senate office; to remind me that real results will not just come from Washington, they will come from the people.?
Democratic US Presidents have in general been ?less? friendly to India than Republican Presidents. Only time will tell whether Obama would be able to reverse this trend.
As Obama is a coloured person his election has aroused emotions and expectations among a vast majority of people from developing countries, especially from Africa that the US under him will be more fair and equitable. Muslim world also has high expectations from him. Let us wish Obama all successes in meeting just aspiration of the people of developing world. Let the people from other countries too feel the ?change? promised by Obama.
[The writer retired in the rank of Secretary to the Govt of India in the Indian Foreign Service (1971 batch). He has served as Ambassador to Finland, Estonia, Jamaica, Tunisia and Tanzania and; as Consul General, Dubai and Birmingham (UK).]