The Inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the United States

Image: Flickr, Marc Nozell
Image: Flickr, Marc Nozell

The recent election of Barack Obama as President of the United States was dubbed, in Cape Town on the morning of 5 November, 2008, as ‘America's Mandela Moment' by United States Consul General Alberta Mayberry. 

The recent election of Barack Obama as President of the United States was dubbed, in Cape Town on the morning of 5 November, 2008, as ‘America’s Mandela Moment’ by United States Consul General Alberta Mayberry.  Although the parallel is not exact, there will be a similar international euphoria accompanying the inauguration of Barack Obama and his Vice President, Joseph Biden, on Tuesday, 20 January, 2009 at 12 noon in Washington, DC (or 7 pm, South African time).

On 21 January, the economic crisis at home and continuing conflict abroad will confront President Obama with sobering challenges.  The resounding call of his campaign, “Yes, We Can!” has instilled hope in a generation of Americans and foreigners alike, according to polls  such as the NYT/CBS poll on 17 January 2009. What can South Africans expect from this new leadership in the United States?  With regard to foreign policy, energy and climate, and the economy and trade, who will be driving the ‘change’ that Obama promised in his campaign?  What are the issues that top his administration’s agenda at the outset?

Obama has named his former Democratic nomination opponent Hillary Rodham Clinton as Secretary of State-Designate.  Following close scrutiny of husband and former President William Clinton’s finances for any potential conflicts of interest, Senator Clinton was selected as a politically savvy and internationally recognised leader after 8 years in the US Senate for New York. If confirmed by the Senate in the coming weeks, Secretary-Designate Clinton will move quickly to renew America’s image as a global leader, a stated aim of the Obama-Biden team’s policy agenda (see  This would include rebuilding the flagging US Department of State’s Foreign Service cadre after years of budgetary neglect under the Bush administration, in order to demonstrate the Obama administration’s commitment to the use of diplomacy in addressing international conflicts.  Israel’s recent invasion of Gaza in response to renewed rocket fire from Hamas will be of immediate concern, as will steps to end the US engagement in Iraq ‘responsibly’ by mid 2010, as promised, and to focus US efforts on Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Secretary-Designate Clinton will have to counter her Senate record as a staunch supporter of Israel, and her vote to proceed with the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, if she wishes to be welcomed at negotiating tables to address the various aspects of the Middle East Crisis in 2009, however.

In addition to Secretary-Designate Clinton and Vice President Joseph Biden, who as Senator from Delaware most recently chaired the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the National Security Team (if approved by the Senate where necessary) will include:

  • Robert Gates, who continues as Secretary of Defense, the first US Defense Secretary to be carried over into an opposing party’s administration;
  • Eric Holder, as US Attorney General. Holder, a judge and former deputy attorney general under the Clinton administration, will be tasked with closing down the anomalous Guantanamo Bay’s military prison as soon as possible (more likely over the coming year rather than immediately) and also how to deal with the torture allegations against the previous administration;
  • Janet Napolitano, past State Attorney General and Governor of Arizona, to lead the Department of Homeland Security (which deals with immigration issues) in a major reconciliation of duplication within this post- 9/11 agency;
  • Susan Rice as US Ambassador to the United Nations, informed by her role in the Clinton administration National Security Council where she handled peacekeeping efforts and then African affairs, and then as the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs;
  • James Jones, a retired four-star General, as National Security Advisor. Jones’ career included service as US Marine Commandant, Supreme Allied Commander of NATO, and Special Envoy to the Middle East for George W. Bush;
  • Leon Panetta, formerly serving for California in the US House of Representatives, as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

In addition to this team, several other posts that will have an impact upon US foreign relations include Treasury Secretary-Designate Timothy Geithner , who since 2003 has been head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and prior to that served in the IMF and the Treasury Department; White House Energy and Climate Policy Coordinator Carol Browner, who was previously the head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Clinton; and  Physicist and Nobel Prize Winner Stephen Chu as Energy Secretary-Designate. The US Global AIDS Coordinator Ambassador Mark Dybul, has been asked to remain in his post for an indefinite period, which signifies the Obama team’s plans to continue the US onslaught against HIV/AIDS internationally through PEPFAR or similar programs.

Transcript of Barack Obama’s Inauguration Speech

18 Jan 2009