The BBC's North America Editor, Justin Webb, addressed AmericaInTheWorld.com yesterday evening. We hope to publish the transcript of Justin's talk in due course. It was a great occasion attended by Labour and Conservative MPs and by Democrats and Republicans from the United States.
Two of the leading causes of recent anti-Americanism have been the Bush administration's approach to human rights issues and its opposition to the environmentalism enshrined in the Kyoto process. The President Elect has used the last seven days to confirm his intention to break with President Bush's record on these issues. Last weekend Senator Obama promised to close Guantanomo Bay and end waterboarding and similar forms of aggressive interrogation. This week he has also confirmed a more consensual approach to the issue of climate change. London's Independent newspaper highlighted two quotations from Barack Obama that, it headlined, proved that the USA was coming "in from the cold":
"Once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations, and help lead the world toward a new era of global co-operation on climate change."
"We will establish strong annual targets that set us on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them by an additional 80 percent by 2050."
But Washington's new position coincides with a cooling of enthusiasm for environmental policies in the rest of the recession-struck world. Climate change sceptic Benny Peiser has collected some key quotations to illustrate the apparent shift of mood:
"EU countries may agree before the end of the year on the basic
principles and structure of an agreement on the European Commission's
energy and climate package, but it is unlikely that a deal will be
finalised, an ambassador of one of the bloc's 27 member states told
EurActiv. Efforts to forge an agreement on the package have run into
opposition from a group of 'new' member states, led by Poland, who say
the plans could wreck their industries and lead to massive job losses,
particularly in the context of economic recession."
--EurActiv, 19 November 2008
"Poland has rejected an EU proposal for its coal-fired power stations to
be temporarily exempted from buying all their greenhouse gas permits, a
move aimed at averting a Polish veto of the bloc's climate package, a
senior Polish official said Wednesday."
--AFP, 19 November 2008
"Canada's liberal leadership candidates Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff
would ditch the Green Shift carbon tax, outgoing leader Stephane Dion's
signature policy, on grounds it was rejected by voters on election day."
--Juliet O'Neill, Canwest News Service, 19 November 208
"Climate change is fading as a priority in the Pacific Rim as the gloomy
state of the global economy takes precedence, a survey of opinion
leaders showed Wednesday. "You see the same shift in focus in the
public away from climate change questions to questions of economic
survival and growth," said Woo, president of the Asia Pacific
Foundation of Canada."
--AFP, 19 November 2008
On AmericaInTheWorld's Notable Arguments blog we today highlight Gideon Rachman's article for the Financial Times. In his approach to the Middle East, will a President Obama be a lumper - inclined to view the region's problems and conflicts as part of a single issue - or a splitter - dealing with them case by case?
Rachman argues the latter: economic problems and other foreign policy matters will prevent Obama from focusing as much time on the Israel-Palestinian conflict with a view to solving it so as to solve the region's other problems. This means that the scope for a broad and sweeping change to existing policies is reduced.
The Economist has also highlighted earlier this month the degree to which prevailing circumstances may fetter Barack Obama's discretion:
"Mr Obama is a paid-up subscriber to the goal of reducing US dependence on the Middle East for its energy needs. However, for the next eight years at least the US will continue to import increasing quantities of Middle East oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG), and even if the US does manage to curb its oil consumption, energy trends in the Middle East will still have an impact on the US by virtue of their global importance. This will render it imperative for Mr Obama to maintain the tradition of close US relations with Saudi Arabia..."
There is much speculation that Senator Hillary Clinton could be America's next Secretary of State - responsible, with the President, for formulating and expounding US foreign policy. We have collated some of the statements on foreign policy made by America's former First Lady:
Priorities for US foreign policy
Priorities and vision for foreign policy: “Q: When future historians
write of your administration's foreign policy pursuits, what will be
noted as your doctrine and the vision you cast for U.S. diplomatic
Clinton: It will be a doctrine of restoring America's leadership and
moral authority through multilateral organizations, through attempts to
come to agreements on issues ranging from global warming to stopping
the proliferation of nuclear weapons and other dangerous weapons. It
will be a doctrine that demonstrates that the United States is not
afraid to cooperate; that through cooperation in our interdependent
world, we actually can build a stronger country and a stronger world
that will be more reflective of our values.”
The use of force
“We cannot negotiate with individual terrorists; they must be hunted
down and captured or killed. Nor can diplomacy alone stop the
perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity in places such as
Darfur. But soldiers are not the answer to every problem. Using force
in lieu of diplomacy compels our young men and women in uniform to
carry out missions that they may not be trained or prepared for. And it
ignores the value of simply carrying a big stick, rather than using it.”
Many Britons - and many more across the world who listen to the BBC World Service - learnt about the USA through Alistair Cooke's Letter from America. The weekly 15 minute radio slot was the best known feature of an extraordinary 58 years of reporting US life. Memorable 'Letters' can be revisited here.
On the occasion of what would have been Alistair's 100th birthday, BBC Radio has presented a 45 minute tribute to the great reporter and his relationship with America. You can listen to it here.
In his first TV interview since being elected President, Barack Obama confirms that he'll end one of the most prominent recent sources of anti-Americanism; detention of terrorist suspects at Guantanomo Bay. The President-Elect also vowed to end waterboarding and other techniques of aggressive interrogation. He promised that principled opposition to all torture would be "part and parcel of an effort to regain America's moral stature in the world." See video below:
The Daily Telegraph's Con Coughlin warns, however, that the closure of Guantanomo will not be uncomplicated:
"The Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba... holds about 250 die-hard al-Qaeda supporters... The reason that the hard-core al-Qaeda supporters - including Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks - continue to be held at Gitmo is that, as most of them were picked up on the battlefield in Afghanistan and other war zones, it is not possible to prosecute them the same way you would civilian criminals. The police are hardly likely to be able to scour the mountains of Tora Bora assembling evidence for the prosecution case... There have already been suggestions that former Gitmo detainees have carried out terror attacks against coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq after being released from Gitmo. What if one of those released by President Obama then masterminded a repeat of the 9/11 attacks? Let's not forget that al-Qaeda emerged as a global terror threat when Bill Clinton was president, and Obama should take care that the return of a Democrat to the White House does not result in the U.S. taking the soft options in fighting the war on terror."
The Financial Times' Jim Pickard has written a very funny blog. Noting Gordon Brown's constant blaming of the USA for the global recession he wonders what else Mr Brown could blame America for...
“Let us turn to the troubling issue of smoking-related illness and the huge cost of this born by the National Health Service. This is a problem which began in America when tobacco was grown by Native Americans who subsequently sold this product to white settlers for smoking.
One issue which keeps me lying awake at nights is that of pollution of the environment, of lakes, seas and forests, which has been imported to these shores via the Americans whose citizen Henry Ford invented the modern motor car.
Nuisance calls are the bane of modern Britain. Without the invention of the telephone in 1877 - by an American - they would never happen..."
Today's Times reports on a Populus poll that confirms yesterday's tracker poll showing British views of America have improved substantially in recent weeks. The column also notes stronger support in Britain for a close relationship with the United States:
The number thinking that America is a force for good in the world has risen from 44 to 54 per cent since June 2006. Even more striking, the proportion believing “it is important for Britain’s long-term security that we have a close and special relationship with the US” has jumped by 22 points to 80 per cent.
It may be a temporary effect but there has been a significant
improvement in British citizens' view of America since Senator Barack
Obama won last Tuesday's General Election.
has been tracking the regard with which British citizens hold other
nations for six months. The biggest previous shifts were towards China
(during its earthquake and then the Olympics) and then towards Russia
(when opinion soured markedly during the conflict with Georgia). The 'Obama effect' is greater than any of those three previous big shifts.
BRITISH VOTERS' VIEW OF AMERICA, CHINA AND RUSSIA
Please click on image to enlarge.
Comparing America with more mainstream nations produces a less dramatic picture but it is notable that since Barack Obama was elected America has overtaken France, Germany and Japan in the number of British adults holding a positive view minus those holding a negative view:
In alliance with PoliticsHome.com, AmericaInTheWorld will continue to watch how approval of America changes in response to Barack Obama's decisions. The PoliticsHome5000 tracks the opinions of a politically balanced panel of 5,000 UK citizens.