London, UK. With less than 24 hours to go before the inauguration, I'm somewhat lost in the Presidential foreplay. From seductive portrait exhibitions of his new eclectic team of advisers to celebrity videos calling us to community action on his behalf. Plus an abundance of messages from the man himself, saying "Join me on this exciting journey" .
I'm so lost in this good feeling that I forget that this it's not me he's seducing. This is not my President! But how many people watching the spectacle around the world wish it was theirs?
Part of me thinks the Transition team has missed a trick not involving the millions of Obama fans across the globe. Before, during and after the elections polls made it clear that people all around the world were choosing Obama over McCain and actively supporting him whatever way they could through social networks and the media. It was a surprise that Obama didn't mention any commitment to the world and its citizens in his victory speech and there is every chance he won't spare us a line in his inaugural address. Heck, you can't even buy Obama merchandise without a US address. Doesn't he want a global following?
Even as I write that, I know the answer. For every world citizen yearning for a leader capable of uniting the globe - and seeing the potential in Obama -- are a million or more state nationals in each corner of the globe as fearful as ever of American imperialism. It won't do for America, even in this moment of triumph over its own historic limitations, to step over the mark.
Eager to connect, yet not overbearing -- it will be as difficult a line to tread as ever. Amongst the excited headlines repeated across continents following the appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State was "Hillary Ushers in a New Era of Soft Power". Although that was later downgraded to 'smart power' -- the balance of hard and soft -- a commitment to new ways of acting in the world was clear. Following eight years of relentless hard power responses to global events -- Bush's War on Terror - Obama's new foreign policy team was chosen for their proven willingness to consider diplomatic solutions first.
"While Bush favoured aggressive neoconservative ideologues, Obama has selected people whose doveish credentials seem impeccable"
The Guardian, Jan 11, 2009
In her interview with the Senate , Hillary said:
"America cannot solve the most pressing problems on our own, and the world cannot solve them without America"
For global watchers, this hasn't come a moment too soon. In the days since, the number of articles on soft power around the world have increased dramatically (see www.softpowernetwork.com).
But was Hillary hitting the mark when, with her next breath she added:
"I believe American leadership has been wanting, but is still wanted"?
Is soft power just another form of American dominance? It's a moot point. When Joseph Nye first coined the term, he himself was ambivalent
"Soft power is the ability to get what you want through attraction rather than coercion"
In Nye's view, this was often achieved by having the most attractive goods - music, technology, McDonalds. He also cites the export of American values -- democracy and what Obama called "the allure of our ideals". But for many, this does not signify change -- America was always keen to export its values.
Yet, hidden within the phrase 'power of attraction' is another idea - America developing itself as a nation that models the ways of being it seeks in others. Not the nation that brings peace, but the nation that is peaceful and hence inspires, reflects, attracts peace. If you think that is a step too far and I am now completely delusional -- ask yourself what Obama was thinking when he chose Gandhi's most famous utterance as his inaugural slogan. Be The Change you wish to see.
Arianna got this when she asked all Americans, instead of simply watching their new president get sworn in, to "Be the Change" and take the oath themselves. The Transition Team has been pursuing this ever since the election, urging all those that voted Obama to continue taking action in their local community and not wait for central government to do it all. If Obama and his team want to "be the change they wish to see" on a global level - shaping a more benign and creative globalisation -- then they need to work hard to find ways to solve conflicts without the threat of violence. This way, the globe would not so much get leadership from America, but it would get something it craves even more -- it would get companionship.
So even if Obama is not looking at us when he puts his hand on that Bible on Tuesday, we'll be looking at him. For now at least, those of us who can see in this moment the possibility of global change, will count ourselves in and celebrate wherever we are.