Reactions to Obama's Historic Moment From Around the Globe

Election '08

Over the past eight years, the gap between most Americans' perception of their country's role in world affairs and that of the citizens of other nations has grown into a yawning chasm. For several years, global public opinion polls have found that a majority of the planet's residents believe the United States plays a "mainly negative" role in world affairs.

Much of Obama's inaugural speech was directed not only to the citizens of this country, but to the rest of the world as well. In a rebuke to the Cheney Doctrine, and other neoconservative madness that drove so many of Bush's policies, Obama said that earlier generations of American leaders had "understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use; our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint."

Time will tell how that translates into policy -- exactly what kind of change™ the Obama administration will bring to Washington. It's not only Americans who wait with eager anticipation to see. We rounded up reactions to this historic changing of the guard from newspaper editorial pages around the world, most via the excellent work of Watching America, a website that compiles -- and translates -- stories about the U.S. from the international media.

In The Guardian, Polly Toynbee writes that "even in lazily cynical Britain" the population "will all remember where we were today."

There has never been a day like it for Britain's postwar generations. As that inauguration speech echoes out, the globe itself seems to inhale a mighty, collective intake of breath, frighteningly audacious in its hope.
How does the man's arrival feel here? A day like no other, in a time of multiple crisis like none other. In the years of plenty, the British since the war have known little political excitement. …
So here comes the man who says he can [fix the many crises we face]. It's an American mystery that this great pool of genius has usually thrown such minnows into the White House. But the monumental present danger has summoned forth a man who promises the intellect, character and power of persuasion to match the hour.
On this day all alive will remember where they were when they saw Obama sworn in, when they heard him speak. I shall be in a Commons meeting room -- where Dawn Butler, the black MP for Brent, will be launching "Bernie's list" to promote black candidates -- with crowds of mainly ethnic-minority young Brent people gathered to watch Obama's speech. Since the rise of Obama, the MP says, throngs have come forward to join her campaign.
Let whoever will be cynical do so today: they will have their I-told-you-so moments. Political passion is unfashionable, risky, naive and destined for disappointment. Enthusiasm is rare in British politics, but today is a reminder that it is always worth celebrating the better over the worse. The hope is not just for what the man will do, but that his brand of politics rubs off on politicians everywhere. It wasn't until Obama was elected on a tax-the-rich ticket that Brown and Darling dared to follow suit, 11 years late. This is a day for politicians to take heart and dare to challenge recycled focus group prejudice.

In the Norwegian Dagsavisen, they struck quite a different tone …

The only thing certain about Barack Obama's presidency is that many people will be disappointed. The expectations for an almost revolutionary wave of change in both America and in America's relationship with the world are unrealistic and will end in a collective political depression.
America has not chosen a wizard or magician to govern the nation of over 300 million people. The limitations are staring the new president in the face: financial crisis, economic recession, more and more job losses (half a million jobs lost in December alone), an astronomical burden of debt, two wars in which America plays the part of the main belligerent, and a national reputation that, in parts of the world, will need to be salvaged from the remaining wreckage.

Some struck a chord somewhere in the middle -- expressing hope for the new administration, but skepticism about its ability to overcome the challenges before it. Peru's La Republic:

The first president of black origin in the United States takes on an outlook of the same color. With his intelligence and competence, he would seem to have the situation under control.

The editorial lists Bush's legacy, Obama's own lofty rhetoric, the decline of American credibility and …

The recession. As Obama has repeated this week, this is the worst crisis since the great depression of the 30's.
Everyone is permitted to suspect, furthermore, that we have not yet hit the bottom. While unemployment is already almost three million people, Obama offers to create the same number of jobs. It isn't clear how he will be able to achieve that. The fiscal deficit will be at least three times bigger than that of 2008; with its 1,200 trillion dollars, it is the biggest since the Second World War as proportion of GNP (8.3%). These figures do not take into account Obama's package. This could be an uncontrollable contributing factor of future hyperinflation and the depression of the dollar. Will better times come?

Many American pundits have suggested that Obama's election relegates racism to a relic of our bitter past. Not everyone agrees, as this story in Germany's Die Welt illustrates …

Ed Buren is afraid of blacks. He's afraid of the black man that will enter the White House … and he's afraid of blacks in general. "I don't want anybody like that making decisions about me or my life," he says. Almost threateningly he adds, "That's the way it is." He won't speak the president-elect's name aloud, but he takes pleasure in repeating his middle name: Hussein, like Saddam.
Ed Buren lives in Stone Mountain, Georgia, a small town east of Atlanta. He comes off as a cartoon character in a book of clichés, a redneck as the reactionary backwoods folks here are called. They may sound dull, bizarre and outdated, but voices like Ed Buren's are heard with increasing frequency since the November 4th election, the mouth usually hidden behind the hand.
He said he voted for John McCain, reluctantly and with a heavy heart because McCain was too liberal for him, by which he meant McCain was too moderate. He finds it hard to believe that his countrymen actually voted Obama into office – and with a solid majority of nearly 53 percent and 365 electoral college votes.
There must have been something rotten going on, some sort of a conspiracy. "The blacks rigged the outcome, along with the gays and the Spics," Ed says. ("Spics" is the jargon Ed Buren and his friends use to describe Latinos). Then he turns his attention to the steaming sausage dinner he ordered – knackwurst, bratwurst, white wurst, scalded wurst. He bites into everything as savagely as if the sausages were his worst enemy.
Obama's candidacy mobilized many young and black voters, above all in America's southern states. At the same time, however, the unhinged side, the reactionary face of the South also became more visible. In some states and counties Obama's candidacy led to a backlash among white voters, Democrats as well as Republicans. In Arkansas and Louisiana, more people voted Republican in 2008 than in 2004. In Lamar County, Arkansas, John McCain won 76 percent of the vote, five percent more than George Bush got four years earlier.

But most of the focus in the international press was on global issues. In Kenya's Daily Nation, editors expressed hope that America would return to a policy of collaboration with the rest of the world …

It was one pf President Obama's predecessors of yore, Theodore Roosevelt, popularised using the African proverb, "Speak softly and carry a big stick".
It is unfortunate that many American leaders since have forgotten the simple dictum, preferring arrogance and bully-boy tactics in their relations with the rest of the world.
The upshot is that the respect the sole superpower used to command has been replaced by suspicion and loathing. President Obama must move decisively to restore faith, trust and respect as a cornerstone of US foreign policy.
If the US treats the rest of the world as friends and partners, it might find that the hate it attracts will dissipate, and so will some of the attitudes that make the country a prime target for international terrorism.

The Irish Examiner notes that Obama's greatest challenge may be dealing with the end of American hegemony.

America's fate in the coming decades is not to swagger but to be relegated. Successfully managing relegation is as great a test of leadership as is handling expansion, but it is a different test. Though he may not yet be comfortable with the idea, the role for which he has been chosen is the management of national decline.

Though burdened with unrealistic expectation he will be the first US president to accept not the possibilities but the constraints of power. One of his great challenges will be to bring his country to a peaceful recognition of this.
…He will have to find a way of being honest with Americans about their country's fall from hegemony. In a nation that bristles at any suggestion that they can be beaten at anything, the depth of this challenge should not be underestimated.
"Yes we can!" was an easy sentiment to endorse. "No we can't," will be a far, far harder thing to say.

Spain's ABC Journal cautioned against what it sees as "irrational exuberance" surrounding Obama:

Of the Three Kings [in the Bible, who visited Jesus after his birth], the Black King, Balthasar, is the one most favored by children who trust in his infinite prodigality and capacity to meet their requests. As if the Black King had some special powers to always meet the expectations placed on him.
That is what occurs to adults with Barack Obama, the other magical black king. Obama is expected to take us out of crisis in less than six months, while it took Roosevelt more than 10 years. He is trusted to have a great strategy to, once and for all, settle Afghanistan, a country where British, Soviet and NATO allies have failed for 100 years, to draw the troops from Iraq without causing more shame, to close Guantánamo without, in the process, allowing terrorists to escape, to teach the Iranians the errors of their ways …
Although Obama is globalized and well-traveled, everything indicates that, following the misadventures in Iraq and other failed missions, the U.S. administration will live a far less ambitious stage outside that of Bush. Many of those who voted for Obama expect him to focus his energies on improving their homeland and forget old dreams of grandeur. An inevitable disappointment to the world will soon arrive.

Not surprisingly, many editorials were dedicated to how the new administration would respond to issues facing their respective regions. Egypt's Al Ahram decries Obama's "silence on Gaza":

Apparently American President-elect Barack Obama prefers silence to making any sound about the Indian-Pakistani military escalations and the missile shield row between Russia and NATO. But a look at the tragic and heart wrenching bloody scenes of Gaza he came to know from both TV and intelligence reports will not break this silence. Indeed, Obama's behavior implies double-dealing and cautiousness. Perhaps he believes that adopting an attitude other than expressing his worries would be more risky than being accused of passivity. What he intended to say might frustrate the Palestinians and Arabs, even with the optimum aspects of diplomacy.

Pakistan's Dawn discusses the U.S. Presence in Afghanistan:

WHY would the United States commit itself to being in Afghanistan in the long run? The Afghans have shown time and again, most recently when the Soviet Union tried to occupy their country, that they have zero tolerance for the presence of foreign troops on their soil.
This is the case even when the troops have come in with the consent of the government in Kabul. Welcome has also run out for the Americans and Nato. The increased violence directed at the forces from these sources is the result of the increasing unpopularity of the government headed by President Hamid Karzai. Why would Washington take the risk of losing its soldiers and cultivating extreme hostility by staying on in Afghanistan? Are their strategic interests for America to protect that would justify taking these risks? These questions and the answers to them have great significance for Pakistan.
We should not seek answers to these questions from the rhetoric of the campaign when as candidate Barack Obama promised that if elected his administration would give a high priority to winning the war in Afghanistan. He had opposed the attack on Iraq even before he appeared on the national political scene. Once there, he articulated a position that contributed to his success in the elections. He said that President George W. Bush had wasted American blood and treasure on a war that did not have any justification. He promised to pull out American troops from Iraq and send them to Afghanistan where Washington was fighting a just war. That was, however, then. Will he persist in this approach in the presidency?

And the Moscow Times urges Obama not to launch a new Cold War.

Last August, the war in the Caucasus led the U.S.-Russia relationship to the brink of real confrontation, something the world had not seen in a quarter century. Tensions have eased since then -- the world economic crisis being a "saving grace" -- but the fundamental problem remains. Moscow is unhappy with U.S. policies that are implemented so close to Russia's borders, and the Kremlin's sharp responses make its neighbors nervous. Many people talk about a return to the Cold War.
Your predecessor's failure to "get Russia right" was rooted in the basic neglect of an important country. President George W. Bush's jovial camaraderie with then-President Vladimir Putin simulated -- rather than stimulated -- the relationship between the United States and Russia. The promise of a strategic partnership in the wake of Sept. 11 was mindlessly neglected because at the time preparing for the invasion of Iraq became the sole focus of the Bush White House.
Later on, what passed for a U.S. policy on Russia was often reduced to comments on Russia's domestic developments. The result was mounting frustration on the U.S. side over the inability to change things inside Russia, which was matched by the Kremlin's growing irritation over U.S. interference in Russia's internal affairs. More recently, the prospect of awarding NATO's Membership Action Plan to Ukraine and Georgia and plans to construct elements of a missile-defense system in Central Europe damaged U.S.-Russian relations.
Mr. President-elect, you have a chance, as well as a responsibility, to reverse the tide.
You have vowed that your administration will be made up of pragmatists with values, not ideologues with dogmas. This is a solid foundation for a successful and constructive foreign policy toward Russia.

And in Iran, the country celebrated the departure of George W. Bush, but as Middle East Online noted, many Iranians are dubious:

People in Tehran voiced scepticism about a possible thaw in ties between Tehran and Washington.
The ultra-conservative Kayhan daily dubbed Barack Obama as "a big fan of Zionists," below a cartoon that showed outgoing US President George W. Bush handing the Israeli flag to the new Democratic US leader.
The conservative Hamshahri ran a sarcastic headline: "The change advocate, who changed," noting what it described as Obama's "recent change of tone" to support war policies of the previous Republican administration.

Also be sure to read Nelson Mandela's letter to the new president, as well as A Letter to Barack Obama from Palestinian Citizen.

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