I DOUBT that the election of a leader of any country in the world has ever been greeted with the almost universal acclaim that Barack Obama received yesterday. It was a tribute to him personally for the hope he inspires - but it was also evidence that millions of people around the world want the United States of America to regain the leadership status it has lost during the past eight years.

One day, Just over four years ago, my wife Leila called me to watch the TV; a young, angular African American was addressing the Democrats convention held to endorse the presidential candidacy of Senator Kerry.

When he had finished his impressive speech - calling for change in visionary and eloquent language - Leila said, “He'll be president of America one day.” It was, of course, Barack Obama, a name few knew then. Most ambitious politicians - John McCain is an example - spend their entire life working towards the moment when they can run for the presidency. Barack Obama has spent no more than six years yet his exceptional qualities have catapulted him to the leadership of the free world.

The burden of expectations that he carries is immense and it will not be surprising if a period of disillusion sets in at some point. There was a telling cartoon by Peter Brookes in The Times yesterday: two Afghan women are walking along a mountainous track, holding their babies as bombs explode behind them; one says to the other, “Are those Obama or McCain bombs, do you think?”