Yesterday, the United States ushered in a new political era with the swearing in of the nation’s 44th president – Barack Obama. In his inauguration speech yesterday, Obama became the first president to address the Islamic World, asserting, “To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” Although his rhetoric was powerful, I wonder how much real “change” will be underway in Washington. The NY Times wrote Tuesday, “Some abroad bridled and some were reassured by the recurring foreign policy motif of Mr. Obama’s address — his resolve that the United States, as it rebuilds at home, will not give up its long-established role as the leader of the free world. And while many hailed the change of tone, others were uncertain that real change was coming, given the realities of American politics and the world that has not altered with the transition in Washington.”
Nevertheless, I am still cautiously hopeful. Obama, with VP Joe Biden at his side, may take a less polarizing approach to Pakistan, especially given the recent Biden-Kerry-Lugar legislation, which promises an annual $1.5 billion of socio-economic assistance to our country [garnering Biden the prestigious Hilal-e-Pakistan award]. In an op-ed released today, Maliha Lodhi, a former Pakistani ambassador the U.S., wrote, “How Obama manages issues in the Muslim world will determine the success or failure of his foreign policy because it is here that the greatest challenges lie…” In regards to Pakistan, she further noted:
Washington should cease unilateral strikes into Pakistan’s tribal areas. Its aggressive approach has inflamed public opinion, undercut Islamabad’s own counterinsurgency efforts, and risked destabilizing an already fragile country. Instead, Washington should help strengthen Pakistan’s capacity to contain militants. The Obama administration should also break decisively with the Bush legacy of treating Pakistan as hired help rather than as a valued ally. Pakistan has paid a heavy price – both human and in terms of its socioeconomic stability – for being a frontline ally of the U.S. Thousands of people, including 3,000 law enforcement personnel, have been killed in terrorist violence since 2001. The economic cost is estimated to be around $34 billion.
Ultimately, the atmosphere in Washington, D.C. and the rest of the world has been one of relief, to the say the least. Regardless if change is really in the cards, people seemed more than eager for an end to the Bush era. Above are two pictures I took in Washington, D.C. two days ago, where an enormous inflatable George Bush doll was set up for people to throw shoes at. Yes, shoes – a la the Iraq-shoe-throwing incident not too long ago [see related CHUP post]. Every time a person managed to get a pair of shoes around “Bushoccio‘s” nose [as the badge on the doll’s chest read], the crowd cheered. Just a small example of the fervor that persisted in Washington this inauguration week.