In the coming weeks there will be much discussion about what Obama's victory means for the United States and its relations with the rest of the world. Obama's impact on international affairs will be both much less substantial than many hope and more profound than many expect.
The changes will be less substantial because many American policies are shaped around core U.S. security and economic interests. These interests do not change quickly or easily. Obama may change some policies and or at least adjust their implemention, but earth-shaking course changes are unlikely. Even in terms of implementation, Obama's hands are tied because there is very little money to fund new initiatives.
But the crowds that have cheered for Obama around the world, were not only doing so because he wasn't W. or because they looked forward to the U.S. being a less overbearing superpower. The crowds cheered for what Obama represented, an America that lives up to its highest ideals.
I cannot, off-hand, think of another country where something comparable to Obama's victory has occurred. The outpouring of international warmth towards Obama reflects, at least in part, the hope that there is a nation where ancient hatreds do not always carry the day and that people do not have to be slaves to history. People around the world need to know that such a place exists.
W. spent his Presidency attempting to spread freedom and democracy. Obama is an essential second act - reminding the world that, despite the failings and disappointments of the past decade, democracy and freedom are at least possible.