What now looks like the impending election of Barak Obama as President represents the hope that the US will emerge from a period of badly mishandled foreign policy into a new era which will see the US take a much more finessed stance on some of the major issues that confront the world.
The Bush administration and the Republicans dealt with foreign affairs in an unyielding and uncompromising fashion which took little account of the interests of anyone else in the world other than the US. The result of this has been increasing antagonism around the world towards the unbridled exercise of US power. The Bush administration has had some successes, but all too frequently allowed these to be completely swamped by an arrogant approach to their dealings with others and a refusal to deal with facts that were staring them in the face.
The whole handling of the Iraq war is a case in point. Whatever views we may have on the need to deal militarily with the Iraqi regime there was no doubt that the imperative, having started a war, was to win it decisively and then to deal decisively, speedily and constructively with the aftermath.
Much credit must go to the US military for their swift conclusion of the main combat phase of the war but Republican politicians should be hanging their heads in shame at their abject failure to properly prepare for and execute the subsequent occupation and the transition to Iraqi rule.
This came about entirely because of their arrogant refusal to consider any arguments but their own. They were warned about what would be required for a post invasion phase but chose to ignore the warnings.
On the economy and the environment these have also been wasted years. Spurred by their right wing christian backers and the oil interests that supported them they have tried to distort and bury the increasing evidence of man made global warming. Why? Because it did not suit their interests. Because they arrogantly thought that they knew better. Much work could have been done to reduce Western dependence on imported fossil fuels but instead these years have been wasted by a government committed to a 1950's style view that the US had to keep using oil products as though the supply was endless.
The economic crisis that engulfed us all recently was similarly the result of incredible arrogance and a failure to deal with vested business interests. Big business lobbied for massive de-regulation and the restraints were loosed leaving the financial system in near total collapse.
It would be utterly foolish now though to assume that Barak Obama as president will resolve all these issues quickly. Indeed on some counts it is possible that Obama may bring in policies that risk making things work.
On the economy there will be the temptation to resort to protectionist measures to save jobs. This would be a shortsighted policy and would in all probablity only make the economic crisis worse and longer lasting.
On the environment it remains to be seen if Obama will tackle oil dependence with any vigour. Ideally a major stimulus needs to be given to a whole range of alternative fuel systems as well as to measures to improve fuel efficiency. If done wisely such measures could provide a Keynesian stimulus in these recessionary times and at the same time make the US a world leader in the development and implementation of these new technologies.
On the Iraq conflict and the quick withdrawal of troops, Obama's rhetoric , as I suggested a while back, has toned down considerably. It seems likely that Obama will pull out some combat brigades early as a gesture of commitment to end the occupation. A more significant early pull out however risks collapsing any progress that has recently been made and so once in power Obama may find that rhetoric must give way to reality.
Un-reconstructed right wing voters in the US will no doubt see an Obama presidency as the start of some evil Marxist experiment. This is nonsense of course , as is so much of what passes for thinking among right wing red-necks. To describe making arrangements for affordable health care for the sick and the needy as a marxist evil is a distortion of language; but this is what we have come to expect from the unreconstructed christian right in the US.
The reality is that, with an Obama presidency, the US will finally join the mainstream of the 21st century and will recognise that the world is truly inter-dependant. We must hope that the US under Obama sees it's role in the world during the remaining years of American ascendancy as being to show leadership to the world and no longer attempting to dictate to it. The US must become the leader in tackling the worlds problems and stop being the major obstacle to their resolution.