Politics, Foreign Policy, Current Events and Occasional Outbursts Lacking Couth

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Obama Effect Not Discussed


Nigeria oil rebels say mulling Obama truce appeal

Rebels who have stepped up attacks on Nigeria's oil industry in the last month said on Sunday they were considering a ceasefire appeal by U.S. presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) has launched five attacks on oil facilities in the Niger Delta since it resumed a campaign of violence in April, forcing Royal Dutch Shell to shut more than 164,000 barrels of oil per day (bpd).

"The MEND command is seriously considering a temporary ceasefire appeal by Senator Barack Obama. Obama is someone we respect and hold in high esteem," the militant group said in an e-mailed statement.

MEND did not say when or where Obama, the leading candidate for the Democratic ticket for November's U.S. presidential election, made the appeal. It said it hoped the government would use any ceasefire to improve conditions for its detained leader, Henry Okah.

Here's an interesting bit of conjecture (and I'm presuming much in this post.) Never the less:

What foreign policy trails could Senator Obama blaze in Africa by simply being the first President of African descent?

Americans are generally prone to shy away from the merits (or shortcomings) of race in most spheres of discussion. In most cases it's the concept of race rather than the reality of such that's discussed. Concepts are fungible, vague, easily slung forth via insinuation and then later denied. Reality is narrow, a one way street to accountability.

No wonder why the potential of a black president utilizing his ethnicity for American foreign policy inroads in otherwise traditionally near impossible realms (like Sub-Saharan Africa) has, to my knowledge, never been discussed in the mainstream. Nor, of course, has the Obama campaign put forth such a simplistic, politically suicidal (yet not altogether unfathomable) claim of a realistic race based edge in such a case.

We are brow-beaten to consider the aspect of race in only the most vertical essence of thought; a short well beaten path with very clear historical markers to guide us. To even dare a jump sideways off the path, no matter how objective or critical our thoughts, lands us in the fire. And there are plenty standing around it with arms full of kindling and minds full of preconceptions.

And so I'll conform and not even begin to suggest that Barrack Obama, whatever his domestic policies entail, could lend America an otherwise unknown edge in it's African policy by simply being of the ethnic descent that he is. I won't even begin to suggest that MEND's rather serious consideration of Senator Obama's alleged appeal and it's stated respect has something to do with his being a man of African heritage on the precipice of power. Instead I'll borrow the Kos' dutifully antiseptic reasoning of unity and hope...

Respect is a strong word. Especially from militants. Those who are out shooting people every day do not do so lightly, but generally out of true desperation. The United States needs to recognize Barack Obama for who he is: a true unifier, who can command respect and esteem toward furthering peace in warring countries.

...and I'll divest myself of such socially impure thoughts.


Anonymous said...

I so completely agree. Even think about the Obama effect on any missions undertaken by AFRICOM. He doesn't come with the baggage as an anglo-european president. The impure thought is that, in very crude terms, Obama can play the race card to his advantage diplomatically. The effect wouldn't necessarily be confined to Africa either. He can traverse the globe in ways the others cannot.

Dan tdaxp said...


So we are clear, for the reasons it would be wise that Obama is elected President, it would be foolish to allow a Jew to assume high office?


"He doesn't come with the baggage as an anglo-european president"

Except Obama is Anglo-European.

Or are you assuming the socialization by his mother, his oft-cited "white grandmother," etc. were negligible?

ortho said...

Subadei, I think the so-called "Obama Effect" that you describe will be short-lived if he is elected U.S. President. He will not do anymore for Africa than G.W. Bush has done (

Dan writes, "Obama is Anglo-European."

Are you assuming that people around the world who believe that race is rooted in genetic clusters, visible in skin pigmentation, would draw upon the cultural factors that you note to argue that Obama is "Anglo-European"?

Your suggestion here appears to contradict your argument elsewhere (

Dan tdaxp said...


My first reading if Stephen's comment is that he was referring to some aspect of skill or culture of Obama. On reflection, it does seem the Stephen was referring to public relations. Therefore, your criticism as you related to Subadei is a more appropriate response than my comment relating to Obama's upbringing.

Can you clarify how my suggestion is contradictory with what I wrote previously?

Jay@Soob said...

Dan, nope. Apologies for any imprecision. Your question suggests that I'm presenting Obama's ethnicity as a reason he should be elected. That's not quite the direction I was coming from. Rather I was intrigued by the coverage of the MEND story and how it clearly avoided the idea that Obama's ethnicity had as much to do with MEND's unusual compliance as (or in addition to) anything else. This lead further into thinking that what nobody's discussed is the edge in certain cases of foreign policy (Africa being the most obvious) that Obama's heritage might lend him as President. Which lead to my irritation with our societies inability to address race in a direct manner, free of friendly and fluffy concepts.

So to directly answer your question:
While African nations (and others, as Stephen notes) might be more open to and agreeable with a black president, various Islamic and Arab countries would likely be a bit more reticent and suspicious of a Jewish President. Whether or not one should vote or not vote for a candidate based on this analysis is purely subjective.

Jay@Soob said...

Stephen, I'm glad you agree. What other countries do you suppose Barrack's ethnicity might gain him leverage?

Hi Ortho.

I think you'd see a marked difference between how Obama effects Africa from a legislative position and how Obama effects Africa from the pinnacle of executive power. This isn't to suggest that he, as President, could simply swoop in and lay to rest violence on the horn of Africa.

Dan tdaxp said...


It must be too late in the day -- I'm confused by your answer.

If I'm reading you correctly, you are saying: Obama's racial background provides him with unique opportunities in Africa and the Middle East. As these opportunities naturally would help our country, it thus is a mark in his favor.

However, take, say, a Jewish senator. The Jew's racial background would provide him with unique problems in Africa and the Middle East. As these difficulties would naturally harm are country, it would be a mark against him.

Is my understanding of your position on Obama and his race? Likewise, is my analogy to a hypothetical Jew and his race appropriate?

S O said...

Actually I've once read that Africans are often poor mediators in African conflicts.
The reasoning was like "the conflict parties see another Black who's not one of them and behave as if he was from a competing tribe". Well, something like that.
They don't like Caucasians either for obvious reasons, so maybe East Asians would be great as mediators.

Anonymous said...


Yes, I should have been more clear about why. It is Public Relations, that's why people don't 'see' his European heritage. Instead they identify with his half-African ancestry.[1][2] That doesn't mean socialization by Obama's European family had no affect on Obama, it just doesn't cause others to identify him as European.

WRT the analogy, a president who is Jewish might be used as propaganda by Muslim fundamentalists. What would be foolish is if this President openly played into this propaganda, say for his own domestic political purposes. It would only support the Fundamentalist narrative about a American-Israeli conspiracy. The President would have to do everything possible to falsify that narrative, including confront Israel if necessary.


I'm not sure about countries in particular, but I'm thinking of the overall sea change in global public opinion of the American Presidency. The change message works internationally as well, that's how much they want us to change. So, if we actually learned to tailor our defense capabilities to be perceived as non-threatening, and stop losing wars about propaganda (like 4GW wars), we might actually have some real success. What would successful nation building look like? Only Obama offers that possibility.

[1] Tanzania Welcomes Bush, but Obama Is Topic No. 1 on the Streets, NYT Feb. 18 2008

[2] Obama Gets a Warm Welcome in Kenya, NYT August 26, 2006

Jay@Soob said...

I made no specific mention of the middle east, though it's certainly not beyond consideration. Aside from that and other than the definitive or assertive manner in which you've rephrased my points, I'd agree with your hypothetical examples.

Sven, thanks for the comment. Interesting, though I suspect the President of the United States might carry more weight than that of a rival tribe.

Stephen, That's an interesting and steep challenge for Senator Obama. Isn't the visage of non-threatening as much in the eye of the beholder as the action of the supposed belligerent? Whose definition of non threatening should the US endeavor to attain?

Anonymous said...


We should perceive ourselves as non-threatening to everyone else who is generally perceived as non-threatening by others. Otherwise, we lose global legitimacy by appearing belligerent when other states see no reason to be belligerent. We can only threaten those who the world deems to be a threat. We should tailor our actions so that the world always sees us as responding justly and legitimately to the military or political actions of the states or non-states we perceive to be threatening. We must continually reinforce the idea that we are the good guys, and prevents adversaries from falsifying that notion.

Dan tdaxp said...


Thanks for the clarification,


"We should perceive ourselves as non-threatening to everyone else who is generally perceived as non-threatening by others. Otherwise, we lose global legitimacy by appearing belligerent when other states see no reason to be belligerent."

Appearing threatening and appearing belligerent is the same thing?

ortho said...

Dan, writes, "Can you clarify how my suggestion is contradictory with what I wrote previously?.

Certainly, Dan.

Above Dan wrote, "[A]re you assuming the socialization by his mother, his oft-cited 'white grandmother,' etc. were negligible?"

The above question appears to imply that socialization and cultural factors are more important than genetic cluster.

Elsewhere, you seemed to imply that genetic cluster is a more important variable than socialization and cultural factors in explaining "racial difference." [For the source of this statement see the last link of my previous comment.]

Of course, I could be misinterpreting your words. If this is the case, I hope you will take an opportunity to clarify your position.

Hi Soob.

You wrote, "I think you'd see a marked difference between how Obama effects Africa from a legislative position and how Obama effects Africa from the pinnacle of executive power."
Do you have evidence from Obama's foreign policy platform to support your claim?

Stephen, your last comment (12:12 AM) is interesting. How would your connect your suggestions to 5GW war strategy?

Dan tdaxp said...


The link you provide is to one of your posts. If you are refering to some specific comment I wrote, please link to that.

Through genetic heritage, Obama is as Anglo-European as he is African. Through early-childhood socialization, he's certainly Anglo-European-American. I'm not sure how you can combine those to to asserting he is not Anglo-European, unless one has a a single-drop rule guiding you.

Of course, genetics and environment interact to produce their outcomes.

ortho said...

Dan, thank you for your quick response and clarification of your position.

Anonymous said...

He does have an effect in Africa. When he and his wife agreed to get tested for AIDS publicly during their visit to Kenya in 2006, there was a noted positive benefit to the public understanding and image of AIDS and AIDS testing. A wonderful rebuke to Zuma in South Africa who said he took a shower to wash the AIDS off him after he raped one of his assistants.
He also boosts esteem of Africans and those of African ancestry around the world, especially in Africa.

Obama is also a powerful example to interracial children and black children as well in America. Much the same way Jewish, black and other minorities who assumed positions of influence and power in sports, politics and culture have been for the past 60 years (all the way back to Hank Greenberg the famous Jewish baseball player).

Dan tdaxp said...

Eddie's comment is useful for demonstrating the emptiness of the Obama Movement, dedicated to this Great Man as opposed to any coherent set of ideas or policy prosals.

We hear the following:

a) Obama is useful as a celebrity in the fight against AIDS.

Clearly a good thing. One thus has the opinion that Obama has the public sway of, say, a professional soccer athlete,

b) He boosts the "esteem" of Africans

Pseudo-pop psychology at its worst. Why can't we have a candidate who possess extra phlogiston?

c) He's a role model for interracial kids.

Indeed. It turns out anyone can grow up to follow a race-baiting pastor that claism that AIDS is a white conspiracy, while getting marrying a womean who has never been proud of her country, and getting elected for being a role model?

(If your reaction to this comment is that it's a collection of irrelevent personal details that don't reflect on Obama's ability to govern, I agree. Much like Eddie's three points.)

It would be funny that we are electing a President for attributes that are easily taken care of my a professional athlete, if Obama's career goal really was a substantively meaningless as, say, a footballer.

Eddie's last paragraph is an explicit argument for an affirmative action hire in the Presidency, which is bizarre as calling Obama's candidacy an affirmative action job is normally done by his political enemies.

Anonymous said...

I offered that comment as an example, not the only one, but a notable one of the sorts of influence Obama could have. I kept it away from the larger issues discussed (MEND in particular) because I have no additional information to report.

Given numerous problems in Africa (especially AIDS and governance) are at their base social/cultural in nature, Obama's example can be useful. Also, his celebrity is far greater than any athlete or movie star in Kenya, and probably in other countries in the region. I have not heard of a celebrity or other political leader (save perhaps JFK, RFK or Clinton in his prime) getting such attention there.

I agree "boosting the esteem" of people is at best seemingly, a limited, almost shallow effect. I still mention it, because well, its something we'll doubtless be hearing about for years to come if he is elected President.

The power of role models are understated, especially for those who have none at home. Do we have to collect the testimonials to this effect by thousands for Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente or Muhammad Ali alone in various biographies in newspapers, books and magazine profiles throughout the past 20-30 years? Above all, it depends on their actions as much as their background so I suppose Obama is not quite there yet, but winning the presidency would be a serious step in such influential territory.

Regarding his ability to govern, obviously he will have some type of grace period where probably outlandish expectations will be expected of him throughout much of the world, in particular Africa. This will probably harm him more than help his governance because once dashed, that expectations gap may become a cause for bitterness. Nothing new as "change" agents from Sarkozy to Reagan can attest, though some work out in the long run better than others.

In Africa especially, he could be a tremendous asset at first to America's interests in that his words could carry more weight with the public and even the elites of countries like South Africa, whose policy towards Zimbabwe runs contrary to America's goals for the continent. Again though, once the expectations gap cannot be bridged, it could be downhill from there. However, what could be accomplished in the first 100-150 days or so could be interesting with issues ranging from South African protection of Zimbabwe to the denial of basic living rights to Nigerians in the Delta by the central government.

Dan tdaxp said...

What do you believe would help Africa more: increased trade, or the self esteem of an Obama presidency?

Should we support the candidate who supports free trade, or Barack Obama?

Curtis Gale Weeks said...

The "Africa" connection has been expanded to the "Asia" connection, or effect as you called it, following Obama's success in the primary:

The writer at the first of those links mentions an Indian UN diplomat:

Former high-ranking Indian United Nations diplomat and columnist Shashi Tharoor was quoted in a recent TIME magazine article as saying that “An Obama victory would fulfill everything the rest of the world has been told America could be, but hasn’t quite been.”

Etc. Etc.