Will Obama euphoria lead to deep disappointment?
‘Let's not jump to unrealistic conclusions just because he looks like us’
Paris -- As black French civil rights activists and their friends began celebrating Barack Obama's election early Wednesday in a private club in Paris, one reveler sounded a sobering, and largely unappreciated, note of caution.
"Obama is an American politician and he will govern like an American president," said Cameroonian journalist Paul Heutching. "Let's not jump to unrealistic conclusions just because he looks like us."
As the world celebrates the election of the first Afro-American US president -- as a symbolic watershed in American society and a repudiation of the policies of his predecessor, George W Bush -- it seems as if many people, such as France's disenfranchised blacks, regard Obama as a kind of messiah capable of curing all ills.
A typically euphoric reaction was that of US television host and media mogul Oprah Winfrey, who told CNN television, "It feels like there is a shift in consciousness... It feels like something really big and bold has happened."
However, the groundswell of optimism raised by Obama's candidacy and victory has also inspired some observers to issue cautions.
"I am afraid that people may be pinning unreasonable hopes on Obama," said French historian Pap Ndiaye, the author of The Black Condition: An Essay on a French Minority. "He will be working under strict political constraints. The disappointment may be very great."
Barney Mthombothi, editor of South Africa's weekly Financial Mail magazine, has been warning Africans against pinning unrealistic hopes on an Obama presidency for months.
"Africa often tends to behave a bit like an unwanted orphan, who suddenly discovers a famous uncle, who'll hopefully wipe away the tears and provide a protective arm," Mthombothi wrote in June. "It doesn't always work that way. He is going to bat for nobody else but America."
European politicians could also be in for a letdown. In congratulating the US president-elect on Wednesday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called for "a new deal for a new world."
And EU foreign ministers meeting Tuesday in Marseille demanded that Europe be regarded by Washington as an equal partner in the future.
"One single nation can not decide everything alone," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said. "The question of just what Europe is good for is no longer valid. We are now partners."
However, Obama will probably be unwilling to relinquish Washington's leading role in hot spots like the Middle East, Iran and Afghanistan and he may demand more real commitment than some governments are willing to give.
For example, during his visit to Paris in July, then-candidate Obama suggested that he would like to see European soldiers take over more of the fighting in Afghanistan.
"The more commitment there is (in Afghanistan) from our NATO allies... the more it frees up the United States from having to send more troops," he said at the time.
But people in many European countries are questioning their government's engagement in what is increasingly looking like a very long conflict, and there may not be the domestic support necessary for increasing troop deployment or combat activity there.
For example, in August, after an Afghan woman and two children were killed when German soldiers opened fire on a suspicious civilian vehicle, many German politicians called for a withdrawal of their troops.
It may, in fact, not take much time for reality to bring many euphoric Obama supporters down to earth.
Australian Simon Jackman, a professor of politics at Stanford University in California, said that the inauguration of an Afro-American as US president "will be tremendous symbolism" in the United States and around the world.
"But then, I think, when we get down to brass tacks and we have this $1 trillion (US) deficit and nervous members of Congress, where does this road end?" he said. "It could get very difficult six months in."
Obama himself has already reminded his admirers that he is only human.
"There will be setbacks and false starts," he said after his electoral victory. "There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president."