January 20, 2009
Barack Obama will be sworn in as America’s 44th president later today. He is the first African-American to become President and expectations of him are monstrously high not just in America but around the world which is reflected in the astonishing fact that 2 million people are expected in Washington and millions more will watch the inauguration ceremony around the world. Not since the release of Nelson Mandela has there been such expectations placed on a politician and managing these will be Obama’s first challenge. And after today’s pomp and pageantry, Obama will have to deal with a bulging domestic and international in tray with the US economy, Afghanistan, Iraq, the Middle East and Iran needing urgent attention.
Today also marks the end of the Bush Presidency which to say the least has been tumultuous. He leaves the US economy in a mess and also leaves several outstanding foreign policy issues that have defined his presidency including his ‘war on terror.’ Leaving the merits or otherwise of Bush’s foreign policy to one side, Obama has a great deal of work to do to ensure the US is viewed in a positive light around the world after Bush’s unmitigated PR disaster during his eight years in charge. If Obama succeeds in dealing with this one goal, he’ll have done remarkable well.
December 16, 2008
Muntadar al-Zaidi, the shoe throwing journalist has become a mini celebrity in Iraq and support for him is rising while he remains in custody. George Bush’s response to the shoes being hurled at him was to tell a pathetically weak joke about the size of the shoes which summed up his clumsiness in dealing with all matters relating to Iraq.
Had the shoes been thrown at Tony Blair, I suspect he would have responded by saying that it was only due to the removal of Saddam Hussein and his regime that a journalist could throw a shoe at a visiting head of state and not end up being killed by state police along with the rest of his family. He would have added that while many disagreed with the war in Iraq, at least there was enough freedom now for a journalist to attend a press conference and express his view regardless of the manner in which he chooses to do so. Blair would have called for al-Zaidi to be released immediately and in the best case scenario would have invited him to a meeting in front of the cameras to discuss his concerns with al-Zaidi probably ending up apologising for his actions.
Perhaps I am being too kind to Blair but he certainly would have had the nous to defuse this incident instead of the way Bush and the Iraqi Government have responded and allowed it to escalate with allegations now of al-Zaidi’s mistreatment by the security forces and thousands marching to demand his immediate release.