[Viewpoint]Approaching Obama’s America

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[Viewpoint]Approaching Obama’s America

By studying Chinese politics, I became accustomed to looking at the United States from China’s perspective. China is emerging explosively but it will have a hard time narrowing the gap in power with the United States. In fact, many U.S. realists think China’s power is limited and question the country’s desire for hegemony. They also think China’s threat has been exaggerated, tamping down security fears. The Bush administration first saw China as a strategic competitor, but the view has changed to stakeholder in the later term.

At the moment, the United States, not China, is at the center of global attention. The financial crisis demonstrated the failures of the U.S. federal government, ranging from its response to Hurricane Katrina, to the Iraq War. Even traditional conservatives in the Republican Party and military turned their backs on the Bush administration, noting that the military alone cannot solve problems. Some pragmatic aides eventually joined Barack Obama’s camp.

It is an irony that President Bush, whose approval rating is about 23 percent as he nears the end of his final term, has been one of the biggest contributors to building Obama’s United States.

With no one to challenge it, the United States has become arrogant. Instead of asking “Who are we?” it has been asking “Who are you?” It has tried to reshape the world to U.S. values. Instead of engagement, restraint and warmth toward the global community, the country was blinkered by unilateralism.

For some time, the United States has been embarrassing itself, costing it the soft power and dignity befitting an empire. That is why it has become mired in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The October crash, therefore, is not just financial. It calls the United States’ very way of life into question. The American people’s courage and power in electing Obama are impressive, and with his administration the U.S. is still strong enough to rebuild the framework of the international order.

Obama has a greater task than rebuilding America. He must build a peaceful world. “As a leader in the global era, you must view the world through a wide lens,” Madeleine Albright, former President Bill Clinton’s secretary of state, advised Obama, and he should listen.

Many European countries welcomed Obama and about 75 percent of the Chinese supported him because they favor the democratization of international relations, not the export of American values.

In the post-Bush era, the international order is still filled with uncertainty. A new strategic clash is possible among major powers. The Korean Peninsula will soon be swept away by the waves. Right now, what we need is to calmly form our strategies and get our vision in good order, rather than trying to reach out to Obama and publicizing values we hold in common.

And that should begin by looking back at the past, in which we have learned the value of conservatism through Bush.

The way we “restore” the U.S.?Korea alliance, as if it was a cultural property, should be re-examined.

The rigid framework on North Korea was established way too early. We were dominated by the idea that the market is good and regulation is evil.

And we lack understanding about other kinds of democracy.

For the new era, we should walk on the path of renewal. Obama has been talking about renewal throughout his campaign, and Chinese President Hu Jintao also made it the philosophy of his time in office. Pragmatism requires changing one’s ideas.

It’s like being willing to shoot arrows on horseback while dressed in the enemy’s uniform.

During China’s Warring States period, the Huns were the biggest problem for the Zhao state. Their mobility - the Huns fought on horseback - was far superior to that of Zhao soldiers, who fought from carriages. King Wuling of Zhao then undertook military reform. He ordered all his soldiers to dress in Hun uniforms and trained them in horseback archery in addition to the cavalry charge.

His reform naturally faced the opposition of conservative commanders, but the king made clear that, “Those who use the old to define the new do not achieve change.” After the king himself donned a Hun uniform, attitudes shifted and genuine change came.

We should dress in new clothes and lose weight. The Lee Myung-bak administration’s aides must learn humility by visiting bars and outdoor plazas every night after work and communicate with the new and the strange.

They should learn humility by looking at other people’s reflection in the water rather than looking at themselves.

The progressives are not exempt. They must learn that they must give up small things for a larger cause. They must learn to act in ways that they have not been able to accomplish until now, because confrontation at this moment will not change the world even a little.

*The writer is a professor at Sungkyunkwan University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Hee-ok

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