Prior to his election, then Senator Barack Obama's campaign had already undertaken efforts to carefully deflate the euphoria and expectations of his followers,
The sudden financial crisis and the prospect of a deep and painful recession have increased the urgency inside the Obama team to bring people down to earth, after a campaign in which his soaring rhetoric and promises of “hope” and “change” are now confronted with the reality of a stricken economy. One senior adviser told The Times that the first few weeks of the transition, immediately after the election, were critical, “so there’s not a vast mood swing from exhilaration and euphoria to despair”.A wise course of action and indicative of Obama's meticulous nature. Whatever one thinks of his politics or experience he has thus far shown himself to be a detailed, organized and critically thoughtful politician.
But the president elect has more than just his occasionally fanatical following to consider when lowering expectations to a more managable and realistic level. This last week has seen an incredible shift in foreign political positions regarding America. America has enjoyed a literal overnight shift from Imperial pariah to global celebrity. From strangers pecking the cheek of American journalists in Vienna, Syrian invitations to "Abu Hussein," to Kenyan musicals celebrating both the President elect and the American promise land, the fervent celebration of America's first black President and the expectations following his campaign rhetoric of change and hope lend one to wonder how the new President is going to keep that positive wave from crumbling into despair.
The reality is harsh as the new President will have first the economic turmoil to deal with (and had made that priority #1 in his first press conference since election night) and two wars to deal with. With Iraq and Afghanistan Obama faces an uphill battle right out of the gate. The Afghan theater has been deteriorating at an alarming rate while the Iraq theater has held a semblance of stability, despite a seemingly unbreakable political logjam concerning Sunni representation and employment in a government ruled by a stubborn Shia majority. Whatever his campaign rhetoric the prospect of Obama risking the shakey stability of Iraq in order to fulfill redeployment needs for an Afghan surge seems unlikely. An appeal to our NATO allies to provide the necessary troops to execute such a surge is unlikely to be met with much enthusiasm. The British are already warning that their own forces are overextended and Canada has promised a complete withdrawal by 2011.
A realistic prediction regarding year of Obama's presidency might be that Iraq maintains a status quo (with marginal efforts to redeploy) and that efforts in Afghanistan turn from the kinetic to the diplomatic as negotiations begin between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Taliban with US mediation.
Indeed, the Obama administration is going to have it's hands very full come January 20th. The jubilation and expectations that followed November 4th will likely evaporate as reality sets in and the limitations of the highest office are realized. The Obama administration should begin, post haste, work on a message not just to his domestic supporters but to the planet as a whole. Concentrate on the "hope" but insist that the change wasn't a forgone conclusion after his historic election.