For Which It Stands: Worldview


Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America, and ascended to what is truly the first global presidency.

And in one of the more powerful moments of the speech, he spoke directly to the world:

"...And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more."

And in this historic moment, as many as 2 billion people from every corner of the world tuned in or linked in via the internet to hear Obama's words about the “hope” he promised to Americans, and the hope the whole world has that America might live up to its greatest ideals.

"Those ideals still light the world and we will not give them up for expediency's sake," he added with some edge in his voice as the CNN cameras turned to President George W. Bush listening to words that seemed on some level directed at the outgoing administration.

It seemed an unmistakable part of the day that there was an eagerness to say goodbye to the last eight years.

"Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America," Obama said.

And there is indeed an enormous task ahead. This presidency perhaps more than any in history comes with extraordinarily high expectations. Obama has vowed to change or “reboot,” as he put it, the way America deals with the world and in so doing the way the world deals with America.

But there are many observers all over the world who believe these expectations for change — from climate change to controlling AIDS in Africa, from terrorism to tariffs on trade — will be virtually impossible for the new president to live up to.

And based on the work of our GlobalPost correspondents in the field it seems that in many corners of the world, it was quickly becoming apparent that not every place in the world chose to bask in the warm glow that enveloped the national mall in Washington, D.C. where nearly 2 million people gathered to witness history.

To gauge those expectations, GlobalPost’s 65 correspondents in some 45 countries have set out in this series “For Which It Stands” to listen to people in the countries they cover and to document what this day means for them. And all day they filed into what we call "Reporter's Notebooks," which are essentially blogs in search of a better name.

These live reports from the field offered a fascinating glimpse into how the world views Obama and America in this moment of history.

There was joy in the Kenyan village from which Obama's father hails

There was a welcoming spirit in Afghanistan, but one that looks warily toward a very uncertain future.

In Zimbabwe, those suffering under the dicatorship of Mugabe could barely look up to see the hope Obama might hold. And, predictably, the Mugabe government continued its sniping against Obama.

In Gaza, Palestinians emerging from the rubble of a three-week Israeli offensive were largely unaware of the event with the blockade they have been living under and the incredible devastation that has occured around them.

In China, the inauguration took place in the dead of night and there was very little recognition of the event or excitement. But the Chinese certainly expressed a sober recognition that Obama faces extraordinary challenges in confronting a global economic crisis.

The work of our correspondents in recent weeks also revealed that people across Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe all feel Obama is one of their own. And in so many ways, he is.
In Ireland, relations from the village of Monegal on his mother’s side have transformed the spelling of his name to O’Bama and a catchy, new Irish song proclaims, “There’s no one as Irish as Barack O’Bama!”

In the Arab world, Obama’s Muslim middle name has become the basis for a term of endearment. They call him “Abu Hussein,” a moniker which would roughly translate as “Papa Handsome."

In Indonesia, school kids giggle with glee before television cameras there to record the same classroom where the next president once sat as a school child and took his lessons in the Koran just as they do now.

In Venezuela, there is a new name for a cup of black coffee mixed with cream, the “Obama.” Such a remark might smack of racism in another country. But in Venezuela, a place of many races and a sophisticated understanding of shades of white, black and brown, it is meant as a compliment to the president, an assertion that he is a kindred soul for Venezuelans.

And yes, in Kansas they celebrate Obama as a native son as well.

His American grounding in Kansas seems almost secondary to his experience in the world.

When Obama is sworn in today, millions of Americans will watch, but the event will be viewed via satellite dishes in small villages in Kenya, on static-filled televisions in crowded alleys in Jakarta, in cafes across Europe and in the sprawling apartment blocks of Beijing.

The world looks on at this event with some sense of what would have to be called envy, a recognition that America has an extraordinary ability to rewrite its own history, to correct its course and to reengage with the world and work to change an image of America that has been badly tarnished in the last eight years.

But at the end of the day, Obama is the president of the United States, not the world. And that reality will inevitably confront him very soon.

It will no doubt be an extraordinarily difficult task for this administration to manage down the expectations the world holds for Obama.

With an economic downturn not seen since the Great Depression, he may not be able to fund levels of relief for AIDS in Africa that President Bush has proposed.

With a need to turn his attention to Afghanistan and begin his promised draw down of troops in Iraq, it is not certain that he will be able to focus his diplomatic efforts on the boiling tensions of the Israelis and Palestinians anytime soon.

The domestic needs for energy may undercut his promises to address global concerns on climate change.

And so these questions loom large before Obama as he enters the Oval Office: If he truly is the first global president, will his worldwide constituents be patient with his promise for change? And will he ever be able to live up to all that the world expects from the United States of America?

And he stated with clear conviction his view of how he will project American leadership in the world:

"To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West - know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your first."

"To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world's resources without regard to effect."

"For the world has changed and we must change with it."

Editor's note: This dispatch was updated throughout the Obama inauguration.