World Fellows opt for Obama

Though they started with assumptions of bipartisanship, a group of World Fellows reached a unanimous conclusion at a discussion Wednesday night — Sen. Barack Obama should be the face America presents to the rest of the world.

The five Yale World Fellows convened as part of the Yale College Council’s “Yale Votes!” series agreed that while neither Sen. John McCain nor Obama have presented sufficiently detailed visions for international relations strategies, Obama’s charisma and distance from the policies of President George W. Bush ’68 strongly appeals to the international community. About 20 students attended the talk, which featured World Fellows Gavin Hood of the United Kingdom, Felix Maradiaga of Nicaragua, Nicola Harrington of the United Kingdom, James Kondo of Japan and Ibidapo Oyewole of Nigeria.

United States presidential elections are especially important to the rest of the world given their potential to change U.S. —and thus global —policy, the panelists said.

“Most Americans may not understand, but when you choose a president, you are like the Council of Bishops electing the Pope,” Oyewole explained.

Each of the fellows illustrated this point with examples drawn from his or her experiences and field. Harrington, deputy director of policy and communications for the UN, expressed disappointment that neither candidate has sufficiently addressed the role of the United Nations. The UN is inextricably linked to the United States, she said — in fact, the UN would have no power without the participation of the United States.

Each candidate will have to evaluate the U.S.’s relationship with the UN, especially in the Security Council, and consider the role of emerging nations like India within the UN leadership hierarchy, Harrington said.

Hood expressed concern over the candidates’ views of the “war on terror.”

In fact, he said, both McCain and Obama have similar strategies for continuing the war in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world. Both are encouraging expanding diplomacy and soft power, ramping up efforts in Afghanistan and, if he is discovered there, attacking Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

But Hood said these positions are too vague and that he hopes each candidate will instead try to reverse specific Bush administration policies such as the so-called torture policies pursued at the Guantánamo Bay prison.

“There has been a failure to balance security with justice and rule of law,” Hood said.

All the fellows expressed optimism that either candidate could succeed in repairing the reality and the image of the United States overseas — but that Obama perhaps had a better chance of doing so.

While many of the fellows attempted to remain bipartisan, Kondo said he believes Obama’s international background, youth and call for change resonates strongly overseas.

“We are not quite sure what we are going to get,” Kondo said. “But Obama is extremely special from the world’s perspective.”

While the politics were the reason for many of the students’ attendance at the event, most were not in attendance to vocally support one candidate or the other.

“I’m here more to learn what people have to say on the international relationship front,” Chelsea Janes ’12 said. “It’s very interesting how the world’s expectation is that Obama is the guy.”

The next event in the Yale Votes! series, a panel with student leaders about race, class and ethics in the election, will take place Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in Linsley-Chittenden Hall, room 211.

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