Over the night, America’s soft power has made a quantum leap up, back to what it once was and what it should be. Obama-the-president will still have to work hard to deliver on Obama-the-candidate’s promises, and the realities of the national interests will eventually bring an end to the global euphoria. Yet America's prestige and power are returning. Not so much because of Obama’s policies – yet, but because America itself just made a powerful statement about its character and its values by voting for Obama so convincingly. This is not to say that the excitement is universal. Among those not celebrating today should be many hawkish authoritarians in Moscow. Obama’s election is all bad news for them, and here is why.
They spent years preaching and hoping for America’s demise. Now, Obama has a chance to re-affirm America’s power by doing right policy choices and avoiding the thinking and the policies of the kind that have recently decimated it. For many years, parts of the Russian political elite have been promoting the idea of a counterpole to American power. While Obama will not abandon any of the sticks, by focusing on more carrots he could help Russia and some of its newly acquired “frends” see why anti-Americanism is not a wise policy after all. Watch Iran as a good litmus test. The Russian hawks often cite American arrogance and intransigence as the reason and the model for Russia’s own arrogant and intransigent behaviour. Obama could make emulating America a different kind of exercise.
To those Russians who want to see it, the American voters have just demonstrated that democracy brings nice results and that free elections are fun. If, on top of that, Obama manages to tackle the global economic crisis right, he will make not just the American model, but liberal democracy and decent capitalism as such look much more attractive. This would help to see the Russian brand of authoritarian crony capitalism for what it actually is – not a powerful alternative to liberal democracy and free economy, but a dangerous, if unavoidable, historical blip.
This potential global impact of Obama’s presidency, combined with a more perceptive US policy towards Russia, might give more influence to those numerous Russians, also in the political establishment, who want their country to join the West, not confront it. For them and for Russia in general, Obama’s victory is a promising sign.
A new beginning in America, and a new start for this blog. I decided to split it into two lines. One will be on my major professional interest – Eastern neighbourhood politics – from a Latvian vantage point; expect some comment on Russia, Ukraine and occasionally other topics – in English. The other line will be on liberalism, multiculturalism and Latvian politics – a more internal debate in Latvian.