Election 2008

Obama, world’s reaction, world opinion
Riccardo Gangale/AP
Kenyan's in Kisumu, Western Kenya, Wednesday Nov. 5, 2008, celebrates the victory of
president-elect Barack Obama. (AP)

Assessing the International Reaction to Obama’s Win

November 05, 2008 05:54 PM
by Shannon Firth
President-elect Barack Obama’s message of change has resonated not only with Americans, but with citizens and governments around the world.

Global Interest in U.S. Presidential Election

Tagged by some as “the first global American presidential election,” the 2008 U.S. presidential race probably garnered more world attention than any other U.S. election in history. Both the Toronto Star and The New York Times agreed that people around the world are keen to see what impact America’s next president will have on the world stage.

In the days leading up to the election, Toronto Star columnist David Olive charted global interest in the results: Ghana held all-night prayer vigils in its villages, sculptors in Mumbai crafted a monkey god similar to Obama’s own good-luck charm, and Parisian fruit markets gave free produce to those wearing Obama ‘08 buttons.

Yet Olive believes in light of all of the demands Obama now faces, including a failing economy and two wars, America will have to focus on “self-renewal.” Time spent solving the rest of the world’s problems “will be necessarily limited.” However, Olive is not entirely disheartened. “Obama's America will change the world—by asking it to share the mantle of sound leadership,” he writes.

Ethan Bronner of the The New York Times agreed with Olive that Obama’s victory is seen as a means to “repudiate the Bush administration.” Still, he noted that it wasn’t universally championed; in several polls, Israel, Georgia and the Philippines showed their preference for Sen. John McCain. Israel and Georgia, in particular, seem worried that Obama will be too “soft” on “bullies” such as Iran and Russia. However, Bronner reveals a thorny paradox: “They want Mr. Obama, the beneficiary and exemplar of American exceptionalism, to act like everyone else, only better, to shift American policy and somehow to project both humility and leadership.”

Reactions: World leaders, media react to Obama’s victory

Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, in a statement reported by Al Jazeera, spoke of “a renewed commitment between Europe and the United States,” and talked of transforming crisis into opportunity.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari’s statement to Al Jazeera was more subdued. "I think it [Obama's election] was a major, major change ... although as far as Iraq is concerned I don't believe there will be any changes overnight …because a great deal is at stake for everybody.”

According to CNN, The Kenya Times looks forward to Obama’s role in foreign affairs, adding that “[he] has convincingly shown that the world could be better through diplomacy than intimidation and arm-twisting tactics." The Russian newspaper Pravda, however, was more forthright in declaring, "Eight years of hell are over." Writers for China Daily reported it was happy to be dealing with a “more cooperative and talk-savvy new America.” Likewise, The Times of India noted its approval but voiced concern over Obama’s plans to limit outsourcing.

Background: Citizens around the world vote for Obama

The Economist’s “Global Electoral College” closed its poll on Nov. 1 at midnight London time. Using a model based on the American Electoral College, 195 countries were granted at least three electoral-college votes, but the votes only registered if at least ten individuals in each country voted. Some 52,000 visitors cast a vote: Obama was the clear winner with 9,115 delegates in his favor, compared with McCain’s 203 votes.

Bragi Thor Antoniusson, a 23-year-old student in Iceland, created a Web site so that people around the world could voice their opinions about who should be the next American president.  Antoniusson told The Washington Post, “We're not asking to have a vote, what we're asking is that Americans open their eyes and see that the world's opinion matters."

Opinion & Analysis: Obama’s challenges

Tim Montgomerie, a writer for The Guardian, predicted an Obama win but warned that his presidency would not be an instant panacea for widespread anti-American sentiment. While some countries are angry at America for interfering in their affairs, others feel that the United States is neglecting its “global responsibilities.” Montgomerie writes, “I do not argue that America should ignore world opinion but it should not believe that world opinion is as simple as some opinion polls suggest.”

From the moment Obama takes office in January, he will be tested. Obama faces a slew of crises including restoring the national economy, resurrecting international relations and fighting American wars on two fronts.

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