Is Senator Barack Obama now the leading candidate for President? Why is he so close in defeating a candidate, Senator Hillary Clinton, who had the benefit of the Democratic Party establishment, her husbandâ€™s popular legacy and who is an intelligent, capable as well as political trend setter? Can Barack Hussein Obama actually win the Presidency and what could it mean for Bosnia & Herzegovina and global relations.
South Carolina is only one medium sized state, but its primary confirms the Obama phenomena a few weeks earlier signaled by the caucus results in Iowa. New Hampshire represented a setback for him and the strength of the Clinton brand name. Florida, for the Democrats at least, was a non-race, whose consequences appear meaningless until we se see the decisive impact of the multiple state primaries, including New York and California, on â€œSuper Tuesday,â€ February 5, 2008. However, it is Senator Barack Hussein Obama who is perceived as the rejuvenation of the American promise of inclusiveness regardless of his position on any particular issue.
After the Iowa caucus, the rhetorical and demographic foundation of Senator Obamaâ€™s victory was defined by the word â€œchange.â€ However, it was not just the term that Obama was credited with verbally launching like numerous charges on the establishment fortress. The change was also in the demographics of the voters. Obama is not a â€œblackâ€ candidate.
The Iowa caucus saw unprecedented numbers of previously inactive voters come out, from first time young voters to self-professed independents. The trend was followed in New Hampshire and, now, especially South Carolina. In the past, these were profiled as the loud moaners, but deemed and shown not very inclined to convert their complaints into votes when their time and resources were called upon, especially in the crawl of intra-party politics.
Obama also won with many or majority of women in several of the states, even running against a well respected female political veteran. Senator Hillary Clinton only won with voters of over 65 and above, the establishment backbone.
However, the most telling demographic to me was the man in the red turban in a campaign stop in New Hampshire, several weeks ago where he narrowly lost. Obama, as is his custom, was not surrounded on the stage with his establishment backers, and he does have a few. Rather, the background to Obamaâ€™s campaign speeches is a spectrum of his ordinary supporters. They tend to be younger, more casually dressed and more diverse in appearance, even if proportionally more educated.
The older gentleman in the red turban was dressed in white shirt and matching red tie, wore a graying beard, and by his dress, apparently was a Sikh. This gentleman was not a personification of the radical left. In fact, in many inner cities in America, the recent immigrant and the African-American were frequently competing for the more limited resources of these economic deserts. A Sikh loudly cheering a Black American candidate with a Muslim name is a revelation. (Some may confuse Sikhs with Muslims because of turban stereotyping).
The man in the red turban came out for Obama because Barack Hussein would stand for him.
When Obama talks of â€œchange,â€ he does not necessarily speak in great detail about the programs or policies that would be the change of this transformation. His political opponents criticize his campaign for this apparent lack of substance. They miss the fact that the â€œchangeâ€ is in the simple fact that Obama in person represents the most fundamental turnaround from the current trend of exclusion and fear of the â€œotherâ€. Obamaâ€™s skin color and background do not fit the conformism, but his climb is as American as Ellis Island.
However, this is not a case of dumb luck. There have been other minority candidates. If you listened to Obamaâ€™s victory speech after Iowa as well as South Carolina, the word by which he differentiated himself, or more accurately defined the campaign of his opponents, especially the Republicans and the current Bush administration is â€œfear.â€ Obama also embraced the battle against terrorism but did not identify the enemy by religion or ethnicity nor did he demand greater prerogatives at the expense of Americaâ€™s civil and inclusive society. In his message, he echoed Franklin D. Rooseveltâ€™s caution: fear is Americaâ€™s most dangerous enemy.
Clinton – Obama
Maybe a few Sikhs, or Hindus or Jews or Christians or whomever are not too unhappy in the association promoted by some between Islam, terrorism and fear. Muslims projected as the outsiders of American society, if not necessarily as potential terrorists, may seem agreeable to some or many. However, most recognize that their red turbans, or beaver hats, or accent, or slightly darker skin, or just funny sounding names could quickly transform them into the outsider.
The American political pendulum undoubtedly has begun to swing back to the left. For the Hillary Clinton of her husbandâ€™s first term in office, 92-96, this would have been good news. She was then a raw political brawler for national health care and was perceived as left of her husband. However, from that bruising battle Hillary was convinced that expediency dictated her drift right and more ambiguity in her campaign stumps.
The swing of the pendulum back has caught Hillary flat footed. Is it too late?
Senator John Edwards has now dropped out. He should have, though, benefited most from the drift back to the left. However, John is straddled with the legacy of 2004â€™s lost opportunity with Kerry. Even Senator John Kerry has now endorsed Obama.
Governor Bill Richardson, a colleague from when he and I served at the United Nations and a man with a good measure of himself and management of his ego, a novelty in politics, has dropped out. However, after the Democratic Convention he may have another role as Vice Presidential candidate with Latino roots, one of Obamaâ€™s more evident vulnerabilities.
Hillary Clinton complains that Obama speaks of change, but actually offers little concrete in terms of proposals. It does not matter. The voters are not focused on the specifics of proposals for change as they see a candidate who by his person and presentation embodies change. The more that Obamaâ€™s opponents speak the word â€œchange,â€™ the more voters see Obama rather than hear words. However, maybe it is the â€œfearâ€ that Obama rejects that sets him apart. While others speak in more or less subtle terms of what Americans should fear, Obama speaks of fear itself as the potentially greatest enemy to America as well as the values upon which its strength is based.
McCain is Now Clear Leader After Florida
After Obamaâ€™s victory in Iowa, Republicans started to also adopt the slogan â€œchange,â€ as mantra. Sen. John McCain, Gov. Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Gov. Mike Huckabee and Ron Paul were in a five way food fight. However, there is not so much a promise of change as they are trying to convince the Republican base that they will lead in the same direction with the fresh face and enthusiasm. The Republican base still supports President Bushâ€™s political agenda, just not the execution. Most of the candidates dare not stray too far from the script: conservative social values, terrorism, immigration. Some throw around the term â€œIslamo-fascismâ€ as to prove their credentials.
While Florida was technically disqualified from providing voting delegates for the Democratic Convention, on the Republican side Senator John McCain is the clear leader for nomination after his victory there. He was counted for lost only a couple of months ago. However, for the second time, he has come out of the hole. The first time was thirty more years ago when he finally walked out of a Hanoi prison, after his fighter plane had been shot down years earlier. McCain is not a very polished campaigner, but he is a survivor. That means a lot, perseverance, in any effort. When you are an American war hero, it is the stuff that political careers are made of.
Senator McCain has the opportunity to bring together a Republican Party caught-up in its own ever more petty divisions and contradictions. The rhetoric of most Republican candidates had been the kind of food fight where America starts to look splattered by the debris. How does one become more American by appealing to un-American ideals?
Unlike maybe in most â€œold-worldâ€ states, no one can really claim to be the authentic American, except the Native American, and they have not received the respect or due as the â€œreal.â€ The term â€œcowboyâ€ may be directed by European intellectuals as an insult at some American leaders, but it is also a misnomer. This is a misrepresentation of, if not slur upon cowboys. Cowboys were envisioned as the libertarian ideal of individualists, non-conformists. That is the contrary of what has been recently marketed to the frightened segment of the American populace. Republicans used to be the home of the libertarian and the defender of the open society; however that segment has been pushed aside. Some see Senator McCain as a return.
In the early 1990â€™s I engaged in a few debates with him, including CNN, on the role America should play in Bosnia & Herzegovina. Sen. McCain argued that the US had no strategic interest in BiH. However, after impulsively questioning my right to American identity while also representing BiH, Senator McCain soon afterwards called me personally to apologize for his intimation that somehow I was less American. That left an impression upon me: that a US war hero would correct himself and respect my American identity that came from a rather different background from his own. It left upon me the belief that Senator McCain would promote a more open society even if not see BiH as directly linked to Americaâ€™s strategic interests. On the other hand, I am concerned to what extent will Senator McCain succumb to a small Republican core pumping out a rhetoric of fear and exclusion.
The problem with fear and exclusionism as a strategy to win votes is that it only goes so far before it has no more supporters to consume, especially in a society based on multi-ethnic and multi-religious blocks. Until we get to the Native American core, no one else can really securely claim to be the real American to the exclusion of all others.
In 2000, George W. Busch gained over 2/3 of the Muslim voters in the United States. Most Muslim voters were voting their conservative social values, largely shared with the religious right, (mostly Christian but also other religions). Promiscuity and homosexuality was the outsider.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Americans of various Muslim backgrounds felt painted with one crude brush. Whether they liked it or not, they were peeled away in a rather uncouth tug at their very notion of belonging to America, and vice versa. Many from the traditional open-minded Jewish community to the Sikh in the red turban understood that they could be next, also challenged by the onion core as to their belonging.
Senator McCain can win by appealing mostly to the Republican core and he could still win if enough of the 30%, plus or minus, of the core end up voting and ultimately compromising 50.1% of the actual voters. This is a proven winning strategy over the last couple of years, as long as no more than 50% citizens actually come out to vote. That had been increasingly the tendency in American elections, until maybe now. The Republican nominee had to more concern himself with getting the core to the polls rather than winning over new converts.
Obama may be the most problematic enigma for the Republicans. He is reversing the trend of lower voter turnout with an appeal to idealism that could sound to many more patriotic than pleas to the fear of the other. On the other hand, Senator McCain could be the best Republican challenger, appealing to enough of the core and independent voters, with his cowboy maverick image and secure status as military hero.
The New York Times calls Obamaâ€™s appeal â€œUnity through Diversity.â€ The consequences, though, are also more practical. Obama is not building a core but a continuum. Obama has brought in new voters in all the primaries. That is where the Obama continuum starts to saturate the peeling onion.
Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the assassinated President John F. Kennedy, has just now endorsed Obama. If the voters did not already have it in mind, she has consciously compared here fatherâ€™s breakthrough as Americaâ€™s first Catholic President and personal dynamism to the current campaign and person of Barack Obama. Camelot may be a myth, but capturing peopleâ€™s imagination can convert into real votes.
There are some myths that also fuel Obamaâ€™s rise. His presentation is decisive, but his political record is not necessarily. He is not the most liberal in a political pendulum swinging back and rapidly left. His speeches are delivered with the great oratory rhythm of Kennedy and MLK, Jr.; however his political record does not necessarily reflect their priorities. Obama is not anti-establishment as much as Hillary Clinton has been embraced by it. Obama is attracting new â€œpolitical veteransâ€ into his camp, most recently the former Presidential candidate and New Jersey Senator, Bill Bradley. Obama does not speak of specific proposals, but then why should he if that is not the expectation of the voters in hearing his message.
Obama had been projected by some, including Sen. Clinton, as the least capable of winning in November. Actually, exactly the opposite seems to be true. Hillary Clinton has also a strong core of supporters, but almost maybe even more committed column of detractors. In Iowa, it has been shown that when voters were compelled to move beyond their first choice candidate, Hillary Clinton was much less selected than Barack Obama. Further, Hillary Clinton may have only a limited upside in new support compared to the rising mythology and reality of Obama. Against Senator McCain, Senator Hillary Clinton will have trouble securing what seemed like an almost inevitable victory for Democrats, and her, only a couple of months ago.
Anthony Lake was President Bill Clintonâ€™s National Security Adviser during the first term, 93-96. He is Obamaâ€™s chief foreign policy adviser. He is a gentleman who he speaks in restrained tones but who is confident in his talents and instincts. In Dayton, he was the person I took most seriously, both in terms of consequences and promises.
In one of our longer conversations sitting on the stairs of the Metropolitan Museum at the end of President Bill Clintonâ€™s reception, he won my respect for his frankness: Despite public statements of some to the contrary, he offered that religious labels did play against the â€œBosnian Muslimsâ€ from 1992-95. I respected that he was cognizant of the stereotypes while others did not want to admit, or worse, did not even recognize within them.
Samantha Power has also advised the Obama camp on foreign policy. She has been writer, activist and now lecturer/professor at Harvard, but I met her when she was Ambassador Mort Abramowitzâ€™s intern at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, at the outset of the conflict in the former Yugoslavia. Power has been active on Dafur and written books and articles on the Rwanda and Bosnian genocides, not losing the connection between the murders and policy under the Bill Clinton Administration. Her conclusions on Rwanda and particularly Srebrenica suggest acquiescence in the least, a similar view to mine. However, do not judge Power to be an idealist. Her insight is sharp while her words are expeditious and with political purpose.
My former colleague as UN Ambassador and the Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, and my Dayton counterpart Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, are both in Hillary Clintonâ€™s camp. Unusual partnership, since on a personal and frequently political level they were not on the same theme. Even more unusual, since Lake and Albright were personally much closer than either was to Holbrooke. Maybe the alliance was forged on old loyalty in the case of Albright and opportunism and expectation of yet unattained titles for Richard Holbrooke. Regardless, if Hillary Clinton is defeated by Barack Obama and returns to safe-harbor in the Senate, it is a bit of a guess, but I would expect Albright to end up on the Obama battleship and Holbrooke to end up in a different life raft.
Ambassador Albright has many doors open, without having to pry. She is a more sincere friend of Bosnia & Herzegovina. As with many of the old Clinton team, Iâ€™m concerned about the connection to the mistakes of that Administration in SE Europe that some or many are unwilling to accept as part of their responsibility. Nonetheless, while Ambassador Albright has not publicly backed off her support for the Dayton Accords, she was neither an architect of such nor the deals with Milosevic, Mladic and Karadzic that betrayed Srebrenica and Zepa and ultimately made Dayton complementary to Milosevicâ€™s agenda. Albrightâ€™s old friend and sometime mentor, Tony Lake, may find her a true and experienced molder of an Obama multilateral and bilateral approach to US allies and international institutions.
Holbrooke pointed to Tony Lake, in an interview with the French writer, Sylvie Matton, as the official that gave him the â€œinstructions to sacrifice Srebrenica, Gorazde and Zepa.â€ I have my doubts about the nature of such instructions, in view of my knowledge of the events of the time, and have little doubt about the executor and architect of such policy. Regardless, Srebrenica and Zepa were â€œsacrificed,â€ betrayed, and Iâ€™m certain that Tony Lake does not appreciate being handed Holbrookeâ€™s hot potato. That may be an act of personal expediency or panic, but does not signal a relationship of confidence on the same foreign policy team.
Samantha Power could well end up being the rising star. She has none of the skeletons of the previous Democratic Administration. She has made few enemies while making an impression as perceptive and principled. Shrewd is not necessarily a talent normally associated with a journalist/writer/lecturer, but then Samantha Power has been into a new phase before most noticed it.
Regardless of political views and affiliation, Bosnian/Herzegovinians, Bosniaks who have recently become US citizens, must get out and vote. This is your chance to be heard as Americans and as those with deep links to Bosnia & Herzegovina and its future as an equal partner with US and Euro-Atlantic family. We, old and new immigration must be recognized as a significant, if not decisive voting block.