Mail Call: Bullish on Obama

Readers of our cover package on Barack Obama's emerging world view reflected the excitement his candidacy generates. One saw him "as everything good in America." Another awaits "an America less unilateral and hubristic." And after the last eight years, one noted, "Obama can only shine."

How the World Views Barack Obama
Having read your July 28 cover story, "Obama Abroad," I must say that here in Africa, we see Barack Obama as living history. We see him as everything that is good in America. We consider him to be in the mold of American presidents such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. His oratorical skills remind us of the great civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. We also view him as a native son, and a man proud of his ancestral heritage. My advice to him when dealing with Africa would be: look beyond our oppressors who masquerade as leaders and presidents, and obtain a more accurate picture from the oppressed people of Africa who live in abject poverty.
Kenechukwu Oyeka
Lagos, Nigeria

Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama draw large crowds when traveling overseas. But when Obama goes abroad, the crowds are waving the American flag and cheering. When Bush goes overseas, they are burning the American flag and protesting. I look forward to having a president who isn't the laughingstock of the international community.
Marc Perkel
San Bruno, California

Fareed Zakaria rightly reminds us of the role intellectuals such as George Kennan, Dean Acheson and Reinhold Niebuhr play in Barack Obama's outlook. Historian Tom Segev stresses that a future president must pay attention to ordinary people's feelings, rather than to official government positions. Obama isn't president yet, and may not be, but the message is clear: the world would like to see an America less unilateral and less hubristic.
Prof.Pedro Paulo A. Funari
Head, Center for Strategic Studies
State University of Campinas
Campinas, Brazil

I was very pleased with your article on the strengths of Barack Obama's foreign policy. I would like to add a reference to some of John McCain's glaring weaknesses and to the broader crisis of conservatism in America. Conservatives have come to play the role of scaremongers and scolding grandfathers. To the sufferers of America's economic crisis, recently disavowed McCain adviser Phil Gramm called the United States "a nation of whiners," and conservative intellectual George F. Will echoed that, saying Americans are "the crybabies of the Western world." When thousands of Americans lose their homes and millions go without health care, the answer of conservatism is clear: suck it up. McCain's prescription for foreign policy is to continue the Iraq War. All this is in the name of the "global war on terror," a half-baked delusion that McCain insists on pompously calling "the transcendental struggle of our time." Given this, Obama can only shine.
Craig Haston
Shrewsbury, England

While I sympathized with the direction of your piece on Barack Obama's foreign policy, I was dismayed to read that "Obama seems—unusually for a modern-day Democrat—highly respectful of the realist tradition." Which leaders are you referring to? Democratic presidents have been keenly aware that power, both its threat and its application, plays a preponderant role in foreign policy. It was Democrats Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson who fought, for good and ill, what are still the nation's three greatest wars abroad. It was Jimmy Carter's national-security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who funded Islamist fighters in Afghanistan to provoke a Soviet invasion of the "wasp's nest." Bill Clinton abandoned "idealism" both on the issue of making most-favored-nation status for China conditional on democratic reform, and by closing his eyes to the Rwanda genocide. Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations failed in large part because the bid for U.S. membership was scuttled by shortsighted isolationists. The notion of Democrats as victims of misty-eyed idealism should not be encouraged. There is a long and distinguished tradition of liberal foreign policy, both realistic and ambitious in its assessment of American power, and aware of the importance of liberty and prosperity abroad to security at home.
Craig Willy
Roquefort-Les-Pins, France

Church and State in the Gulf
I would certainly agree that more freedom for Christians in the Gulf states is a healthy development, but one should not be too optimistic about the long-term consequences ("The Changing Faiths of the Gulf," PERISCOPE, July 28). Unlike Christianity, Islam is historically linked with politics. However, the division between religious and political power in some countries, like France and the United States, does not apply to all countries even in the Western world. Certain monarchies in Europe still require that their head of state (the monarch) be a Protestant Christian. This requirement has lost its practical significance. The hope that the link between politics and religion will be diluted in Muslim countries may be overly optimistic at present.
Sverre Haukeland
Vasteras, Sweden

What ' s in a Name?
So the economies of Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain are sluggish, and that affords economists and journalists an opportunity to make up a cheap and derogatory acronym: PIGS ("Why PIGS Can't Fly," July 14). It would have been more respectful to list them by alphabetical order, GIPS, but the result would have been less catchy from a journalistic point of view. Let us hope that Austria, Sweden and Slovakia do not have a common economic problem in the future.
Jacques Blanc
Nantes, France

Singing Wales ' s Praises
Your periscope article "Welsh Soul" (June 9) contained two puzzling references. The first, surely a misprint, was a reference to "rural poverty": like Detroit, Wales has suffered from the decline of heavy industry in the past two decades, but as far as I am aware, our farmers have not suffered more than any other hill farmers in the United Kingdom. Also, the reference to Wales as "the cultural black sheep of Britain" was a little misleading: apart from the very high standards set in Welsh-language music competitions, which have produced artists of the stature of Bryn Terfel, the general contribution of Wales to the cultural life of Britain far surpasses that of any other region of comparable population. Of course we have defects and problems, but these references are not among them.
Lloyd Watkins
Swansea, Wales

Protecting Environment and Labor
I was disappointed to read Bjorn Lomborg's article, "A Great Unpopular Idea," in the business section of the July 7/July 14 issue. It should have run as a point-of-view column, since it was clearly a shameless plug for his " Great Unpopular Idea" concept, linking it to the Copenhagen Consensus Center, which actually appears to do good work. Although Lomborg is a professor of business, his opinion lacks any coherent understanding of how the world works today. His misguided belief that the Doha Development Agenda will be of little cost is false. It would be nice if the world worked as it does in Denmark, where if a person attempts to register and drive a car with license plates from another country, then nearly all of that person's neighbors would alert the tax authorities in a matter of days. However, if a developing country like China does whatever it takes to enable free trade, the cost is astronomical in terms of the environment. Furthermore, Lomborg fails to point out that in such a model there will be big losers alongside those big winners. Workers will be exploited and corruption will spiral out of control. When we buy products that are manufactured this way, we usually don't know how they were made: was it with child labor or were chemicals dumped into a river? But this doesn't mean that we shouldn't work to enable more trade with the developing world: it simply means there has to be a fair set of criteria that ensure protection of the environment and the labor force in those countries if they want to trade with the West. Lomborg's theory is just more of the same, which might benefit him but it doesn't benefit that child who labored to make his running shoes, nor does it guarantee pollutant-free drinking water.
Mike Silva
Heidelberg, Germany

All Things Big and Small
I showed Sharon Begley's June 9 article, "Praise the Humble Dung Beetle," to a group of 11th-grade students, and I would like to share their reactions. While all had seen a dung beetle at work, few had taken much interest. All agreed that publicity pictures of cuddly polar bears and wide-eyed pandas would capture people's attention and possibly generate some charitable donations, but a picture of the unfortunately named dung beetle would not, unless it was thought to be a new pest-control product. My students said that humans are essentially selfish creatures, unlikely to change, and the world would probably peter out as a result. As the students put it, most people don't think about the impending destruction of the world, not because they don't care, but because it's not staring at them up close. They recycle and buy ozone-friendly products when convenient. Only when humans are left with little chance of survival will they begin to worry. And if a person is marooned on a raft and sees a polar bear in the distance, he will not think of saving it, he'll wonder how to catch, cook and eat it.
C. A. Salmon
Desamparados De Alajuela, Costa Rica

The Truth About Immigrants in Italy
As an Italian-American who has grown up and spent 47 years in Italy reading NEWSWEEK, I can only feel repeated disappointment that readers see Italy through the often biased eyes and words of Barbie Nadeau. Going one step beyond my disappointment, let me specifically point to the opening paragraph of your June 9 PERISCOPE article "The World Condemns Rome, But Europe Is the Problem." Nadeau refers to an episode that occurred "last month"—ergo, more than enough time to double- or triple-check the facts—and mentions "swastika-wearing thugs" who beat Chinese, Indian and Bangladeshi shopkeepers." Days later, the leader of the thugs voluntarily went to the police and newspapers to clarify any misunderstandings by giving his version of the facts. The leader of the posse said that for starters, it was not a racist attack; they had merely wanted to retrieve a friend's stolen purse (with violent and indiscriminate means). He also announced "I am left wing," and to prove it, he displayed a Che Guevara tattoo on his arm. Photos of this appeared in all the newspapers. So the moral of the story is that fair and democratic journalism should represent the truth as closely as possible without straying 180 degrees from reality.
Piero Bonicatti
Rome, Italy

Latin-African Activism
Joe Contreras commendably celebrates the victories of Latin African activism in his article "Rise of the Latin Africans" (June 9). These movements enhance peace and security for us all, but we must not be bamboozled by oppressive governments like Alvaro Uribe's administration in Colombia. Contreras refers to the Colombian government's 2007 decision to return to Afro-Colombians 18,000 hectares of land (not 8,000, as the article stated) stolen by paramilitary death squads and unscrupulous companies. But to date, only a few dozen hectares have been returned. Even as the government has made agreements to return these lands, it has made legal changes that effectively pre-empt those very agreements by dismantling the rights of indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. Favored corporations and foreign investors were granted greater control over land and resources. Since the decision to return their stolen lands was issued, the safety of these vulnerable Afro-Colombian communities has deteriorated further. Assassination threats are doled out to communal leaders, homes have been burned and the presence of paramilitary death squads has increased. These lands are being deforested to make way for more palm oil, which is used in the production of biofuels. The Afro-Colombian civil-rights movement overcame immeasurable obstacles to achieve reparations in the form of collective control of ancestral territories and resources. Their ownership of land and their willingness to struggle for it puts them in the cross hairs of an aggressive campaign waged by the government that has two prongs: murder, intimidation and displacement at home coupled with a public-relations campaign of disinformation designed to assuage American concerns about the proposed free-trade agreement between the United States and Colombia. Therefore, we wholeheartedly applaud Contreras for the coverage of these underreported stories and encourage him to dig deeper.
Lori Reed
American Friends Service Committee
International Affairs Program Director
St. Louis, Missouri