Few American presidents have been greeted with the enthusiasm Europe demonstrated for Barack Obama on his election. In part, it was a reaction against his predecessor -- George W. was never loved in the EU -- but there was also the feeling that Obama was a genuine multilateralist.
Europeans, who welcomed Obama as the candidate of change, didn't expect him to agree with them on everything, but they believed that he would at least listen to them.
So now that the showroom gloss is beginning to wear off Obama at home, now that U.S. poll respondents are indicating that the first dents and scratches are visible in the previously gleaming bodywork, how is he being seen between Ljubljana and Lisbon?
In Europe's capitals, as in many places, there was something of a gulp when the Nobel Peace Prize was announced, a feeling that it was being bestowed in hope of what was to come rather than in recognition of what had been achieved.
That said, Obama remains far more popular personally than Bush, whose Iraq war adventure with the eager assistance of British Prime Minister Tony Blair led to splits among Europe's leaders. On the diplomatic circuit, the movers and shakers will still fight for invitations whenever the president swings through European cities.
On the plus side, there was a big welcome, except perhaps among some of the Eastern European states, when the president scrapped the missile defense plans with installations in Poland and the Czech Republic, indicating that he wanted to talk to Moscow rather than lob bricks over their neighbor's wall.
Europeans, who don't possess America's military might and who nearly always, in Winston Churchill's words, prefer "jaw, jaw to war, war," also welcomed Obama's early overture to Iran indicating that if Teheran would unclench its fist, then America was ready to extend its hand.
After the strong influence the climate change deniers appeared to have with the previous administration, Europeans were especially pleased that Obama said he would come to the climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. They were impressed with the way he helped to broker a deal at the G20 summit in London in April, something he managed to do without throwing his weight around.
It is a measure of the president's continued pulling power that the Europeans, who have seemingly grudged every extra pair of boots the NATO secretary general has persuaded them to dispatch up until now, are to stump up around 7,000 additional troops for the war in Afghanistan alongside the 30,000 more committed by a president who has now more than doubled the U.S. contingent there.
US President Barack Obama promised a large increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan. But at the same time, he promised to begin pulling them out already in 2011. His speech offered many details, but little vision. And Obama failed to adequately explain a war that many no longer support.
White House officials said that he had ordered the military to hit the Taleban hard and fast. He wants to show quick gains in the battle for the hearts and minds of the civilian population. Unstated, but as important to the White House, is the battle to shore up crumbling support for the war at home ...
President Karzai of Afghanistan has been told in the clearest terms that the plan is also heavily contingent on his performance. He must drop corrupt ministers and governors and institute real reforms within a Government that is at present viewed as a deeply unreliable partner. Mr Karzai has also been told that Mr Obama is holding the option to delay or halt troop deployments if his Government does not meet specific benchmarks, or targets, both on the political and military fronts.
Gordon Brown, who was briefed by Mr Obama on Monday, said the plan was “to create the space for an effective political strategy to work, weakening the Taleban by strengthening Afghanistan itself”. He added that the strategy called for “transfer of lead security responsibility to the Afghans — district by district, province by province — with the first districts and provinces potentially being handed over during the next year”.
US President Barack Obama's plans to boost troop numbers in Afghanistan need to ensure there is "no adverse fallout" on Pakistan, the country's foreign ministry said on Wednesday."Pakistan looks forward to engaging closely with US in understanding the full import of the new strategy and to ensure that there would be no adverse fallout on Pakistan," the ministry said in a statement.
The Afghan Taliban said that President Barack Obama's plan to send tens of thousands of extra troops to the country would not work and would only strengthen their resolve. "This strategy by the enemy will not benefit them. However many more troops the enemy sends against our Afghan mujahideen, they are committed to increasing the number of mujahideen and strengthen their resistance," the Taliban said in a statement e-mailed to media on Wednesday.
An Asian swing that began Thursday will bring [President Obama's foreign trip] total this year to 20 countries in eight trips, according to CBS News's Mark Knoller, official statistician of the White House press corps.
That easily bests the previous record-holder, George H.W. Bush, who hit 14 countries in his first year. By the time he returns next week, Obama will have spent more than 12 percent of his presidency overseas -- and he still has another trip or two in the works for this year.
Yet there has not been a peep of criticism from the normally querulous opposition. A spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee confirmed Thursday that neither the party nor its lawmakers had taken on Obama for his globe-trotting. Indeed, one aspiring GOP presidential contender for 2012, Newt Gingrich, condemned Obama this week for not flying to Berlin to mark the 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's toppling.
Normally, Obama's wanderlust would be a liability, because Americans care more about the economy than foreign affairs. But the normal rules don't seem to apply this year, largely because Obama's predecessor left the nation's world standing in a shambles. While Republicans may be tempted to criticize Obama for being "intercontinental," as Bush would have put it, "the ability to change the way America is viewed is powerful," a senior Obama adviser said Thursday, "and they are afraid of looking petty."
Polling by the Pew Research Center at the end of Bush's presidency found that 70 percent of Americans thought the country had become less respected in the world (only 5 percent said "more respected"), and most of them thought the decline in standing was a major problem.
"Repairing our image overseas was an important consideration for the public," said Andrew Kohut, the poll's director. Americans have given Obama credit for a "dramatic improvement" in the nation's standing, he said.
By some measures, in fact, foreigners have a more favorable view of Obama than Americans do.
Eighty-six percent of Britons, 88 percent of Canadians, 91 percent of French and 93 percent of Germans say they have confidence in him. So do 85 percent of Japanese, 88 percent of Nigerians and 77 percent of Indians. All those figures trump Americans' confidence in their own president -- 74 percent when the poll was done in the spring ...
But Obama knows to be careful about the overseas adulation, a lesson learned the hard way during the presidential campaign, when he was mocked by his GOP opponent as a "celebrity" and compared to Britney Spears and Paris Hilton for his speech before an adoring crowd in Berlin.
As he prepared to leave the White House on Thursday morning, Obama first stopped to address the cameras in the Diplomatic Reception Room. "Before departing for Asia this morning, I'd like to make a brief statement about the economy," he said, assuring Americans that he'll "be meeting with leaders abroad to discuss a strategy for growth" and to make sure "Asian and Pacific markets are open to our exports."
From Ezra Klein:
I had a good time making fun of Barack Obama's Nobel prize this morning. It is undeserved. It is a bit ridiculous. But it's a laugh in the way that finding a $900 antique chair in the attic is a laugh, or getting paid $120,000 to be a celebrity dog walker is a laugh. It's an absurdity worth celebrating. It's an absurdity that can help you.
During the campaign, one of the arguments for Obama's candidacy was that his election would give us a costless shot of international goodwill. That the symbolism of his election would aid America's international standing without forcing any substantive policy concessions. At the time, that was a very big deal: Leaders were winning elections in other countries in no small part by tying incumbents to George W. Bush. That made it a lot harder for our allies to loudly support our initiatives. Fixing that was not going to be easy. Candidates and countries pay a lot of money to better their public image. Obama, some said, could do some of it on the cheap. Andrew Sullivan made the argument well:Consider this hypothetical. It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man — Barack Hussein Obama — is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm. A brown-skinned man whose father was an African, who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii, who attended a majority-Muslim school as a boy, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.
The Nobel Committee said, in essence, thank you for proving us wrong. The prize was about what Obama meant to other countries, or at least to the Nobel Committee. Not what he currently means to America.
America has already gotten used to Obama. It's common to talk about the "overexposure" of the first African American president in history. It's ordinary to see him hedging on important political priorities, and failing to please his most ardent supporters. It's normal to see him called communist by his enemies and spineless by his friends. America, to its credit, has adjusted to its first black president with ease and swiftness.
But the rest of the world hasn't necessarily done the same. This prize, which came as Obama contemplates a troop build-up in Afghanistan and hectors the international community on financial regulation and global warming, suggests that there is some reservoir of relief and amazement for America's young president. The international gushing may seem absurd to us, as the schoolyard lionization of an older brother often seems funny to a sibling, but it can be used to our advantage. Leaders in allied countries no longer run against America, and now the Nobel Committee is attempting to welcome America back as the leader of the free world. And it didn't cost us anything. Would that life told more jokes like that one.
Bob Kerrey, former Democratic senator from Nebraska
It’s honoring the country. The Nobel committee couldn’t award the peace prize to the voters of the United States, but that’s what they are doing. It’s an award Americans should feel good about.
Philip J. Crowley, a State Department spokesman
Certainly from our standpoint, this gives [diplomacy] a sense of momentum -- when the United States has accolades tossed its way, rather than shoes.
President Shimon Peres of Israel
Very few leaders if at all were able to change the mood of the entire world in such a short while with such a profound impact. You provided the entire humanity with fresh hope, with intellectual determination, and a feeling that there is a lord in heaven and believers on earth.
Most everybody seems to think it's absurd to award the Nobel Prize to President Obama. I suppose I could even see how you could get outraged over it. What's amazing to me is that conservatives are outraged at President Obama. Read the Corner. It's insane. They seem to think Obama chose himself for the award.
I stick with original assessment that this is good for the president and that the right will look stupid if they keep slamming him. The ungracious condemnation from RNC Chairman Michael Steele contrasted with the gracious remarks of Tim Pawlenty and other Republicans. The president's remarks in the Rose Garden using the word "humbled" and recasting the award as "a call to action" instead of a reward for achievements put him in a good place. Elites may fret and wring their hands, but this can't hurt a president. It won't bring peace to Afghanistan or ease tensions with Iran or North Korea. But it gives Obama a boost at home and abroad that any president should savor.
I've had some coffee now. Reading through all the reactions, compiled by Chris and Patrick, there are two obvious points: this is premature and this is thoroughly deserved.
Both are right. I don't think Americans fully absorbed the depths to which this country's reputation had sunk under the Cheney era. That's understandable. And so they also haven't fully absorbed the turn-around in the world's view of America that Obama and the American people have accomplished. Of course, this has yet to bear real fruit. But you can begin to see how it could; and I hope more see both the peaceful intentions and the steely resolve of this man to persevere.
This president has done a huge amount to bring race relations in this country to a different place, which is why the far right has become so vicious in attacking him and lying about him. They know he threatens their politics of division and rule. He has also directly addressed the Muslim world, telling some hard truths, and played a small role in evoking a similar movement of hope and change in Iran, and finally told the Israelis to stop cutting their nose off to spite their face.
The DNC, reacting to the Conservative reaction seen in the video:
The Republican Party has thrown in its lot with the terrorists -- the Taliban and Hamas this morning -- in criticizing the President for receiving the Nobel Peace prize," wrote DNC Communications Director Brad Woodhouse. "Republicans cheered when America failed to land the Olympics and now they are criticizing the President of the United States for receiving the Nobel Peace prize -- an award he did not seek but that is nonetheless an honor in which every American can take great pride -- unless of course you are the Republican Party. The 2009 version of the Republican Party has no boundaries, has no shame and has proved that they will put politics above patriotism at every turn. It's no wonder only 20 percent of Americans admit to being Republicans anymore - it's an embarrassing label to claim."
The NY Times analysis:
President Obama is given to big events at big moments, replete with stirring speeches, lofty backdrops and stadium-size crowds.But when Mr. Obama walked into the Rose Garden on Friday morning, having just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize — an honor that would normally be a moment of high celebration, if not the culmination of a life’s work — he was humble and self-deprecatory, popping a hole in the balloon of his own accomplishment. He talked about being congratulated by his daughter Malia, who proceeded to remind him that it was the family dog’s birthday, and he suggested that he was undeserving of the award.
“Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations,” he said.
Whatever it meant on the world stage, in the United States the award to Mr. Obama was a decidedly mixed blessing. It was a reminder of the gap between the ambitious promise of his words and his accomplishments. It drew attention to the fact that while much of the world was celebrating him as the anti-Bush, he had not broken as fully as he had once implied he would from the previous administration’s national security policies. And it set off another round of mocking criticism from opponents who have chafed at what they see as the charmed and entitled rise of Mr. Obama.
So while he accepted the award and said he would travel to Oslo to pick it up, Mr. Obama also sought to minimize any impression that he was basking in the glory or forgetting that he was a long way from achieving the goals — ridding the world of nuclear weapons, stopping global warming, bringing peace to the Middle East, among others — that the judges seemed to expect of him. He finished his day, somewhat paradoxically under the circumstances, closeted with his national security team, continuing his consideration of whether to escalate the war in Afghanistan for a second time since taking office.
There are, without doubt, benefits to Mr. Obama. Democrats moved quickly to portray the Nobel as an honor to the United States after years of being an object of some scorn. For the liberal base of the Democratic Party, the prize is a ratification of the belief that Mr. Obama’s election would carry powerful symbolic meaning. Abroad, it provides Mr. Obama additional stature to be lumped with the likes of Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa.
“I’d like to believe that winning the Nobel Peace Prize is not a political liability,” said David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama. “But this isn’t something I gave a moment of thought to until today. Hopefully people will receive it with some sense of pride. But I don’t know; it’s uncharted waters.”
From Michael Scherer:
One of the steady themes conservative bloggers and pundits like to return to is the argument that President Obama likes talking smack about America, or at least that he feels like he has to apologize for his homeland whenever he travels overseas. As columnist Charles Krauthammer asked on Fox News after Obama's appearance before the United Nations, "What do our allies think when they hear that and when they hear . . . Obama denigrating his own country and presenting himself as the man who will redeem America from its wickedness?"
Well, that's one question to ask. But the answer, at least as told through public opinion polls, might come as a surprise to Krauthammer. Whatever Obama is doing does seem, after all, to be having an effect. This morning, the White House circulated an independent poll showing that global admiration for the United States brand has risen considerably in the last year. "What's really remarkable is that in all my years studying national reputation, I have never seen any country experience such a dramatic change in its standing as we see for the United States in 2009," explains Simon Anholt, the founder of the Nation Brands Index, which measures the global image of 50 countries.
Last year, the United States ranked seventh, behind Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, Japan and--damn you Berlusconi!--Italy. This year the U.S. ranked first. Perhaps a little apology/self-reflection/change-in-leadership/outreach goes a long way.
The survey itself included 20,000 respondents from 20 countries, and was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media. As the press release explains:
The NBI is based on a global survey in which people from across 20 major developed and developing countries are asked to rate each nation in six categories: Exports, Governance, Culture, People, Tourism and Immigration/Investment. The NBI ranking is based on the average of these six scores ...
This improved perception of the U.S. is not only in the area of Governance, there are improved perceptions for People, Culture and even Tourism of the United States," adds Xiaoyan Zhao, Senior Vice President and director of the NBI study at GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media. "While most nations' reputation does not undergo major change from year to year, the U.S. has clearly bucked the trend."
The Top Ten rankings, according to the survey, are now:
1. United States
4. United Kingdom
10. Spain and Sweden (tie)
From Andrew Sullivan:
It is sometimes easy to forget the sheer bizarreness of what happened in Cairo and Riyadh last week. Then the White House transcript of an international press interview brings it home. An Indonesian journalist, after asking why the president didn’t make his speech in that vast Muslim south Asian country, followed up with this:
Q: Actually I live only 300 metres from your old house.
President Obama: Is that right?
Q: Yes, Menteng Dalam.
President Obama: Except now it’s all paved.
Q: Yes, it’s all paved.
President Obama: Yes, see, when I was there it was all dirt, so when the rains came it would all be mud. And all the cars would get stuck.
How many previous American presidents addressing the masses in the developing world have been able to say that? The last presidents to break through in this global fashion — Ronald Reagan and John Kennedy — represented American glamour and style and otherness. Barack Obama does, too — but he combines it with a unique developing-world biography. It’s this tension that many of us believed was a huge asset for the West in defusing the clash of civilisations with Islam.
It’s that biography that made a speech that echoed some of George W Bush’s themes reach a critical mass of credibility. But in many respects this was not a speech, as traditionally understood. It was an intervention.
The Middle East is addicted to its past; Obama spoke of the need to move into the future. The Middle East is fixated on conflict and identity; Obama emphasised quotidian common interests. The Middle East loves quibbles; Obama landed slap-bang in the middle of most of them and refused to budge. And driving all of it was a critical question of tone — a measured, careful and stern message of respect and realism.
The obvious critique that this was just a set of words seems to me to miss the point. An intervention begins with words because it requires the actions of others. You don’t get an addict to go into recovery by cuffing him and throwing him into an ambulance. You talk to him and his family and speak calmly about what everyone in the room knows to be true but no one will face. So, for me, the core sentence of the speech was obvious: “It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true” ...
When you see how many delicate balancing acts are required to pull the grand bargain off in the region, scepticism is entirely justified. But I don’t believe Obama is naive about the difficulty of the task. He knows that unless a real attempt is made to avert peacefully a catastrophic nuclear arms race in the region, to save the Israelis and Palestinians from themselves and to reconstitute the image of America in the psyches of a vast young generation of Muslims, we face a darkness that could spread very fast globally and engulf us all.
There are a lot of constantly shifting balls in play — the Iranian electorate, the Syrian elite, the US Congress, the Iraqi military, the Israeli governing coalition. Each one could derail everything on its own. Yet this young president presses forward with the kind of self-confidence and assurance not seen in the region in decades. He knows, I sense, that even if he fails, the message of Cairo will endure in the minds of many young Muslims for much of their lives. Mere words? So were Reagan’s and Kennedy's.
Perhaps the fruit of those words — of that respect and engagement — won’t be felt for another generation or so. That merely underlines why they matter and how vast Obama’s ambition truly is.
From the Lebanon Daily Star:
Obama's new era in international diplomacy
Barack Obama's long-awaited address to the Muslim world has proven to be an event of global magnitude, and a dramatic, international projection of the bully pulpit of the American presidency. Obama's speech in Cairo was an unprecedented display of rhetorical power, coming in an important context: the last eight years of neoconservative policy based on the clash of civilizations mentality. This week, the leader of "the free world" projected his country's peaceful side, to around 1.5 billion people in 50 countries.
The address was totally in line with Barack Obama's personal history; it was also a significant departure with traditional politics, just like the precedent-setting choice by the American electorate last November.
Obama has committed his country to solving the Arab-Israeli struggle and its own long-simmering confrontation with Iran, as part of an agenda that includes confronting violent extremism and boosting democracy, religious freedom and women's rights. This can constitute a new era in international diplomacy, provided that Washington follow up with determination and evenhandedness.
To measure the impact of such an innovative address, one even needs innovative tools, as well as time to digest it before completing the full evaluation. But we should remember the Cairo speech wasn't a show - it was an exercise in power politics of the first order. The credit here probably belongs to Rahm Emmanuel, Obama's chief of staff. Without Emmanuel, whose pro-Israeli sympathies can't be questioned, Obama wouldn't be taking on the pro-Israel lobby, whether on Palestine or Iran. Emmanuel has laid down a bruising challenge: come up with a better plan on these issues, or shut up.
Thus, Obama's speech wasn't a lightweight declaration of idealistic principles; it represented a country, through its innovative leader, speaking quietly and carrying a big stick.
Obama emphasized the down side of global interdependence, meaning today's problems have real-world impact for many countries. Moreover, interdependence is a two-way street: people here are being asked to drop their misperceptions, just as America under Obama's leadership is prepared to drop its own misperceptions.
The focus on partnership isn't rhetoric; it has a real-world impact. If countries in the rest of the world step up to the plate, they will find that they have a role to play in these global battles.
It won't be a perfect symmetry of roles, since no one has the clout of the United States. But if the game is played correctly, having a positive role to play in a fair international system is an outcome we can live with. To get there, we need to keep ourselves oriented toward the new, and the innovative, and remember the contrast we saw in Cairo this week, one between a new politics of hope and interdependence, and the old politics of despair and disappointment.
It was a speech worth not a thousand words but many billions of dollars ... think about how much defense & counter-terrorism moneyg we will not have to spend because of this speech.
Hady Amr, a specialist on Middle East politics with the Brookings Institution:
The speech "struck such a tone, as to be an historic moment"... [Osama] Bin Laden is clearly shaking in his boots when you've got all the resistance movements in the region lining up saying this is a great speech.
As the speech sinks in, the echoes that the president used from the Bible, Torah, Quran and human wisdom [mean] we are going to be operating politically in a newly redefined world.
It is no longer possible for Israel to wiggle out of its settlements, for Hamas to make excuses about its rockets for Bin Laden to say cut your ties with Christians and Jews.
Members of Hamas at their training base in the Gaza Strip:
He gave a courageous speech, stating that Islam is a power for peace, that the Koran is a call for peacefulness, and that the US president finds nothing wrong with women who wear a the hijab. He added that the US must, once and for all, stop trying to export its particular vision of democracy. No Western leader before him had been as empathetic and obliging in an address to the world's 48 countries with majority Islamic populations. Obama offered the Muslims nothing less than reconciliation and partnership. It was a magnificent speech.
I think his biggest advantage was that he was able to get to talk to the audience on a personal level, especially with his constant references to verses of the Qur'an. He was very honest, which I think people appreciated, and his straight-forward approach got the audience cheering. He addressed all the current issues, all very controversial without without any tension, telling it like it is. ... Obama said it himself, it is just a speech. Though the fact that he was addressing the subjects with such confidence and intellect seemed like more than Bush ever did for the Arab world.
Al Jazeera's coverage: "Obama begins a new beginning"
Rush Limbaugh comparing Obama to Al Qaeda:
An African-American President with Muslim roots stands before the Muslim world and defends the right of Jews to a nation of their own in their ancestral homeland, and then denounces in vociferous terms the evil of Holocaust denial, and right-wing Israelis go forth and complain that the President is unsympathetic to the housing needs of settlers. Incredible, just incredible.
But it was on Palestine that Obama hit the gong…How long has it been since a president spoke movingly about Palestinian suffering? And in a speech so high profile, even game-changing?
But the speech was an act of diplomacy and as such, it inevitably was going to skate over some inconvenient truths and tilt its presentation in a way to try to make it more persuasive to its target audience. Fundamentally, Obama’s goal was to tell the Muslim world, “We respect and value you, your religion and your civilization, and only ask that you don’t hate us and murder us in return.” Bush tried to deliver the same message over and over again. The difference with Obama is that people might actually be willing to listen.
Richard Engel's analysis of how "Arabic" Obama's speech (at about 1:30) was is particularly interesting:
One year ago today, Barack Obama clinched the Democratic Party's presidential nomination. In doing so, he defied Hillary Clinton's criticism that his candidacy amounted to little more than shallow and flowery speeches. Change, Clinton argued, comes from hard work--not pretty words. Today, in the Grand Hall of Cairo University, Clinton listened from the front row as Obama gave his most elegant speech yet. Perhaps it dawned on Clinton, if it hadn't already, that a great speech can do a lot of the hard work for you.
In some ways, Obama's speech was anticlimactic. He said nothing terribly surprising, broke no new intellectual or policy ground. This was another one in a familiar series of Obama addresses seeking "common ground," just as he did between pro-lifers and pro-choicers at Notre Dame last month, and just as he did in his March 2008 speech about the "common hopes" of whites and blacks in Philadelphia.
But in fact, much of Obama's speech had a different sort of familiar ring. Most of his main arguments have been made before--not just by Obama himself, but by his predecessor. "Today I'd like to speak directly to the people across the broader Middle East," George W. Bush said at the United Nations on September 16, 2006. Like Obama, Bush explained that the United States is not at war with Islam ... Bush assured Iran that he did not oppose their use of peaceful nuclear power; so did Obama.
Bush's 2006 speech, of course, was immediately forgotten--a non-event with no impact on America's image abroad. But Obama's seems to offer the potential of making millions of Muslims reconsider their view of America. There is no novel way to restate the obvious reason for this: Obama is not Bush. He speaks without a foreign invasion on his resume, and with a reputation for honesty and decency. He writes and speaks on a higher intellectual and rhetorical level than Bush. (Today's speech, of which he was said to be the primary author, may have been his best piece of writing yet.) And above all, he is a black man with Muslim heritage, as he explained in the speech's emotional and symbolic highlight: "I'm a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims," Obama said. "As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and at the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith."
Al Jazeera's fascinating report on Obama's Cairo speech in its entirety (the title is theirs too):
It was at Cairo University's Festival Hall that the great diva of Egyptian song, Umm Kalthoum, held her greatest concert triumphs in the 1950s and 1960s.
In the hall with a massive beige dome that made it look like an elegant concert hall or even opera house, she moved educated, influential Egyptian men and women to tears and ecstasy - a joy that has not been felt in this crowded and often chaotic city for years.
Barack Obama entered from the far right of the stage and the audience of a few thousand of Egypt's great and good rose almost as one body.
Ministers of state, Coptic bishops and Muslim imams, senior Egyptian journalists - supporters of the regime and its critics - successful businessmen and leading academics, along with a large contingent of carefully chosen students from Cairo University and the American University of Cairo, applauded and waved back to the US president as he strode with an athlete's grace to centre stage.
An Umm Kalthoum song could go on and on without losing its intensity for more than an hour, and Obama sustained the rapt attention of his audience - most relying on simultaneous translation and the earnestness of his body language, his lean, appealing physical presence - for nearly as long.
One minute into his speech he won nearly every heart and mind in the great hall, announcing his pride to be carrying "the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace Muslim communities use in my country: asalaamu aleikum.
Obama's speech was watched live by millions around the world [AFP]
The audience rose to its feet and I was not the only one in that vast hall with tears in my eyes.
I never imagined, as an American and a Muslim, that I would ever hear an American president invoke the blessing of Islam or to go on to quote from the Quran, as he would do several times with great relevance.
Or to refer to Muhammad as "the Prophet upon whom be peace".
But this extraordinary event was more than superb pacing and performance, more than the soaring, almost classic oratory Obama is famous for and that translates so well into modern literary Arabic.
It was more than soothing and conciliatory words for a predominantly Arab audience here in the Festival Hall, or the millions who watched and listened at home and the office, at universities and cafes courtesy of a dozen live Arab satellite feeds.
A vast Arab audience nursing the grievances of decades sharpened by the blows of the past eight years that preceded Obama's presidency – the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the collapse of the Arab-Israeli peace process, the brutality of the siege and war on Gaza that cry out for justice and conciliation.
Obama vowed that he was in Cairo "to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world", a new beginning based on respect – a word that figured significantly in this speech - as well as "mutual interests and shared values".
But it quickly became clear that he was basing that new beginning on acknowledging realities and speaking hard truths – to Americans and to Israelis as well as to Arabs and Muslims.
The US president vowed a "new beginning" with Muslims worldwide [AFP]
He went well beyond the at-best well-meaning but almost meaningless platitudes about Islam as the religion of peace, to call his distant American audience's attention to Western civilisation's debt to Islam, "that carried the light of learning through so many centuries paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and enlightenment".
He recalled a Muslim civilisation that was based on innovation, science, mathematics, printing, medicine, the fine arts, and in general, religious tolerance and racial equality.
But for his audience here and throughout the Arab world, he insisted that the impulse behind the creation of the state of Israel was a tragic history that could not be denied, alluding to the persecution of the Jewish people for centuries, culminating in an unprecedented Holocaust.
And he denounced Holocaust denial just as he denounced Israeli indifference to the suffering and the hardships of the Palestinians and the daily humiliations of occupation.
Finally, hard talk that his audience was ready to meditate upon.
Perhaps it is Obama's deep reading in philosophy that led him to seek synthesis of apparent tension and conflict.
Even in his opening words, he honoured his official hosts - Al Azhar, the citadel of Sunni orthodoxy, and the University of Cairo, the launching pad in the 1920s and 1930s for secular education - as two remarkable institutions "that represent harmony between tradition and progress".
Obama differentiated between the invasion of Iraq, which he had opposed, and the war in Afghanistan which he defined as a war of necessity, and repeated his pledge to pull out all US combat units from Iraqi cities by next month, and all troops by 2012.
From Al Jazeera:
Egypt has been the centre of the Arab world's cultural and political identity - perhaps one of the reasons why Barack Obama, the US president, chose Cairo to make his keynote address. Al Jazeera's Amr el-Khaky reports from the Egyptian capital where Obama's words will be measured by audiences with conflicting interests, ancient grievances and long memories of other presidents' records.
How popular is Barack Obama around the world? Well, his choice of pet is causing a minor frenzy in India. From the Wash Post:
It was just another relaxing family evening in front of the television, Sanjay Raina said, when President Obama appeared on the screen, frolicking on the South Lawn of the White House with his wife, daughters and the cutest pet Raina's family had ever seen: the curly-haired, 6-month-old Portuguese water dog Bo.
"Can't we have this dog?" Raina said his 8-year-old daughter pleaded as she watched the recent backyard romp. "That's how this whole thing started. Right away, I called our vet. I asked who we should approach, even if it meant that I have to import it. And his reply to me was: 'Sanjay, you're not the first one to call but the ninth or 10th one who has enquired since this thing flashed on the TV.' "
Forget India's month-long national elections, the global financial crisis and terrorism. In recent days, the capital has gone crazy over Bo, the first dog of the United States. Even Bollywood film star Salman Khan has placed an order for a Portie, according to the Hindustan Times, which ran a headline that read "Delhi's Doggie No.1."
The energetic, black-haired dog -- a relatively rare breed -- has to be imported here from Europe, the United States or Thailand, prompting concerns that the animals might be drugged for the long flights or smuggled in illegally. Including airfare and various permits, a Portuguese water dog would cost an Indian buyer about $2,000, said Satish Chhillar, a veterinarian.
That's as much as India's recently released Tata Nano, said to be the cheapest car in the world.
From Tom Friedman:
It is very useful to come to Asia to be reminded about America’s standing in the world these days. For all the talk in recent years about America’s inevitable decline, all eyes are not now on Tokyo, Beijing, Brussels or Moscow — nor on any other pretenders to the world heavyweight crown. All eyes are on Washington to pull the world out of its economic tailspin. At no time in the last 50 years have we ever felt weaker, and at no time in the last 50 years has the world ever seen us as more important.
While it is true that since the end of the cold war global leaders and intellectuals often complained about a world of too much American power, one doesn’t hear much of that grumbling today when most people recognize that only an economically revitalized America has the power to prevent the world economy from going into a global depression. It was always easy to complain about a world of too much American power as long as you didn’t have to live in a world of too little American power. And right now, that is the danger: a world of too little American power ...
Somewhere in the back of their minds, a lot of people seem to be realizing that the alternative to a U.S.-dominated world is not a world dominated by someone else or someone better. It is a leaderless world. Neither Russia nor China has the will or the way to provide the global public goods that America — at its best — consistently has. The European Union right now is so split that it cannot even agree on an effective stimulus package ...
Never more inward-looking, never more in demand: that’s America today. This moment recalls a point raised by the Johns Hopkins University foreign policy expert Michael Mandelbaum in his book, “The Case for Goliath.” When it comes to the way other countries view America’s pre-eminent role in the world, he wrote, “whatever its life span, three things can be safely predicted: they will not pay for it; they will continue to criticize it; and they will miss it when it is gone.”
The country we're the most indebted to didn't like some key sections of Obama's speech. From Reuters:
Websites in China censored US President Barack Obama's references to communism and dissent in his inauguration speech and state television abruptly turned away from the broadcast once communism was mentioned.
Communist China has shut more than 200 websites in recent days for "vulgar" content, a move seen by many as another step in its battle to stifle dissent in a year of sensitive anniversaries, including the 20th anniversary of the bloody crackdown on the pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
"Recall that earlier generations faced down communism and fascism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions," Obama said in his 18-minute inauguration address on Tuesday.
He later added: "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."
After the Chinese translator said the word "communism," the China Central Television feed went briefly silent, then shifted to an anchor who stumbled through a question to an analyst about what type of difficulties Obama faced with the US economy, according to an extract uploaded to Youtube.com.
The analyst looked equally caught off-guard. In the text translations available on top Chinese Internet portals Sina and Sohu on Wednesday, the word "communism" is omitted and the paragraph on dissent was gone.
Another widely viewed portal, Netease, cut the communism paragraph in its entirety, prompting one Canada-based Chinese to post it in English in the comments section, with the remark "Hahaha, communism and fascism".
The paragraph mentioning dissent was included in the Netease version, and was widely praised by Chinese posting comments.
The full speech appeared on the website of Phoenix TV, a Hong Kong-based station that is branding its website as a source for news, and in English on the China Daily state newspaper website.
Der Spiegel in Germany:
The United States has got its groove back. The 44th president is seen by many, both at home and abroad, as a beacon of hope in a crisis-ridden world. There are days in the history of a nation when it's not about reaching a major decision. Rather, it's about deeply felt emotion. Tuesday was such a day for the United States of America ...
The self-cleansing of America, which began with the Civil War 150 years ago and continued with the Civil Rights Movement a century later, celebrated a dramatic closing act on Tuesday. History has moved on. The country "has emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united," Obama intoned from the Capitol steps in his inauguration speech. "We cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass."
The second strong emotion of the day was fear. No world leader as been as clear as Obama was on Tuesday about the dangers presented by the global economic crisis. They were sentences that pattered down on the gathered crowd like a cold rain. "Our economy is badly weakened," President Obama said. The failing is the "consequence of greed and irresponsibility on the part of some." But the blame, Obama said, must be shared by everyone; the crisis comes as a result of "our collective failure to make hard choices."
But the new president didn't stop there. He spoke of the fear felt by many that "America's decline is inevitable." But instead of warning against too much pessimism, as government leaders do the world over, President Obama took a different path. "Today I say to you that the challenges we face are real," he said. "They are serious and they are many." A silence fell over the city.
But fear of the future will prove just as durable as those positive emotions. Pessimism has crept into the land of optimism. Obama's job is to banish that pessimism -- and not just rhetorically, but in reality.
To do that, he will have to overcome, not his personal isolation, but the political isolation which currently plagues the US. If Europe continues to regard the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as American wars, if the Arab world rejects him, if the financial crisis is seen around the globe as primarily an American mistake, and if he receives the cold shoulder from the international community regarding the closure of the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, as German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble gave him last week, Obama, in his splendid isolation, could fail.
His success also depends on him succeeding, in the field of foreign policy, in turning skeptics into admirers and admirers into active followers.
Haaretz in Israel:
"I feel [like I'm] in another world. Finally we're getting America back," said Joanne Yaron excitedly, her eyes glued to one of the television screens in a Jerusalem bar, where Jewish Americans, new immigrants and temporary residents, celebrated Barack Obama's inauguration as 44th president of the United States.
Yaron, a Democratic Party activist in Israel, is certain that the Obama era is "good for Israel, good for the Middle East, good for the whole world." The American community in Israel was stuck fast to the television screen on Tuesday, in small groups, in private homes and in large gatherings. The United States Embassy in Tel Aviv held a closed party ...
Guy Simen, who worked at Obama's campaign offices in New Jersey and New York, said "many of the Americans living in Israel are in their early 20s and this is the first time in their adult life that they are witnessing such a monumental American event. Everyone's talking about it, sending e-mails."
"Even people who did not support Obama are excited, because they know the whole world is watching this event - and they feel close to home. They know that now we've elected a man who is supposed to change the world and many people are proud to be Americans. Many people are also happy that Bush is going home," he said.
Sydney Herald: Video: "Obama-mania takes over Sydney"
Video: "Obama-mania takes over Sydney"
The feel of the extraordinary gathering in Washington yesterday was of a people coming in from the cold. Black people, people of colour, call them what you will, it was every American’s celebration, but it was a celebration for African-Americans more than most. A majority of the people present were black and, of them, a majority of their ancestors had come to this country in chains. “I get choked just to look at him,” Velda Howell, 50, from Chicago, said. “He only has to stand there, he doesn’t even have to say anything.”
Mrs Howell and her friends have a right to be emotional, and when a television camera came by, there was the predictable cheering and waving, but pride was much more evident than partying. “You think about what your ancestors went through, and it does weigh on you, it does cause you anguish,” Mrs Howell said. “I feel like I really am part of this country now. Part of the Constitution. Before, I just felt like I existed. I am still coming to terms with it.”
When Michelle Obama said last year, during her husband’s campaign, that it was the first time that she had felt proud to be American, it was seen as a gaffe and she retracted it swiftly, but it undeniably described how Mrs Howell and many others feel.
Barack Obama took the oath of office to become the first black president in U.S. history Tuesday and called on the nation to embrace a "new era of responsibility" to conquer together the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Obama vowed in his inaugural address to restore U.S. leadership in the world that his predecessor, George W. Bush, has blemished with his notorious unilateral foreign policy during his eight years leading ...
Obama, 47, delivered his address shortly after taking the oath in a brief, open-air ceremony on the western side of the U.S. Congress building in clear but cold, wintry weather. Nearly 2 million people flocked to Washington to witness the event.
Live, English-language streaming coverage from France24.
Live, English-language streaming coverage from France24.
Der Spiegel of Germany:
Whether in front of their computers at work or in bars and living rooms, Germans across the country are looking forward to seeing Barack Obama sworn in as the 44th president of the United States Tuesday evening ...
For the average German, Tuesday marks a culmination of months of anticipation brought on by the close scrutiny given to the entire campaign and election seasons. For them, it would seem that the real trans-Atlantic issue of the day isn't so much about restoring frayed political ties as seeing whether Obama will inspire Americans to change -- and preferably change back into something many Germans once greatly admired.
Haaretz of Israel:
Hours before Barack Obama's inauguration on Tuesday, President Shimon Peres heralded the swearing in of America's first black president as a great day for the whole of humanity.
"Today is a great day not only for the United States of America, but for the entire world. Obama was elected by the United States, but as a matter of fact, he was chosen by the whole of humankind," said Peres in a statement released by his office.
The Times of India:
Street vendors in Indonesia cooked up ``Obama'' fried rice and children from the president-elect's old elementary school will sing the Star-Spangled Banner. Kenyans were planning parties for their most famous son.
Across the world, people gathered on Tuesday to mark the inauguration of Barack Obama as if he were one of their own.
In the Indonesian capital, where Obama spent four years as a young boy, students from his former school were to perform old-style dances from across the world's most populous Muslim nation.
In Kenya, neighbors were to join together for the moment, a year after their elections were marred by ethnic violence.
``Our election in Kenya really had problems with ethnicity ... America has shown that this doesn't have to be that big a problem,'' said Dr. Joseph Osoo, who runs a clinic in one of Kenya's biggest slums. ``Kenyan are very happy because their son is going to be the leader of America,'' he said ...
Many across the Middle East heralded the inauguration but expressed reservations about how much Obama will actually change U.S. policy in a region where anti-American sentiment spiked during the Bush administration ... Still, some people hold out hope that Obama will fundamentally transform U.S. policy toward the Middle East.
``Everybody loves him,'' said Abdullah Hiyari, a 21-year-old taxi driver in Amman, Jordan. ``I am hopeful that he is really going to change things for the better in the region.''
A close friend of Eve Fairbanks who lives in Moscow e-mailed this to her:
I stopped by my little produce stand today to pick up some clementines, and the Uzbek fruit vendor there wishes me a happy holiday.
'What holiday?' I ask.
"On the 20th, for the new president," he says.
Listen to this interesting BBC report (starting at the 14 minute mark) about the impact the Obama campaign had on students from the UK, Germany & Kenya.
From Xeni Jardin:
Palestinian journalist and blogger Daoud Kuttab has an interesting essay up today about cultural ripples from Obama's election throughout the Arab world.
It seems like an appropriate enough cartoon. The depiction of the president elect Barack Obama with the US flag behind him and the bubble quoting Obama as saying the change has come to Washington. Looking up to the Obama depiction was an excited Egyptian woman congratulating the African American senator, reminding him not to forget that people around the world have been hoping and praying for his success. This was followed by the Arabic phrase uqbal inna, meaning "may the same [change] happen to us."
According to the opposition weekly Sawt al Umma, the cartoon appearing the leading Egyptian daily Al Ahram, caused a sense of an emergency among the Egyptian leadership. The independent weekly stated that 150,000 copies of the paper's first edition were quickly removed from the streets and destroyed and the "troublesome" phrase disappeared from future prints that day. The before and after cartoon depiction appeared in Sawt al Umma.
This is certainly not the first time that a political cartoon has caused powers in our region to be worried about losing their powers. But the paranoia of the Mubarak regime is a reflection of the concern by many Arab autocrats about the Obama euphoria empowering those calling for change. Obama's victory on the change mantra was not lost to people around the world yearning for political reform. Jordan's leading blogger Mohammad Omar says that the victory of the son of a Kenyan immigrant gives minorities, immigrants and unrepresented groups hope. Imagine a Palestinian who was born in Jordan fifty or sixty years ago and has tried very hard to be part of the political scene looking at the son of an immigrant in America being elected to the top executive position. The winds of hope don't stop at the American shores, Omar insists.
An NBC News report on the worldwide reaction:
From Der Spiegel:
People from Australia to India, Brazil to Russia watched with bated breath as the returns came in. Never before had an American presidential election generated so much international interest; never before had the globe been so clear about who it wanted Americans to cast their vote for. With Barack Obama now having won the election, though, it seems likely that he won't enjoy much of a grace period. The list of problems facing him and the world is daunting.
View their interesting photo slide show.
Truly making Der Spiegel's point about this being a global election, watch this Aljazeera report on the reaction of his former school in Indonesia:
From Charles Bremner on France's reaction:
It's been a while since France went so crazy over the United States. Decades at least and perhaps not since John Kennedy's days in the early 1960s.
The pleasure and admiration today over the election of Barack Obama is genuine. It's coming from all sides -- not just the editorialists, politicians and philosophers who have been spouting in the media ...
This picture gives a flavour:
It's from Rue89, a popular leftwing news site. The headline reads: This time the world says thank you to America. Le Monde, also on the left, was breathless about Obama's campaign. "What intelligence, what mastery, what sang-froid..." it said this afternoon.
Or take the response of Jack Lang, a senior Socialist and long-serving culture minister under the late President Mitterrand: "The America that we love is back. This election will have the effect of an electric shock and will bring about a spiritual revolution."
The goodwill is just as strong from Sarkozy's centre-right party. "The Americans have voted for the American dream," gushed Patrick Devedjian, a Sarkozy friend and leader of the president's UMP party.
Saudi journalist Samir Saadi:
Obama's election means "the U.S. has won the war on terror ... Given Obama's name, his background, the doubts about his religion, Americans still voted for him and this proved that America is a democracy. People here are starting to believe in the U.S. again."
And so it came to pass that on Nov. 4, 2008, shortly after 11 p.m. Eastern time, the American Civil War ended, as a black man — Barack Hussein Obama — won enough electoral votes to become president of the United States.
A civil war that, in many ways, began at Bull Run, Virginia, on July 21, 1861, ended 147 years later via a ballot box in the very same state. For nothing more symbolically illustrated the final chapter of America’s Civil War than the fact that the Commonwealth of Virginia — the state that once exalted slavery and whose secession from the Union in 1861 gave the Confederacy both strategic weight and its commanding general — voted Democratic, thus assuring that Barack Obama would become the 44th president of the United States ...
The struggle for equal rights is far from over, but we start afresh now from a whole new baseline. Let every child and every citizen and every new immigrant know that from this day forward everything really is possible in America.
Russian novelist Viktor Yerofeyev:
The choice of an African American president in the United States overturns the whole idea of the stiff and conservative America," Yerofeyev said. "This means that America did wake up. This means that America is again open for free and democratic values. America has once again become a good model to emulate. It has again become a great country.
Al Jazeera tries to answer their own question:
The success of Barack Obama's presidential campaign shows just how far the US has moved on the issue of race since the end of the "Jim Crow" era - when laws permitting the segregation and oppression of the nation's blacks were passed.
The Democratic candidate is not the president yet, but four decades after the US voting and civil rights acts were passed - effectively scrapping the last of the Jim Crow laws - a black man of mixed race finds himself on the brink of entering the highest office - not just in the land -but arguably in the world.
International polls suggest that Obama has overwhelming global support over his Republican opponent, John McCain. If he wins, Obama will be hailed and feted the world over.
The most recent Harris Interactive/France 24/International Herald Tribune survey conducted online shows majorities of adults in Germany, France and Spain, as well as lesser but still large numbers of Britons and Italians, believe that electing a person of colour as president would have a positive effect on the US ...
What the polls do not reveal is how Obama's race would play out in countries where race is neither properly discussed nor integrated into mainstream politics. Would those nations currently lauding Obama's candidacy themselves vote his like into office?
... It's a thorny issue across the multi-racial, developed world. The elephant in the global room. The ghost of a past that the privileged half want to believe has been miraculously overcome in the modern world with its progressive and egalitarian values. Talking about it too much just reminds everyone that race is still there, buried, sometimes not so deep. No-one wants that.
Take Britain ...
Gallup Polls conducted in 73 countries from May to October 2008 reveal widespread international support for Democratic Sen. Barack Obama over Republican Sen. John McCain in the U.S. presidential election. Among these nations, representing nearly three-quarters of the world's population, 24% of citizens say they would personally rather see Obama elected president of the United States, compared with just 7% who say the same about McCain. At the same time, 69% of world citizens surveyed did not have an opinion.
World citizens are more divided over whether the outcome of the U.S. election makes a difference to their country, with 26% saying it does and 22% saying it does not. Moreover, 52% of those surveyed did not have an opinion.
Detailed, country by country results are here.
The Economist wondered what the electoral map would look like if the whole world could vote (you can here):
The Economist has redrawn the electoral map to give all 195 of the world's countries (including the United States) a say in the election's outcome. As in America, each country has been allocated a minimum of three electoral-college votes with extra votes allocated in proportion to population size. With over 6.5 billion people enfranchised, the result is a much larger electoral college of 9,875 votes. But rally your countrymen—a nation must have at least ten individual votes in order to have its electoral-college votes counted.
There are few countries whose votes in the Global Electoral College are a foregone conclusion. So the winner is unlikely to be decided by a small number of "swing countries". Rather, they will have to cobble together a coalition of small, medium and large nations. (A campaign stop in Beijing is recommended, as well as a tour of Africa.) Voting in the Global Electoral College will close at midnight London time on November 1st, when the candidate with most electoral-college votes will be declared the winner.
So far, it looks like this:
You can find a more scientific poll of European opinion here.
Interesting maps from Al-Jazeera:
BBC World talks with Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman on Oct. 20, 2008
From the UK's Guardian newspaper:
People around the world are pinning their hopes on Barack Obama in next month's presidential election, according to an international survey published today. It shows that America can no longer count on the friendship even of its closest neighbours and allies after eight years of the Bush presidency. Only a minority in the countries surveyed describe relations with the US as friendly.
The research, carried out by eight leading newspapers including the Guardian, finds overwhelming support for the Democratic candidate. He would win by a landslide in every country surveyed, including Britain, where he is ahead of the Republican candidate John McCain by 64% to 15%.
Support for Obama is stronger than backing for John Kerry in 2004, when the Guardian participated in a similar polling exercise. Then, the Democrat was the preferred candidate of 50% of British people.
The poll, conducted by papers including France's Le Monde, Japan's Yomiuri Shimbun, Canada's La Presse and Mexico's Reforma, also shows that opinion of America has dropped sharply since the start of the decade. In France 75% say their view of the US has got worse or much worse since President George Bush replaced Bill Clinton in 2001; in Canada 77%; in Switzerland 86% and in Japan 62%.
People everywhere have turned to Obama. He would win by a simple majority in six of the eight countries surveyed, including Canada, where he leads McCain by 70%-14%, and Japan, where the margin is 61%-13%.
French voters are even more hostile to the Republican candidate, who gets the backing of only 5%, against 68% who hope Obama will win.
Country by country results.
A very sobering story from Der Spiegel. Here's a snippet:
This is no longer the muscular and arrogant United States the world knows, the superpower that sets the rules for everyone else and that considers its way of thinking and doing business to be the only road to success.
A new America is on display, a country that no longer trusts its old values and its elites even less: the politicians, who failed to see the problems on the horizon, and the economic leaders, who tried to sell a fictitious world of prosperity to Americans.
Also on display is the end of arrogance. The Americans are now paying the price for their pride.
Gone are the days when the US could go into debt with abandon, without considering who would end up footing the bill. And gone are the days when it could impose its economic rules of engagement on the rest of the world, rules that emphasized profit above all else -- without ever considering that such returns cannot be achieved by doing business in a respectable way.
With its rule of three of cheap money, free markets and double-digit profit margins, American turbo-capitalism has set economic standards worldwide for the past quarter century. Now it is proving to be nothing but a giant snowball system, upsetting the US's global political status as it comes crashing down. Every bank that US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is currently forced to bail out with American government funds damages America's reputation around the world.
Of course, it is not solely the result of undesirable economic developments that the United States is in the process of forfeiting its unique position in the world and that the world is moving toward what Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, calls a "post-American age." Washington has also lost much of its political ability to impose its will on other countries. <Continue reading>
From the Boston Globe:
With Barack Obama on the ballot in at least eight local elections in Brazil, you might think the Democratic presidential candidate is keeping his options open in case John McCain winds up in the White House.
Not at all. Due to a quirk in Brazilian electoral law, candidates can put any name they want on the ballot, as long as it isn't offensive. At least eight candidates have chosen to be known as "Barack Obama" in the Oct. 5 elections.
The Illinois senator is hugely popular in Brazil. The prospect of a black U.S. president has generated enthusiasm across the country, where more people call themselves black than anywhere except Nigeria.
A variety of Brazilian candidates are hoping they can ride his distant coattails into office.
Claudio Henrique dos Anjos, who's running for mayor of Belford Roxo on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro, took the name Barack Obama de Belford Roxo and said he's gone from third place in the polls to a tie.
Dos Anjos, who would be the first black mayor of Belford Roxo, says he has incorporated elements of Obama's speeches into his own, and is using the same theme of change in his campaign.
"He influences us not only because he's the first black candidate, but because he fought for his dream, believed in his dream and defeated the odds," dos Anjos said. "This attitude is contagious both in Brazil and the world at large."
On the streets, as campaign workers pass out leaflets, a rapper chants from speakers on the back of a pickup truck: "Vote for Barack Obama! He stands for change!"
Mayoral candidate Claudio Henrique dos Anjos poses for a photo in front of one of his campaign posters. He is one of at least eight candidates in Brazil's upcoming municipal elections who has officially taken on the Illinois senator's name, as a quirky Brazilian election law allows candidates to use any name they wish on the ballot, as long as it isn't deemed offensive.
Yesterday morning, it seemed like it would be just another McCain mental lapse that the MSM would ignore (Spain Is In Europe Not Latin America Senator). Amazingly, however, the McCain campaign stood by them in the afternoon by proclaiming Spain is an "adversary" of America.
Here's CNN's report where they say, among other things, that this has become a big story in Spain:
And here is US News & World Report's puzzled Robert Schlesinger:
Memo to Randy Sheunemann: Your candidate can do worse things than get confused. Like he could imply that a NATO ally might mean us harm.
I'm pretty sure that John McCain was the former, not doing the latter, in a recent Spanish-language radio interview, but his chief foreign policy adviser apparently insists otherwise.
Sheunemann's insistence to the Washington Post that McCain knew who he was talking about when he clearly didn't is not only bizarre but affirmatively counterproductive to the campaign. If McCain was on the ball when he seemed unsure whether the leader of a NATO ally wanted to do harm to us, then he has larger issues than mere confusion—larger even than the difference between "Zapatero" and "Zapatista."
The interview [audio in the CNN report above] runs 5½ minutes. The first three minutes are pretty standard: The reporter takes McCain through Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba, asking how the United States should deal with their respective governments. The Arizona senator clearly knows what he's talking about, naming the leaders of different countries and mentioning Colombian President Alvaro Uribe ...
Then the reporter switches hemispheres: "Let's talk about Spain. If you're elected president, would you be willing to invite President [sic] José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero to the White House to meet with you? "
In fairness to McCain, the reporter has a strong accent and sped through Zapatero's name. After displaying a detailed grasp of his subject matter for three minutes, McCain suddenly goes Sarah Palin, giving generic talking points about being willing to meet with friends, then he goes off on what seems to be a tangent: "And by the way, President Calderon of Mexico is fighting a very, very tough fight against the drug cartels. I'm glad we are now working in cooperation with the Mexican government on the Merida plan, and I intend to move forward these relations and invite as many of them as I can of those leaders to the White House. "
That last bit about inviting as many Mexican leaders as possible to the White House seems to be the key. The guess here is that McCain didn't catch the question, heard "Zapatero," mistook it for "Zapatista," and thought it was a question about Mexican politics. Hence the diversion to Calderon and the discussion of inviting Mexicans to the White House.
From Marty Perez in the Jerusalem Post:
Jews value "smarts." They value it in their children and in their doctors, in their lawyers and in their brokers ... Barack Obama and Joe Biden certainly have these character traits. And so does John McCain who, like the latter two, is a friend. I don't have friends who are 'am hortzim.' What's the point? You can't learn anything from them. And you surely don't want an "am ha'aretz" (boor) for a leader.
... but Palin did go to her church to listen to a leader of "Jews for Jesus" explain why Jews have suffered in history [see Sarah Palin Sat In Church During Anti-Semitic Tirade]. Yes, the old excuse. A politician who thought about the banning of books in Alaskan libraries and schools might just think to ban from her mind the message of "Jews for Jesus." She also welcomed Pat Buchanan to her town. Believe me, Pat Buchanan does not like Jews or Zionists, and he does make that clear. Listening to such crude individuals is not a crime. But it does tell you that Sarah has crude bad taste. She could have not come and made a point of it. But, then, she wouldn't be Sarah Palin.
What is most frightening about Sarah Palin is that she might become president of the United States. But this is especially frightening because she is an ignoramus. A person who hasn't the foggiest notion of what the Bush Doctrine is cannot be trusted to grasp the intricacies of America's relations with the world. Or, for that matter, America's relationship. Most of the citizenry couldn't really explain the calamity now unfolding in the country's economy. Long established merchant banks, transformed into gargantuan institutions, go out of business ...
And, so, I also wouldn't trust her with the fate of Israel. I know she can see Russia from her living room. But it doesn't reassure me. You have to know something about its ambitions, its weapons capacity, the extent of its realism, its own view of itself. Looking at the steppes doesn't mean a thing.
But knowing history does. And Palin palpably knows none. She understands nothing about Jewish history ... From Gamal Abdel Nassar to Nasrallah, from Haj Amin Husseini to the two Assads: are these names she can identify? What about their beliefs and strategies?
Palin would be in several worlds of which she had never heard. The cartography of the modern world is simply too complicated for her. Sorry to bring you the bad news. Alas, it is also true news.
Here's Time's take:
If the Paris meeting in March between French President Nicolas Sarkozy and presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain resembled a warm embrace, Friday's hookup of Sarkozy and Barack Obama fell just short of hot love. After trading compliments and endearments during an hour-long press conference in the Elyse Palace, the pair wound their session down with Sarkozy coming as close as possible to endorsing Obama for the U.S. presidency without actually doing it.
Then he was off to London:
An opinion piece from Der Spiegel's chief foreign editor:
It was a ton to absorb -- and what a stupendous ride through world history: the story of his own family, the Berlin Airlift, terrorists, poorly secured nuclear material, the polar caps, World War II, America's errors, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, freedom. It's amazing one could even pack such a potpourri of issues into sentences and then succeed in squeezing them all into the space of a speech that lasted less than 30 minutes.
So what still sticks? That Barack Obama is a passionate politician who is fixated on and takes very seriously his desire for a bit of uptopia and a better world. That he is an impressive speaker who knows how to casually draw his audience into his image of the world -- one who doesn't have any need to resort to the kind of cheap effects that tend to prompt the uproarious applause of an audience. That he is a typical American -- an idealist in the true spirit of the American success story who is now very casually making his claim to become something akin to the president of the world ...
However, he is also certain to demand the help of the Germans, Brits and French in Afghanistan and Iraq. He's not going to allow NATO to shirk its duty -- and that is where the perils of the engaging "we" and the catchy "Yes, we can" lie. Otherwise all these hard-nosed Europeans will hope and pray that the future President Obama isn’t really all that serious about the saving the world of tomorrow, the polar caps, Darfur and the poppy harvest over in Afghanistan.
George W. Bush is yesterday, the Texas version of the arrogant world power. Obama is all about today: the "everybody really just wants to be brothers and save the world" utopia. As for us, we who sometimes admire and sometimes curse this somewhat anemic, pragmatic democracy, we will have to quickly get used to Barack Obama, the new leader of a lofty democracy that loves those big nice words -- words that warm our hearts and alarm our minds.
Let's allow ourselves to be warmed today, by this man at the Victory Column. Then we'll take a further look.
Al Jazeera has a Q&A where the questions and answers seem to alternate as coming from an American political operative and a Palestinian. The dueling and divergent perspectives in the single piece make it pretty interesting. For example, it concludes with:
Obama will do what it takes to assure Israel and its US supporters of his support.
I do not think he will make people forget his middle name - Hussein - by appeasing Israel, or forget that his father was Muslim by underlining his Christianity. That approach underestimates Israel and the intelligence of its supporters.
But if it "ain't broke, why fix it"?
Perhaps, if you are a cynic, but how could someone claim moral high ground on Iraq, political change and the ability to lead, when he is bound by racial fear, political intimidation and lobbying influence.
This is politics in America and it is paramount for eventually making policy. American politics 101 is for another day.
In particular, they dispute the notion that "regular" Americans will be turned off when they see that he is very popular with the citizens of our most important political, historical & cultural allies:
Barack Obama’s face adorns newspaper and magazine covers worldwide, as reporters flock to foreign capitals for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee's five-country tour following stops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Marschall, for one, said that he’s written several Obama-related pieces already this past week, and will continue over the next few days, focusing on the trip’s impact on the U.S. election. Back in Berlin, he estimated that 10 to 15 reporters will cover Obama’s upcoming speech from various angles, filling up column inches in the newspaper’s national, local and cultural pages.
Last week, a Pew Global Attitudes study on “Obamamania Abroad” found that while the Middle East remains skeptical — including Jordan, the candidate’s first stop there — Europe is another story altogether.
Toby Harnden, U.S. editor of the Daily Telegraph, told Politico that it’s almost as if the overwhelmingly popular Obama had been “designed by a committee of Europeans” with the goal of creating their ideal American presidential candidate ...
That said, Obama’s policy positions actually put him to the right of mainstream opinion in the European capitals of Berlin, Paris and London. Indeed, Obama’s positions on hot-button issues like gun ownership, the death penalty and increased troops in Afghanistan could slightly tarnish the nearly perfect media persona ...
In front of Berlin’s famous Victory Column on Thursday, Obama will address a crowd that press reports estimate at anywhere from tens of thousands to upwards of a million. “It seems that there are no other news stories in Germany than the Obama visit,” said Cordula Meyer, a Washington-based senior correspondent at Der Speigel.
“Europeans have fallen in love with the Democrat, mostly because he’s not Bush,” Meyer, and several Der Speigel colleagues wrote. “But they may not like what they hear this week.”
Don't bring bags or placards, but make sure to smile for the camera! Barack Obama doesn't want to let anything steal the show at his Berlin debut, where the streets and the Victory Column are being transformed into a "fan mile" for the US Democratic Party's presidential candidate.
The profile, distinctive. The eyes, visionary. The mouth, just cracked enough to show that the man has something to say. The poster and flyers say it all. In big white-on-blue letters, they announce that the Barack Obama Show is coming to Berlin ...
When all is said and done, Thursday's speech will have been the only outdoor public speech delivered by the political pop star on European soil. "It's a one-of-a-kind event," says Michael Steltzer, "a gift to the city." Steltzer is the American head of the Berlin chapter of Democrats Abroad, the official organization representing American Democrats living in foreign countries. Obama's visit has nothing to do with the organization, but the Democrats Abroad here want to help make sure that as many people as possible show up to listen to Obama deliver his speech, which is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. and is expected to last a little less than an hour.
More than 13,000 US citizens are officially registered as residents of Berlin, and Steltzer is convinced that Americans living in nearby countries will make a pilgrimage to Germany to get a glimpse of their idol. Steltzer learned from some fellow Democrats in Paris that some of them were hoping to make the trip to Berlin. Democrats Abroad in neighboring Denmark and the Netherlands have announced similar plans. And Christine Marques, who heads Democrats Abroad, will be coming to Germany's capital on Thursday from Switzerland.
An intriguing article from Germany's leading news magazine, Der Spiegel:
[Obama] will be in Berlin this Thursday, when Germans will hail him as a magician with the ability to transform a gloomy world into a brighter place. Never before has there been so much excitement in Germany over the visit of a presumed US presidential candidate. Obama may be running for the White House, but judging by the commotion, one would think that he had already advanced two steps further and were the president of the world.
Which is precisely the issue. Obama raises hopes that he will not just change America, but politics as a whole.
Obama is the hope of a Western world filled with concerns. A recession looms as does high inflation sparked by exploding demand for commodities and natural resources. Furthermore, no one has yet come up with a convincing response to global warming. No one knows how to bring peace to the Middle East, Afghanistan or Iraq. And no one has a promising strategy for dealing with Islamist terrorism.
At the same time, the West is searching for its place in an "incomplete world order," as journalist Peter Bender describes the current state of affairs. How strong will China, Russia and India become? How should the West interact with these countries? And is there even such a thing as the "West" anymore?
It is time for leadership. And only one man inspires the kind of confidence that would enable him to assume this leadership: Barack Obama. Germans, in particular, are pinning their hopes on this man. Whereas just 10 percent favor the Republican candidate John McCain, fully 76 percent consider Barack Obama the better candidate ...
With Obama as president, Germans and Americans could finally "talk about shared values once again," says FDP foreign policy expert Werner Hoyer ... former Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer agrees: "With McCain, one has a pretty good idea of what to expect." Fischer believes that McCain, unlike Obama, would not bring about any significant change as president. For Fischer, Obama could "fail, possibly even in a big way, but he could also turn out to be one of the truly great American presidents." ...
Burlington Vt is one of two places in the US that carries Al Jazeera English (AJE). Burlington Telecom (BT), A local municipal cable provider started carrying the station a little over a year and a half ago. In late May of this year BT said they would take AJE off the air due to an "inundation of phone calls" - the exact number of calls is unknow. They have since said that the reasons for wanting to pull AJE off the air are due to "contractual issues". BT advisory committees held a public forum in response to volumes of community input on June 10, 2008. Over 50 people attended the meeting, 6 people spoke out in favor of removing AJE and over 35 spoke in favor of keeping it on the air. In the interest of maintaining their space on the BT line up,
Here's Al Jazeera's report on the controversy. What is particularly surprising to me is the claim that Al Jazeera is anti-Sematic and pro-terrorist when it is one of the most popular channels in Israel:
From the Int'l Herald Tribune:
According to Samuel Solvit, president of France's support committee for Barack Obama, the French have not been this excited about America since they shipped over the Statue of Liberty in 1885.
Obamania has gripped most of Europe. But the enthusiasm is particularly striking in France. This is where the disenchantment with U.S. foreign policy under the Bush administration has been the most vocal. And this is where the Continent's largest community of African immigrants and their descendants live ...
"For the French establishment, Obama represents a new chapter in the Western alliance," Solvit said. "For ethnic minorities he embodies the equality of opportunity they crave."
Europe always watches when America goes to the polls. But this year a collective craving for change appears to have heightened the interest ... Indeed, as the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung warned Friday, European enthusiasts have elevated the senator to a role he will find hard to fulfill - "a savior of mankind, a sort of political Messiah of the early 21st century."
But this week such caution tended to be drowned out by the news about Obama's impending nomination.
"You can't welcome it enough, especially in this era of rampant anti-Americanism," Le Figaro, the French daily, said Thursday.
"With Obama, a certain idea of America is back: that of a generous society where equality of opportunity is not an empty promise. Hope and change, key words of his campaign, reinforce this rediscovered ideal, which resonates as much inside the country as beyond."
In no other segment of France's population does this ideal inspire more than among minorities. One in 10 of the nation's inhabitants is of Arab or African origin.
Kama Des-Gachons, a 28-year-old Frenchwoman, was one of about 600 young men and women flocking to a panel discussion in Paris on Tuesday about the "Obama Effect in France." Her eyes lit up when she spoke about Obama. Not because he is a Democrat or because he opposed to the war in Iraq. But because his father was an African immigrant, like hers.
"He makes me dream," said Des-Gachons, whose parents came to France from Mali. "I even bought a T-shirt with the American flag. America is the country where you can make it."
Des-Gachons is living the American election campaign vicariously, as if she had a vote herself. Could she imagine a French Obama?
"Not anytime soon," she said. Despite a university degree from the Sorbonne, it took her two years to find her current job in finance.
"But who knows?" she added, echoing a hope that many in the audience expressed. "If Obama is elected, maybe it will change perceptions in France, too."
For much of the world, Sen. Barack Obama's victory in the Democratic primaries was a moment to admire the United States at a time when the nation's image abroad has been seriously damaged.
From hundreds of supporters crowded around televisions in rural Kenya, Obama's ancestral homeland, to jubilant Britons writing "WE DID IT!" on the Brits for Barack discussion board on Facebook, people celebrated what they called an important racial and generational milestone for the United States ...
The primary race generated unprecedented interest outside the United States, much of it a reflection of a desire for change from the policies of President Bush, who surveys show is deeply unpopular around the globe. At the same time, many people abroad seemed impressed -- sometimes even shocked -- by the wide-open nature of U.S. democracy, and the history-making race between a woman and a black man.
"The primaries showed that the U.S. is actually the nation we had believed it to be, a place that is open-minded enough to have a woman or an African American as its president," said Minoru Morita, a Tokyo political analyst.
More precisely, a view, Gerard Baker's, from the London Times:
Every American child learns at a parent’s knee the most fundamental of truths about their country. Anyone can grow up to be president of the United States. It is the essence of the nation’s republican ideal, the meritocratic belief at the core of its organising principle. It is also, at least empirically speaking, complete balderdash.
In 220 years a country that has steadily multiplied in diversity, where ethnic minorities and women have risen to the very highest positions in so many fields of human life, has chosen a succession of 42 white men as its leader. For good measure, the vice-presidency, the only other nationally directly elected position in the US government, has been held by a succession of 46 white males
But last night, in a tumultuous break with this long history, the ultimate realisation of the American dream moved a little closer, and a black man became his party’s nominee for the presidency.
The fact that Barack Obama has been headed for the Democratic nomination has been obvious for months. But that did not make the final moment of arithmetical certainty any less dramatic or historic ...
Six months ago he was given almost no hope. He was taking on the establishment, the First Family of Democratic politics ... So it is a testament to his extraordinary political skills, his stirring oratory and, above all, the change represented by his eloquent calls for an end to partisanship, his relative youth and, yes, his skin colour. He brilliantly channelled opposition to the war in Iraq — having been one of the few Democrats courageous enough to oppose it in the first place — and ended up winning not only almost the entire black Democratic vote, but breaking the colour bar and gaining enough — just — of the white vote to win the nomination.
A word of caution is in order on this historic day. Mr Obama will be well aware that the pioneers of ethnic, religious or gender presidential equality rarely make it all the way to the White House. The first Roman Catholic to win a party’s nomination was Al Smith in 1928. But no Catholic was elected president until John F. Kennedy 32 years later. The first woman to appear on a presidential ticket was Geraldine Ferraro for vice-president in 1984. But 24 years later, as Hillary Clinton would acidly note, no woman has been elected president. The first Jewish candidate was vice-presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman in 2000. But he lost, too.
So it’s fair to wonder, as the 2008 US general election finally gets under way, whether this might be just another false start.
It might. But for the time being, Barack Obama is changing the world.
From Der Spiegel:
Frank-Walter Steinmeier ... Germany's foreign minister had to make do with a telephone conversation with [Obama] during his recent visit to Washington. Still, that's all it took to stir Steinmeier's enthusiasm for the candidate.
... Steinmeier's entourage told SPIEGEL that Obama's foreign policy questions were very engaged, and he peppered his conversation with questions about the German foreign minister's views on Russia, Iran and Afghanistan.
The conversation lasted about 15 minutes and was very focused. Obama's rhetorical "cruising altitude," was apparently quite high, an advisor to Steinmeier said. At the end of the conversation, the Democratic presidential candidate promised to come to Germany as soon as possible.
The few minutes spent on the telephone gave Steinmeier the impression that Obama is prepared to fundamentally reconsider the course of US foreign policy. Steinmeier was impressed, and only a day later he publicly outed himself as the senator's latest fan. "Yes we can," the minister, not known for his emotional outbursts, chanted, evoking Obama's campaign slogan during a speech at Harvard University ...
But the foreign minister hasn't been alone in his admiration for the candidate -- Berlin has been teeming with Obamamania for weeks now. Even conservatives are taken by the Democrat. After the Bush era, Chancellor Angela Merkel of the conservative Christian Democrats can easily imagine working together with a liberal Democrat in the White House. And Norbert Röttgen, chief whip for the Christian Democrats in parliament, sees Obama as the messenger of a new wave of politics that could also provide a model for Germany.
"Germany is Obamaland," says Karsten Voigt, the German government's coordinator for trans-Atlantic relations. He says Germans see the African-American senator as a kind of "mixture of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr."
People are projecting their hopes and dreams on Obama, adds Constanze Stelzenmüller of the German Marshall Fund in Berlin. He's perceived here as peace-loving and cooperative, and those are the kind of traits Germans admire in a foreign politician.
<continue reading ...>