- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009


All it takes is a visit to Africa to truly understand what a powerful, historic and uplifting teary-eyed 60-second moment tomorrow will be not just for the people of the United States but for billions of our neighbors around the world.

Tomorrow, the world will join us in bearing witness to the peaceful one-minute transition of presidential power as Barack Obama places his hand on Abraham Lincoln’s Bible and recites those 25 short words found in Article 2, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution, adding the same humble and beseeching prayer of other American presidents: “So help me, God.”

This is a moment of jubilation. Speaking before an excited crowd in Africa, it was my friend, Republican guru Karl Rove, who reminded the audience that the marble steps of the U.S. Capitol where Mr. Obama will take the oath of office were built with slave labor. Perhaps, even, slaves from Nigeria, where we attended a forum sponsored by Leaders and Co., publisher of one of Africa’s largest daily newspapers, Thisday.

Mr. Rove wasn’t the only American on the trip who spoke glowingly about the moment, although he was the only one on the trip who mentioned that while Mr. Obama is taking the oath, Mr. Rove will watch from Andrews Air Force Base, where, later he will accompany outgoing President George W. Bush back to Texas. Jeb Bush, the president’s brother and former governor of Florida, also used his remarks to eloquently discuss the days ahead as Mr. Obama prepares to take office.

Tomorrow offers more than a moment of transition. It will be a moment of transformation and new possibilities for the United States to rebuild its economy and to restore its image and prestige around the globe. Based on what I heard, read and was during my brief pre-Inaugural visit to Europe and Africa, the world awaits this new chapter in American history with all the hope and anticipation that we hold in our hearts.

The purpose of my visit was to participate in a panel discussion with colleagues from both the Democratic and Republican Party. While many of us disagreed on many aspects of foreign and domestic policy, we spent most of our sessions agreeing on the best direction in which the new president should try lead the country, albeit with some of the usual partisan twists.

Never could I have imagined the welcome heaped on our relatively undeserving group of pundits and politicos. We were the surrogate recipients of a titanic outpouring of gratitude and best wishes for our new president and the American people. In the midst of all that is going wrong in the world and the hostility we often face as Americans when we travel abroad, this was truly a love affair, and each one of us felt the love.

Mr. Rove, Mr. Bush, former Cabinet member and White House chief of staff Andy Card, outgoing Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean and my CNN colleague Paul Begala could hardly walk around the conference center without being swamped. Nigerians, who often see us on TV cable shows, wanted to shake our hands and take our pictures with tears overflowing with their joy and compassion for the United States. They wanted to hear more about Mr. Obama’s plans in Africa and the Middle East, and they were concerned that, despite his African heritage, the needs and concerns of the people of Africa would not be a priority. Quite the contrary, we assured them.

Given the enormous and immediate challenges he faces, Mr. Obama is unlikely to visit Africa this year. Even in the best of times, we explained, most American presidents spend their first year focusing on the needs of the country. And while Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently announced recently that Mr. Obama will follow a U.S. presidential tradition and visit Canada in the near future, we pointed out that Canada is our No. 1 trading partner. Again, this should not come as any surprise given that four of the last seven U.S. presidents ventured north following their inauguration.

Still, the Nigerians in the audience were not discouraged. In fact, they are fairly optimistic that Mr. Obama will turn his attention at some point to strengthening the U.S. relationship with one of its most important strategic partners - not just in the war on terror, but also in trade.

At the conclusion of our event, we all sat together at one table as we awaited the arrival of Bill Clinton, who would deliver the conference’s concluding remarks. Mr. Clinton, who had earlier visited a hospital to see the progress being made to help children with HIV/AIDS, summed it up perfectly: “Obama is prepared to lead the United States of America.”

The world awaits this moment with us, a moment of transformation and jubilation. Of course, like many Americans, they are deeply worried about the path ahead and they are careful to manage their expectation.

Mr. Obama will face many tough challenges. He needs to prove to Congress and the American people that he is up to the task. And he will face some difficulties as he lobbies Congress. Already, before taking office, he has had a hard time in Washington.

There are some who already believe Mr. Obama will renege on his campaign promises. But what he must do tomorrow and throughout his term of office is set the framework for realistic expectations of what can and should be demanded of him, his administration, ourselves and one another.

The Africans are praying with us. They will be watching and, for once, we should know they are wishing us the very best. They are rejoicing. They see in us an example of what they too can become.

The road to freedom, the respect for the rule of law and the peaceful transition of power - this is truly a remarkable moment.

Donna Brazile is a nationally syndicated columnist, political commentator on CNN, ABC and National Public Radio and the former campaign manager for Al Gore.

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