Professor dishes on why Obama won

Professor Patrick Vaughan teaches American history at the Institute of American Studies and Polish Diaspora at Jagiellonian University. He received his PhD from the University of West Virginia. His forthcoming biography of Zbigniew Brzezinski will be published in the spring of 2009.

Let’s start from trying to answer the question of why Barack Obama won? Was it really the anti-Bush factor that played the crucial role in this election?
Obama won mainly because of the fatigue in American society. Americans were tired of the Bush administration as well as of the almost seven year war that the United States has been fighting since September 11th, 2001. He also won the White House because of his personal skills and the way he conducted himself during the campaign. He certainly looked more confident than his adversary and for American people he just seemed to be the better future commander-in-chief. Obama also never lost his cool during the campaign and he proved that he was a trans-generational candidate, liked by the young and also by older voters.

How would you explain the phenomenon of “Obamamania” outside of the United States?
Well, I think that it has had a lot to do with anti-Bush resentment, especially in Europe. But like I said before, Obama has also this extra quality that people recognize that he can be a great leader for the United States.

Speaking of Europe, what does Obama’s victory mean for the future of Euro-American relations? It has been no secret that during the Bush administration these relations have been enormously damaged.
Yes, indeed. But right now it is time for repairing these transatlantic ties. And not only because Europe is an important partner for the United States but also because it is a crucial partner. My prediction is that Obama’s plan is to go quickly to the Middle East to try to look for a breakthrough in the relations between Israel and Palestine. We might also expect a big international conference on the future of Iraq (with participation of all the main actors in the Middle East and other regions). I’m talking about this because from the European perspective, I think that the road to the Middle East goes through Europe. America needs its European partners if it wishes to mend the situation in the Middle East.

I know that as a historian you probably don’t like to speculate but still? let’s say that Hillary Clinton will be appointed Barak Obama’s secretary of state. What does it mean in terms of both the internal and the foreign policy of the United States?
I think that if Obama will pick Hillary it will happen for two reasons. First, Obama doesn’t want to have a big fight within the Democratic party. He wants to consolidate the party and by bringing her in this is exactly what he would try to accomplish. And besides it is always better to have your potential rivals closer to you. There was this famous saying of Lyndon B. Johnson: “better to have them inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in.”
And let’s not forget that nowadays, the role of the secretary of state has been really diminished. So Mrs. Clinton, if selected, would not have that much power. Practically, since the Reagan years, no president has run the foreign policy from the State Department (perhaps with the exception of Bill Clinton and his second secretary of state Madeline Albright).

The last question has to deal with Poland. What can Poland expect from the future administration?
The Bush administration, especially in the early years, took Poland for granted. They thought that whatever the United States does, Poland would follow. And then Polish-American relations were mainly perceived through the prism of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama will certainly be less engaged militarily in world affairs. So the role of Poland in American foreign policy will have to evolve as well. Well, I wouldn’t be too worried about Poland’s relations with the United States as long as Zbigniew Brzezinski advises Obama on this subject.

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