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Cosa temo, cosa spero, cosa consiglio. Pensierini d'autore per Obama


A new, young, African-American president opens a fresh political era in the United States and the world. openDemocracy authors offer their thoughts

Paul Rogers, professor, Bradford University


1 That the Barack Obama administration takes immediate and sustained action on climate change


2 That it is unable to break free of past policy on Israel and Afghanistan


3 Play it long, but don't forget you have a much more substantial honeymoon period than is usual - use it.


Ehsan Masood, journalist with Nature, London


1 Visionary leadership, and some fresh thinking - ok, so that's two things


2 A younger man full of idealism, overwhelmed by voices of caution and the scourge of special interests


3 Remember that what is good for the planet as a whole is also good for America.


Paul Gilroy, professor, LSE


1 That Obama will tell the Israeli government to release Marwan Barghouti


2 That the Israeli government will not listen


3 Read up on the history of the British empire's overthrow and collapse so that he can understand why releasing Barghouti might be helpful.


Emily Lau, Hong Kong legislator


1 That President Obama can bring peace to the middle east and the rest of the troubled world by healing the wounds caused by misguided policies. That his administration can introduce policies which will seek to eradicate the deep-seated hatred which has built up over the years, hatred which makes people willing to sacrifice their lives in order to get even. I hope the president can show a more humane and humanitarian face of America, win more friends and make fewer enemies


2 That some people in the United States may not like the new president and do nasty things to him


3. Lead the American people towards adopting a new lifestyle that is more frugal and less wasteful. It is time for Americans to learn the meaning of sustainable development, to stop exploiting limited resources, to remember that tens of millions of people live in abject poverty - and be thankful for what they have got.


John Hulsman, scholar-in-residence, German Council on Foreign Relations


1 Barack Obama's seeming genius in using symbolism suggests that he comprehends his (and his compatriots') place in the overall story of the American experience. Through his using the Lincoln bible for the inauguration, to tracing the great emancipator's steps on his rail journey to Washington, to his trip to Philadelphia to pay his respects to John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, Obama truly seems to know and feel that we Americans are part of this larger, more glorious narrative, and that we must try (and surely we will fall short) to live up to it. This is precisely what President Bush had no feel for, making his descent into constitutional shredding far easier. If one doesn't value America's great example, why should it matter? Obama seems to truly value the American past as a guide for America's future; that is what I hope for


2 Democrats in the United States, and the left in general, are wonderful at grasping the many facets of problems. They have proven less able to separate those policy goals that are essential to grapple with and solve from those that it would merely be nice to deal with; by being fixated on the complexity of things, the left tends to lack judgment about their relative importance. The results are policy laundry-lists that take the place of making genuine choices. Amid the multiple crises confronting the United States, I fear for Obama that his immediate advisors may revert to this dangerous habit


3 Instead of a laundry-list that squanders both your great promise and your current popularity, focus on a very few things. The first (and second, and third) should be the economic crisis - this is why you were elected, and the best immediate way you can help the country and the world. However, you also have a chance to set the parameters for a new era; the time you live in may not be of your choosing, but how it evolves can, to some extent, be determined by your administration. Whatever the foreign- policy issue, whatever the immediate, keep this larger strategic point in mind: you will be the first president to lead America in this new age of multipolarity. Enticing the rising powers to be part of the new order, making them status-quo powers defending efforts at global governance - and not revolutionary powers out to destroy it - is the task history has set you. This broader imperative should always guide you, as you make your way through the day-to-day crises you will have to confront.


Onyekachi Wambu, African Foundation for Development


1 At last, a formal apology for slavery and dispossession of the native Americans - the two original sins of the republic


2 Business as usual


3 Trust your instincts. People like you and believe in your appeal for change. They are also patient - but you should begin to define this change more clearly and deliver on it.


Volker Perthes, director, German Institute for International and Security Affairs


1 That the United States actively and consistently engages in conflict-resolution, starting in the middle east. This would be the real practical translation of Joseph Nye's concept of "smart power", which the new secretary of state has already introduced to the official lexicon of American foreign policy during her testimony in the Senate hearing. If America were to engage in seeking a fair solution for the conflicts between Israel and its neighbours that basically accepts the legitimate interests of all regional parties, this would restore US credibility in the wider Muslim and much of the rest of the world, and make it much more difficult for the ideologues of jihadism to gain support and adherents in the region. Perhaps even more important, such an engagement may offer the last hope to actually implement a two-state solution that would allow Israel and Palestine to live peacefully with - or at least alongside - one another. The blueprints for a peaceful settlement are all there. It needs international - i.e., American-led - even-handedness and firmness to translate them into reality


2 That a Barack Obama administration could be distracted from pursuing its foreign-policy agenda through a combination of factors that already are known and present. Among them are a deepening economic crisis that may spur protectionist tendencies; special domestic interest-groups that would try to subvert a more inclusive and fair US policy in the middle east; and short-sited actions by other international players (Russia, Iran, North Korea or certain non-state actors) that would try to test the strength of the new administration at an early stage, either to embarrass the new administration or to prove to their own and other societies that the US is still the enemy.


3 In order both to achieve the goals set out under the "hope" category and to avoid the risks under the "fear" one, the main advice is from the beginning to seek solutions and pursue global policies in the most inclusive way. That means getting the emerging powers (China, India, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, and - prospectively - even Iran) to address issues of real globality (i.e. issues that do not just affect the entire world but that also cannot be solved without global cooperation) and to rebuild the structures of global governance. Everyone knows that the present composition of global-governance institutions and clubs (the United Nations Security Council, the G8, IMF, World Bank and others) no longer reflects the distribution of real (both hard and soft) power in the world; nor do these institutions and clubs invite those who have gained in the relative power-shifts to take real responsibility.


Mustafa Akyol, journalist, Turkey


1 That President Obama can pave the way for peace in the middle east. It will be a very tough road, especially after Israel's brutal onslaught in Gaza which killed hundreds of children and carved hatred into millions of hearts. To achieve peace, he will need both to find a way - directly or indirectly - to talk to Hamas and convince of the need for a two-state solution; and to impose some sanity and restraint on Israel, whose brutality is seen as "state terrorism" by millions of Muslims in the region.


2 That he will be tamed and co-opted by the Washington establishment. That . "experts" will convince him that "this is the way we do things here, sir." That he will be forced to retreat from some of the revolutionary and much-needed steps he promised or hinted he would take, such as talking to Iran, the Taliban and Hamas. And that, as a result, the world will start to see him only as a lighter version of the George W Bush administration - a new Bush with a smiling face.


3 Mr President, please, please, do not give up your promise for change. You have vowed to follow a policy based on pragmatism, not ideology. Be very much aware that some people will sell their ideology to you in the cloak of pragmatism. Do not forget the suggestions and sentiments of the good people who supported you in your earliest days. Moreover, I know you are a modest and humble man, but let me still remind you of a piece of advice which every Ottoman sultan was publicly given during his inauguration ceremony: "Don't be arrogant, my sultan, God is greater than you."


Jim Gabour, writer, New Orleans


1 I can only hope for intelligence. Plain, down-to-earth intelligence. And not the waterboarding / spy-satellite sort, but rather an ongoing ability to think through ideas and then speak words that are attached to reality and signify deeper understanding. Subject-verb-object is an overt sign, something missing the last eight years, that we are being led by significant thought rather than rampant cowboy hormones


2 I fear the inevitable corruption of a Pure Concept. I can only worship at the altar of what has been accomplished. But I fear what I have seen all too many times: the reality of making things work always sullies that gleaming ideal. It is necessary. It is inevitable. But, while dealing with it, I can only wish it would not happen


3 Truth is not a variable concept. It is a hard-edged, scarred and pitted, bitterly rusty blade that slices in one direction only. Accept that, and live with it.


Roger Scruton, research professor, Institute for the Psychological Sciences


1 That this presidency will lay to rest the myth of America as a "divided" society, in the grip of "white racism"


2 That the great increase in presidential power that could result from the society-wide belief that presidents can change things in fundamental ways


3 Futile as the advice may be - don't go the way of Roosevelt and the New Deal; don't bail out failing financial institutions; don't subsidise failing industries.


Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao, director, Center for Asia-Pacific Area Studies, Taiwan


1 That President Obama can arrange his policy priorities so that he can act both as the national leader of the United States and a global leader. In domestic terms, that he can stabilise the American economy and reform its problematic financial order, so that the US's economic crisis will be addressed and a world recession averted


2 That President Obama may be too ambitious in attempting to deal with too many demands from all fronts - liberal and conservative, domestic and international; and thus ends up in a situation of too many words of promise and too few actually achievements. In specific terms, that he might be too compromising in dealing with authoritarian regimes in order to remedy the US's past unilateral diplomacy - and that as a result, democracy as a universal value could be sacrificed


3 Uphold and advocate freedom, human rights, justice, and democracy for the global community. One way to do so is for him to formulate a workable, consistent and sensible "democracy-promotion action-plan" in which the US would firmly and consistently support, protect and strengthen all new democracies in the world.


Ann Pettifor, Advocacy International


1 That the United States rejoins the community of nations as a respected peer; no longer acts as a militaristic and intolerant empire; and helps bring peace and stability to the middle east, and justice to the Palestinian people


2 That powerful commercial forces will prevent his administration from providing the American people with a free and universal healthcare system


3 Break with the economics profession's orthodoxies; wipe the slate clean, and then implement Keynesian monetary policies to help the US create debt-free money, or low-interest credit for investment in a localised steady-state economy based on clean technology and millions of green-collar jobs.


Conor Gearty, professor, LSE


1 That the United States returns to the community of states that share the values of democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law - not as camouflages for selfish state action but rather as part of a genuine commitment to civilised cooperation


2 That President Obama will not dare to be different, will not seize the moment - and instead retreats into a bland centrism, thus failing to serve the interests of the American people and the people of the world


3 Use the monstrosity of Israel's Gaza war to challenge the Israeli government. For President Obama to say nothing about Gaza will be to give the Israelis a blank cheque - and Obama's cosmopolitanism will lie in shreds. If he is unable to confront Israel directly, a serious commitment by Obama to international law and the United Nations will transform the US's relationship with Israel in the medium-to-long term - for Israel needs to reject international law and the UN in order to act as it currently does.


Mariano Aguirre, director, Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre


1 See 2


2 See 3


3 Pay attention to the poorest of the world. In 2009, the United States's real global role will be acknowledged for the first time. George W Bush's government was a desperate coercive attempt to limit social change and freedoms in the US itself while seeking to torpedo the multilateral system. It was leadership through force. Barack Obama, despite his rhetoric of positive leadership after the disastrous Bush era, is aware of the limitations of a country in such deep crisis and even long-term decline that it can no longer be regarded as the sole global superpower.


China, the European Union, India, Brazil and Russia are already regional powers and some of them are becoming global in scope. Washington, its military might notwithstanding, will find that without close cooperation with others it is increasingly difficult to tackle situations such as insurgency in Afghanistan, violent crisis in Pakistan, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict - or international-trade disputes.


President Obama should pay attention to the different forms of violence directly related to poverty and inequality, and to the lack of state institutions. Climate change reduces natural resources needed for survival and intensifies competition. High food prices will create more poverty, and the financial crisis will increase inequality. The interplay of all these factor portends more social and armed conflict.


Barack Obama's administration should remember that greater poverty and inequality - even out of the rich world's sight - is a global problem for everyone. The need for solutions to are urgent. These should start by bringing new and old actors in the multipolar world together to draw up a common plan to protect the poorest against the impact of the crisis, and reformulate the dominant - and failing - models of growth and trade.


(Translated from Spanish by Fionnuala Ni Eigeartaigh)


Peter Kimani, journalist, Kenya


1 There are many in our midst who think that Barack Obama invented the word "hope". And perhaps he did - by demonstrating to millions of Americans that they could dream again - and that everything is possible.


Still, hope is a big word for the millions who have lost, or are about to lose their jobs, and have vested their hopes in him to secure their futures.


Some cynics say the only reason Obama was overwhelmingly elected by whites was to bequeath him the shell that's the American economy.


But that's to miss the point. For him to have won the nomination of a Democratic Party that once supported slavery, and then the endorsement of the whole nation, is a powerful testament to the nation's political evolution.


It is also in its way a tribute to globalisation - and an experiment that should be tried elsewhere, in Europe.


I hope too that Obama's governance will sustain international interest in Kenya, and help bring to book those responsible for organising and funding the mayhem in December 2007, in which 1,300 people were killed.


2 Barack Obama has raised people's expectations to the stratosphere, but has to come down to earth and offer realistic solutions to his country's many challenges


He has also promised to rout out the old Washington ways and set in place more pragmatic, people-sensitive structures to uplift the poor by making the rich pay a little more for their comforts.


But Obama has made a few faltering steps by returning to power several old Washington hands, who might tie his own if not arm-twist him to abandon his reformist agenda.


I fear Obama will soon realise the limitations of his power by reconciling the America that he hopes to create, and the one that has been running since 1776.


Overall, I fear Obama's or Americans' reality-check, when it finally dawns, will break their hearts - even if he doesn't break his promise.


3 That Obama strives to be true to yourself. In election campaigns, politicians say what the electorate want to hear. But in running the affairs of the state, a leader has to be fair to all citizen, especially those that did not vote for him as they're likely to be more critical.


The clearest advice is to avoid senseless wars. Obama also has to be more decisive than his predecessors on Palestine, and recognise that its unresolved crisis has offered militants a useful reference-point to justify their carnage on hapless citizens of the world, wherever they are to be found.


Andrew Stroehlein, International Crisis Group


1 That Barack Obama signs up the United States to the International Criminal Court. It would be one of the best ways to signal a clean break


2 That the US fails to act in the event of renewed mass ethnic or sectarian cleansing in Iraq - as both Obama and Hillary Clinton's deeply worrying comments during the campaign suggested might happen. The idea that American forces would stay on base and/or continue their withdrawal in such circumstances would be a horrific abdication of responsibility


3 Don't wait seven years to start working all-out on a two-state solution for Israel-Palestine. A split Palestine, an Israeli election and the fresh wounds of the Gaza conflict make it seem like the worst possible time to push a peace process. But it's never an ideal time - and the longer the delay, the harder it becomes.


Patrice de Beer, journalist, France


1 That Barack Obama proves able to sustain the very hope he aroused in the United States and in the world - because hope itself (as he seems to understand) can make marvels, win support for controversial measures, and become a driving force for change


2. That this very hope will be exceeded by the expectation he has aroused, including in Europe - for America's interests will remain paramount


3 Remain your own man, follow your own path, stay committed to your goals - even as you (as you must) listen to others and remain open to ideas, including the bold or unconventional. Don't be diverted by day-to-day politics, opinion-polls, electioneering. Never forget, after all, that FD Roosevelt was re-elected in 1936 more because he kept to his strategy despite its slow impact than because he sought public favour.


Tanya Lokshina, Russia researcher, Human Rights Watch


1. That the Barack Obama administration improves the United States's human-rights record, thus enabling the country to regain leverage in international affairs


2. That the the strains in the US-Russia relationship will continue, making it more difficult to constructively raise human rights at a bilateral level


3. Develop with the European Union a common approach on human rights in Russia - and ensure that it is a robust approach.


Steven Lukes, professor, New York University


1. The current financial crisis and economic recession and forthcoming depression are just the latest manifestations of Barack Obama's luck, for they afford him, at least initially, extraordinary latitude to pursue a transformative political agenda. Part of that agenda is already declared to be green and part is egalitarian, notably with respect to healthcare and educational provision. My hope is that he will push further in a social-democratic direction (to which the United States has hitherto been so inhospitable), extending public provision of public goods and changing the American meaning of "welfare" from negative to positive


2. On the campaign trail, Obama became ever more committed to sending large numbers of troops into Afghanistan. The question is whether this was shrewd campaign rhetoric or a sincere declaration of future strategy. My biggest fear is that it might be the latter. This bodes major disaster, in the light of all we know about Afghan politics and the history of interventions in that country. What I fear is that Obama and his secretary of state may see Afghanistan as the next arena within which to continue pursuing the war against terror


3. My advice - unnecessary, it seems - is not to ignore but to discount the political advice of intellectuals, certainly to treat their political judgments with appropriate scepticism. He shows every sign of taking advice from many quarters, including community organisers, and indeed encouraging conflicting viewpoints, while taking expert advice (e.g. on climate change and on scientific questions), on the basis of data and professional competence. My advice is: encourage intellectuals in their various pursuits but treat their political opinions as having no special weight.


Tarek Osman, writer, Egypt


1 That in an era of great changes and pressures in the world, Barack Obama will have the right combination of good judgment and steadfastness to steer a course for the United States that is energetic and ambitious but not aggressive or antagonistic


2 That despite his calm demeanour, wise performance, and conspicuous intelligence, Obama could yield to the increasingly apparent "wounded lion" impulse in US politics


3 Be yourself. Remember that the millions of Americans who voted for you, and the hundreds of millions all over the world who cheer your arrival in the White House, look to you with admiration and high expectations - not to the machinations of Washington.


Susan George, writer, France


1 For us all, an end to military adventurism; for Americans, to join the civilised world by ensuring universal healthcare


2 Larry Summers and all his works; in general the Clinton retreads in positions of influence


3 Put all your chips on massive conversion to an ecological economy: quality jobs and infrastructure will be the by-products.


Arthur Ituassu, Pontifícia Universidade Católica, Rio de Janeiro


1 Barack Obama's arrival in the White House reflects the exhaustion and failure of a long conservative-nationalist current in the United States, and the emergence of a potential political realignment which could shape a new, liberal political framework of national and international harmony. I hope for the success of this project


2 The project's failure could create great dangers, such as a vacuum of power and ideas in the United States that could be filled by extremism and violence. In that event, the scenario might resemble Paul Kennedy's vision of a great power struggling hard against its own decline. The US is a political machine of ideas; without them the country perishes


3 The project I have outlined will require strong doses of political creativity and open-mindedness. History offers only some hints here: the unprecedented challenges that lie ahead make necessary - most of all, it might be said - a new political language. In the face of international terrorism, globalisation, disease, inequality, environmental problems and economic crisis - how can politics be an instrument for a political community to live in peace, freedom, and solidarity?


Noriko Hama, Doshisha Business School, Japan


1 That with the coming of Barack Obama, America will finally enter the 21st century and begin to realise that - despite what Thomas Friedman says - the world is in fact round. There are actually people living out there beyond America's immediate horizons


2 That the coming of Obama makes America regain confidence in the wrong way. People suffering from self-disillusionment can be quite perceptive


3 That Obama remains true to his acceptance-speech declaration that he would be "always honest with you". Honesty is always the best policy.


Michael Edwards, Demos, New York

1 Clean, open, positive and powerful government in the public interest


2 Too much calculation of the potential damage that might be done to cross-party cooperation by strong action on key but contested issues like Israel-Palestine, gay rights and corporate regulation


3 Remember the real meaning of Martin Luther King's "beloved community" - the complete transformation of society and its structures - not the anaemic version of "more volunteering and community service".


Antara Dev Sen, The Little Magazine, Delhi


1 That ethics would play as great a role as self-interest in Barack Obama's foreign policy, and that he would focus on ushering in peace in the middle east and south Asia


2 That in troubled south Asia he would make matters worse for India by trying to "solve" the Kashmir problem while indulging Pakistan to wean it away from the partnership of terror it has with Afghanistan


3 For global security the United States would need to address deeper issues than just the frontline of terror in Pakistan and Afghanistan. A real - even if gradual - change in foreign policy is necessary. Also, do recognise that "solving" the Kashmir dispute will not end Pakistan-sponsored terrorism. It would be great to see from the Yes We Can Man a genuine, principled attempt to normalise relations with Iran, be constructively even-handed in the middle east and help make Pakistan and Afghanistan accountable, responsible democracies.


Ivan Briscoe, Fundacion para las Relaciones Internacionales y el Dialogo Exterior, Madrid


1 That a full and free public-health system is created that will include all 50 million uninsured Americans, and illegal immigrants too. Treating all citizens as equal bearers of the right to exist is a more potent and deeper reform to foreign policy than any shuffle in the state department


2 That a Blackberry-crazed president, in the middle of an unceasing flow of business-closures and bank-collapses, with 100,000 troops camped around the Khyber pass and a Mexican narco strike-force in charge of Arizona, decides that it is time to keep everyone happy by printing lots of dollars


3 Every shift in paradigm (from the war on terror, "read my lips" tax policy, the war on drugs, or carefree support for Israel), before it is greeted as inevitable, will be treated as despicable. In short: the best speech to a lobby banquet is the one followed by a long silence.


Dejan Djokic, Goldsmiths College, London


1 That, following years of disastrous attempts to dominate the world, the US under President Obama does not head towards a "splendid isolation"


2 That it does. But, in today's world of climate change, credit-crunch, the middle-east conflict, the gas crisis, and political tensions throughout the world - I fear more than one thing


3 Throw away your Democratic predecessor's reading-list on the Balkans (and your immediate predecessor's, presuming he had one). I'd be happy to supply a new one!


Michele Wucker, World Policy Institute


1 That President Obama will usher in a new era of United States leadership that recognises and empowers other nations as stakeholders in the common pursuit of solutions to shared global challenges


2 That high expectations will overwhelm the need for patience, persistence and forbearance


3 Keep long-term goals in sight, while finding approaches to immediate and urgent problems that can strengthen the likelihood of successful global collaboration being able to surmount future challenges in our interdependent world.


Bissane El-Cheikh, journalist, Lebanon


1 I hope that President Obama would implement in acts and deeds his promise of change. I hope that he and his administration would show enough wisdom to admit that this dream/promise means, in my part of the world, investing more in peace rather than war; and that it can only be achieved through a fair and viable solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict


2 I fear the new young and dynamic president might drift apart from his dream, and become another "Washingtonian" carried away by the rules of the establishment


3 My advice for you, Mr President, is: do not make Israel your exclusive friend in the region. You can win hearts and minds by showing more pragmatism, fairness and equality in your foreign policy. You can be Israel's ally, but don't be its advocate. The rest of us have dreams too...