Barack Obama and Southeast Asia

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  • This talk is an overview of the political life and career of Barack Obama, who was elected as the 44th President of the United States. It begins with his personal background and mixed heritage profile inherited from his Kenyan–born father and white Kansan mother. This provides a glimpse and introduction into the early foundations which were to formatively influence Obama’s subsequent political choice and direction. The second part will continue charting the development of Obama’s political rise by a critical focus on how he won the presidential election. His charisma and vision for a new America, reborn from the pessimism and gloom of a broken nation typified by an unpopular overseas image and the economic crisis, were amongst the crucial factors which swayed the electorate to vote for change. Finally, this paper will seek to articulate the challenges to the Obama presidency, including a “projection” on whether he will be able to move away from the pattern set by his predecessor or achieve a breakthrough on a number of key areas particularly on foreign policy and relations.
  • Family background Barack Obama was born Honolulu, Hawaii in 1961. His father was Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a Kenyan from the tribe of Luo in the Rachuonyo District which is situated on the shores of Lake Victoria. Obama Sr. came to the United States on a US-funded scholarship inspired by Thomas Mboya who was economics and national development minister and a leading nationalist politician under Jomo Kenyatta. He enrolled at the University of Hawaii in Mānoa where Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham was also studying. Ann Dunham was a White American from Wichita, Kansas of English, Irish and German descent with some Cherokee (Native American) blood – a n anthropologist who specialised in rural development. The couple married in 1961but separated when Obama was two years old and divorced in 1964. Obama Sr. returned to Kenya and saw his son only once more before tragically dying in an car accident in 1982. Where
  • Family background Barack Obama was born Honolulu, Hawaii in 1961. His father was Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a Kenyan from the tribe of Luo in the Rachuonyo District which is situated on the shores of Lake Victoria. Obama Sr. came to the United States on a US-funded scholarship inspired by Thomas Mboya who was economics and national development minister and a leading nationalist politician under Jomo Kenyatta. He enrolled at the University of Hawaii in Mānoa where Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham was also studying. Ann Dunham was a White American from Wichita, Kansas of English, Irish and German descent with some Cherokee (Native American) blood – a n anthropologist who specialised in rural development. The couple married in 1961but separated when Obama was two years old and divorced in 1964. Obama Sr. returned to Kenya and saw his son only once more before tragically dying in an car accident in 1982. Where
  • Family background Barack Obama was born Honolulu, Hawaii in 1961. His father was Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a Kenyan from the tribe of Luo in the Rachuonyo District which is situated on the shores of Lake Victoria. Obama Sr. came to the United States on a US-funded scholarship inspired by Thomas Mboya who was economics and national development minister and a leading nationalist politician under Jomo Kenyatta. He enrolled at the University of Hawaii in Mānoa where Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham was also studying. Ann Dunham was a White American from Wichita, Kansas of English, Irish and German descent with some Cherokee (Native American) blood – a n anthropologist who specialised in rural development. The couple married in 1961but separated when Obama was two years old and divorced in 1964. Obama Sr. returned to Kenya and saw his son only once more before tragically dying in an car accident in 1982. Where
  • Family background Barack Obama was born Honolulu, Hawaii in 1961. His father was Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a Kenyan from the tribe of Luo in the Rachuonyo District which is situated on the shores of Lake Victoria. Obama Sr. came to the United States on a US-funded scholarship inspired by Thomas Mboya who was economics and national development minister and a leading nationalist politician under Jomo Kenyatta. He enrolled at the University of Hawaii in Mānoa where Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham was also studying. Ann Dunham was a White American from Wichita, Kansas of English, Irish and German descent with some Cherokee (Native American) blood – a n anthropologist who specialised in rural development. The couple married in 1961but separated when Obama was two years old and divorced in 1964. Obama Sr. returned to Kenya and saw his son only once more before tragically dying in an car accident in 1982. Where
  • Family background Barack Obama was born Honolulu, Hawaii in 1961. His father was Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a Kenyan from the tribe of Luo in the Rachuonyo District which is situated on the shores of Lake Victoria. Obama Sr. came to the United States on a US-funded scholarship inspired by Thomas Mboya who was economics and national development minister and a leading nationalist politician under Jomo Kenyatta. He enrolled at the University of Hawaii in Mānoa where Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham was also studying. Ann Dunham was a White American from Wichita, Kansas of English, Irish and German descent with some Cherokee (Native American) blood – a n anthropologist who specialised in rural development. The couple married in 1961but separated when Obama was two years old and divorced in 1964. Obama Sr. returned to Kenya and saw his son only once more before tragically dying in an car accident in 1982.
  • Family background Barack Obama was born Honolulu, Hawaii in 1961. His father was Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a Kenyan from the tribe of Luo in the Rachuonyo District which is situated on the shores of Lake Victoria. Obama Sr. came to the United States on a US-funded scholarship inspired by Thomas Mboya who was economics and national development minister and a leading nationalist politician under Jomo Kenyatta. He enrolled at the University of Hawaii in Mānoa where Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham was also studying. Ann Dunham was a White American from Wichita, Kansas of English, Irish and German descent with some Cherokee (Native American) blood – a n anthropologist who specialised in rural development. The couple married in 1961but separated when Obama was two years old and divorced in 1964. Obama Sr. returned to Kenya and saw his son only once more before tragically dying in an car accident in 1982.
  • Family background Barack Obama was born Honolulu, Hawaii in 1961. His father was Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a Kenyan from the tribe of Luo in the Rachuonyo District which is situated on the shores of Lake Victoria. Obama Sr. came to the United States on a US-funded scholarship inspired by Thomas Mboya who was economics and national development minister and a leading nationalist politician under Jomo Kenyatta. He enrolled at the University of Hawaii in Mānoa where Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham was also studying. Ann Dunham was a White American from Wichita, Kansas of English, Irish and German descent with some Cherokee (Native American) blood – a n anthropologist who specialised in rural development. The couple married in 1961but separated when Obama was two years old and divorced in 1964. Obama Sr. returned to Kenya and saw his son only once more before tragically dying in an car accident in 1982.
  • Family background Barack Obama was born Honolulu, Hawaii in 1961. His father was Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., a Kenyan from the tribe of Luo in the Rachuonyo District which is situated on the shores of Lake Victoria. Obama Sr. came to the United States on a US-funded scholarship inspired by Thomas Mboya who was economics and national development minister and a leading nationalist politician under Jomo Kenyatta. He enrolled at the University of Hawaii in Mānoa where Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham was also studying. Ann Dunham was a White American from Wichita, Kansas of English, Irish and German descent with some Cherokee (Native American) blood – a n anthropologist who specialised in rural development. The couple married in 1961but separated when Obama was two years old and divorced in 1964. Obama Sr. returned to Kenya and saw his son only once more before tragically dying in an car accident in 1982.

Transcript

  • 1. BARACK HUSSEIN OBAMA: AN OVERVIEW SEMBANG SASTERA Shakila Yacob University of Malaya
  • 2. OVERVIEW
    • Against All Odds
    • Why Obama Won?
    • Issues and Challenges
    • US-Indonesia/ US-Malaysia relations
  • 3. INTRODUCTION
      • Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (1995)
      • The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (2007)‏
      • Both authored by Barack Obama represent a definitive account of his background, profile and convictions.
  • 4. Against All Odds
    • What’s in a Name?
      • Barack Hussein Obama
            • Element of distress or luck?
      • And I quote from the Audacity of Hope :
      • “ Where you’d get that funny name?”
      • “ There on the front page, was Osama bin Laden. “Hell of a thing isn’t it?” he said, shaking his head. “Really bad luck. You can’t change your name, of course. Voters are suspicious of that kind of thing. Maybe if you are at a start of your career, you know, you could use a nickname or something. But now….” His voice trailled of and he shrugged apologetically before signalling the waiter to bring us the check.
      • I suspected he was right and that realization ate away at me”.
  • 5. What’s in a Name
    • Element of luck?
    • Barack : in Arabic ‘ba’-rak means “he who is blessed”
    • : in Swahili “that one”.
    • Hussein: A Muslim name that Obama insists he would want to use during his inauguration, though not because he wants to gain support of the Muslim world but because he wants to keep the tradition going.
    • As luck (?) would have it, Obama got the support of Muslim Americans and Muslims worldwide because of his link (?) with Islam.
  • 6. What’s in a Name
      • YET:
      • Obama’s name sounded “suspiciously” similar, almost identical, to Osama (bin Laden) of al-Qaeda. The fact that he has a Muslim middle name inherited from his father who was by all account a nominal Muslim compounded the prejudice of many Americans, especially with conservative or right-wing views.
  • 7. Against All Odds
    • FAMILY BACKGROUND
    • Comes from a broken family: Barack Hussein Obama Sr. (Kenyan Muslim) + Ann Dunham (white American from Wichita, Kansas) 1961 - separated 1964 (when Obama was only two years old).
    • Obama Sr. returned to Kenya and saw his son only once more before tragically dying in a car accident in 1982.
  • 8. Against All Odds
    • FAMILY BACKGROUND
    • Ann remarried an Indonesian, Lolo Soetoro, and in 1967 migrated to Indonesia bringing her six-year old son along with her. Obama went to school until 1969 when he was sent to live with his maternal grandparents in Hawaii.
  • 9. Against All Odds
    • A Question of Class
    • Obama belonged to the typical American middle-class family, albeit on the liberal side.
    • This meant that Obama never enjoyed the privileged upbringing past US presidents were born and accustomed to silver spoon.
  • 10. Against All Odds
    • NOT FROM THE WHITE ANGLO-SAXON RULING ELITES
    • Unlike past US presidents such as his immediate predecessor, Republican George W Bush and even the icon of the Democratic Party, John F. Kennedy however, Obama was not a scion of American and Kenyan aristocrats or oligarchs.
    • His parents were neither politically influential nor wealthy.
    • This also meant that its doubly hard for him to raise money for his campaign : Senate seat in Chicago and Presidential nomination for Democrat Party and finally the Presidential Election.
  • 11. A Question of Class
    • In both his growing up years in Hawaii and subsequently in Jakarta, Indonesia, Obama did not attend private schools.
    • Such a background proved influential in the formative years that was to inculcate those values which were to characterise him in his later political career.
    • Political values – e.g. more equitable and universal healthcare system which guarantees access to lower income people.
    • Campaigning methods – made use of his experience as a community organizer: Funds were sourced from the donations of ordinary Americans, and not giant corporations.
  • 12. Against All Odds
    • These traits have endeared him to the electorate who sees his charisma mainly as the ability to communicate across the wide spectrum of society, irrespective of background.
    • Coming from a non-privileged background and spending a part of his formative years in a foreign country with a different culture must have impressed Obama with a sense of empathy and sympathy for the ordinary person irrespective of background.
    • Furthermore, coming from a mixed-heritage or “bi-racial” background, and living in multi-racial Hawaii, he is able to understand and perceive from the different cultural perspectives.
  • 13. Multicultural Experiences
    • “ The opportunity that Hawaii offered - to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect -became an integral part of my world view, and a basis for the values that I hold most dear.” Reyes, B. J “Punahou Left Lasting Impression on Obama”, Honolulu Star-Bulletin (8 February 2007)‏
  • 14. Against All Odds
    • But it has to be highlighted that these same factors were also simultaneously barriers which he had to overcome in America.
    • The ethnic cum cultural prejudice which he experienced as an individual (since he would always be regarded as “black” by most “white” Americans or by African-Americans as “a black in a white skin”.
    • The political prejudice which is “complemented” by Obama’s left-wing leanings and early association with radical figures such as Bill Ayers (communist-anarchist intellectual and educationist) and Jeremy Wright (liberal minister - liberation theology - integrating communist ideals into Christianity)‏
  • 15. Against all Odds
    • CONSPIRACY THEORIES
    • Unfair allegations and unsubstantiated accusations have been hurled at Obama during the presidential elections campaign.
    • The most prominent is that he is a closet/secret Muslim who is a “fifth column” bent on destroying the US from within.
    • Emails abound and the Internet (e.g. forums and chat-rooms) has been rife with such rumours.
  • 16. Conspiracy Theories
    • Most recently in the run-up to his inauguration as the 44th President of the US, lawsuits have been filed to compel Obama to reveal his “true” birth certificate. Although the Governor of Hawaii has publicly confirmed the veracity or authenticity of the local birth certificate, allegations are that it is a fake and that Obama was actually born in Kenya.
    • So, against all the odds, including the smear campaign (a campaign within a campaign itself) throughout the presidential race, Obama still managed to sway the sentiments of the American people to vote for him.
    • Let's see WHY?
  • 17. WHY OBAMA WON?
    • 1. THE ECONOMIC CRISIS
    • Perhaps the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
    • Financial meltdown had a domino effect which wiped out liquidity and caused many banking institutions to collapse due to loan defaults based on mortgage-backed securities (MBS) packaged as “credit-default swaps”
    • A host of complex financial instruments fuelled by speculative greed.
    • The impact on Wall Street had a immediate multiplier effect on Main Street.
  • 18. WHY OBAMA WON?
    • THE ECONOMIC CRISIS
    • Many consumers lost whatever savings they had, some saw their home re-possessed, personal investments such as shares had their values plummeted since the investee companies had to be re-evaluated according to mark-to-market accounting rules – “fire-sale” value – market sentiments – loss of confidence.
    • Unemployment rate reached 6.5 percent, the highest since 1994.
  • 19. Why Obama Won?
    • 2. A “LAME DUCK” PRESIDENT
    • President Bush had been losing “moral authority” since his invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. Though he enjoyed a boost in rating post-911, his decision to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan rather than to focus on selectively targeting individual al-Qaeda terrorists like bin Laden made him unpopular as this reinforces the negative impression of the US as imposing its hegemony on other nations in the pursuit of self-interests such as securing oil supplies from friendly producers - as the world’s only superpower.
    • Many Americans at home have been yearning for the return of the servicemen and are fed-up with the negative image of the US abroad.
  • 20. Why Obama Won?
    • 3. CHOICE OF THE VICE-PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE
    • Joe Biden was seen as a wise choice – his experience complements Obama’s youthful dynamism.
    • Both have shared aspirations and policies.
    • Both men were in “sync” with one another throughout the campaign – unified.
    • Sarah Palin, on the other hand, is even more right-wing than McCain.
    • Did not conduct herself properly during the campaign. Came across to many Americans as a fundamentalist bigot – hence, unappealing to many Americans.
  • 21. Why Obama Won?
    • 4. SUPPORT OF THE YOUNGER GENERATION AND NEW VOTERS
    • Two-thirds of the young American voters (aged between 18-29 years old) supported Obama.
    • They believed that Obama would understand their concerns and identify with their aspirations more because of his age and background, including generation.
    • This was true irrespective of race, gender or religion.
    • The Obama campaign machinery utilised the Internet and mass communications technology to its electoral advantage – exploited efficiently.
  • 22. Why Obama Won?
    • 5. THE SUPPORT OF THE BLACK AND ETHNIC MINORITIES
    • Obama enjoyed rock solid support amongst the African-American community which realised that for the first time, there was a real opportunity for a black to be elected as president.
    • Almost 95 percent voted Obama.
    • Similarly, support amongst Muslim-Americans was overwhelming too, with some figures as high as 85 percent.
  • 23. Why Obama Won?
    • 5. The Power of the mass media
    • The mass media as the “Fourth Estate” of the American political system, which is supposed to complement the principle of “check and balance” has been accused of displaying an Obama bias throughout the presidential elections.
    • · The claim was that Obama tended to be portrayed in positive terms, whereas the reverse was true of McCain.
    • · The PewResearch Center had conducted research on the media coverage and reported that …
  • 24. Why Obama Won?
    • 5. The Power of the mass media
    • For Obama during this period, just over a third of the stories were clearly positive in tone (36 percent), while a similar number (35 percent) were neutral or mixed. A smaller number (29 percent) were negative.
    •  For McCain, by comparison, nearly six-in-ten stories studied were decidedly negative in nature (57 percent), while fewer than two-in-ten (14 percent) were positive.
  • 25. Why Obama Won?
    • 5. The Power of the mass media
    • · Even during the primaries, Obama enjoyed nearly 50 percent more coverage.
    • (Source: “Canvassing Campaign Media: An Analysis of Time, Tone and Topics”, 22 October, 2008 - Project for Excellence in Journalism)
    • Pew Research Center at : http://pewresearch.org/pubs/1001/campaign-media
  • 26. ISSUES AND CHALLENGES
    • ARRESTING THE ECONOMIC FREE FALL
    • Stimulus package to revive the economy – in excess of the USD700 billion voted for by Congress last year.
    • Obama has said that his administration plans to generate 2.5 million jobs by 2011.
    • The largest investment in roads and bridges “since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s”.
    • Experts point out that “an effective stimulus package must provide immediate, temporary, direct economic relief targeted to the people who need it, are most likely to use the funds, and increase the level of economic activity in their communities without permanently increasing the budget deficit”.
    • a change to the consumer habit and lifestyle of Main Street America - reverse low household savings and speculative activities and promote American exports
  • 27. ISSUES AND CHALLENGES
    • Green Issues at Home
    • A "massive effort" to make federal buildings energy-efficient by replacing aging heating systems and installing efficient light bulbs.
    • Obama said this could save taxpayers "billions of dollars each year" and put people back to work.
    • Healthcare
    • Educational Issues
    • The “most sweeping” programme to upgrade and rehabilitate the nation’s schools by repairing buildings, installing energy-efficient systems and buying new computers for classrooms. The idea is to create “21st-century schools”.
  • 28. On the Foreign Front
    • Foreign Policy
    • soft power diplomacy backed by hard power
    • Withdrawing US military presence from (a stabilised) Iraq – defeating the on-going threat of the Taliban (resurgence) in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
    • Dealing with Iran over regional stability issues and its nuclear programme – also North Korea which remains highly volatile and unpredictable.
    • Dealing with the emergence of Russia
    • The rise of China and probably India as an economic power/rival.
  • 29. On the Foreign Front
    • Promote American good-will abroad - reverse its negative image - “soft” power approach which will ensure international peace, security and stability.
    • Dealing with an emerging Russia using oil and gas as the new geo-strategic weapon.
  • 30. GREEN ISSUES
    • Environment – promoting multi-lateral approach and leading from within the international consensus rather than self-isolation. Fulfilling Kyoto emission targets.
    • Promote “green technology” in the US – reduce dependency on foreign oil without harming the environment within the US through new riggings.
  • 31. US-Southeast Asia Relations
    • US-INDONESIA
    • “Special relations” with Indonesia.
    • A key ally in Southeast Asia (SEA).
    • The moderate and progressive Islamic credentials together with the secularism of the nation’s constitution makes Indonesia an ideal Muslim state to be courted by the Obama administration - to carve out his own niche in US-Islamic countries relations.
    • So, its important to cultivate ties with SEA, – natural and logical “starting-point”.
  • 32. US-Southeast Asia Relations
    • US-MALAYSIA RELATIONS
    • Malaysia might capitalise on Indonesia’s “special relations”.
    • Another progressive Islamic country which the Obama administration would want to cultivate friendlier ties.
    • Malaysia is key in the Obama administration’s fight against terror - strategically located along the Straits of Melaka as a gateway to Indonesia (Jemaah Islamiah), Thailand (Patani insurgents) and the Philippines (Moro separatists).