Obama shouldn’t only focus on United States

Anisha Mitra

“What do you call 2,000 Americans at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean? A good start.” A sobering joke in any situation, but particularly nerve-wracking when an Irishman uses it to strike up a conversation with you while both of you are standing in a graveyard in a tiny town in the south of Ireland on New Year’s Day.

Despite the inauspicious start, the conversation was a friendly one. After a few minutes of banter, the man brought up the election of President Barack Obama.

“You guys finally got it right, huh?” he asked. When an Irishman is willing to compliment the United States, however backhandedly, you know that something special has happened.

Of course, that’s not to say that Americans should base their electoral decisions solely on the basis of international opinion, but it is undeniable that this past election has elicited a measure of global goodwill for the United States that has been missing the past few years. To waste such an opportunity for international cooperation and leadership would be a shame.

Sadly, there are strong temptations for America to turn inward rather than use newfound political capital abroad to make progress on global crises. Already, President-elect Obama has signaled that his focus in his first term will be on domestic issues. Given the state of our economy, one can hardly blame him. But for our purposes and for the good of our world, the incoming President has an obligation to be engaged in global matters.

For our own sakes, it is crucial that the new administration grasps the global dimensions of the current economic downturn. When the world’s economies lapse into collective weakness, only collective action has any hope of instigating economic recovery.

To his credit, President Bush understood this in the last months of his presidency and has cooperated with Europe and Asia to coordinate fiscal and monetary policy that will soothe investors and return a measure of financial sanity to global markets.

It is incumbent upon President-elect Obama to continue such efforts. Moreover, it is important that the President uses his honeymoon period abroad to help jump-start global trade talks that have been languishing for years. While no trade agreement is perfect, and individuals everywhere are particularly likely to be hesitant to lower trade barriers in a time of economic hardship, there is no doubt that the opening of international markets has on the whole led to greater American and international prosperity. Working to reinvigorate negotiations to knock down trade barriers will be instrumental in moving past the current financial slump and into a new era of sustainable economic growth.

But even beyond our own interests, the United States must reclaim its humanitarian leadership in the international community. With thousands fleeing for their lives in Darfur, America has done precious little to push for real international aid in the area besides making noises about genocide. With hundreds of civilians dying in the Israeli operation in Gaza, the United States has been conspicuously absent in calling for measures to bring humanitarian relief to the innocents caught in the crossfire.

America, once a beacon of hope for those in need across the world, has been caught napping one too many times over the past several years.

During his campaign, President-elect Obama gave a speech in Berlin in which he acknowledged being a citizen of the world. If he governs true to his words, Obama will recognize that world citizenship carries an obligation to stay involved and help those that cannot help themselves. Despite all the problems at home, reasserting an American presence abroad is an economic and humanitarian imperative that the new administration must not ignore. Neglecting to heed these responsibilities will not only continue to weaken America’s economic and political standing abroad, it will also bring some choice words from at least one Irishman.

This story was originally published on Jan. 9 by The Stanford Daily.