Obama & America's Reputation Abroad

Tom Friedman is traveling in Egypt, and all anyone wants to know is, “Obama? Do you think they will let him win?”(It’s always “let him win” not just “win.”)

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Democrats’ nomination of Obama as their candidate for president has done more to improve America’s image abroad — an image dented by the Iraq war, President Bush’s invocation of a post-9/11 “crusade,” Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo Bay and the xenophobic opposition to Dubai Ports World managing U.S. harbors — than the entire Bush public diplomacy effort for seven years.

Of course, Egyptians still have their grievances with America, and will in the future no matter who is president — and we’ve got a few grievances with them, too. But every once in a while, America does something so radical, so out of the ordinary — something that old, encrusted, traditional societies like those in the Middle East could simply never imagine — that it revives America’s revolutionary “brand” overseas in a way that no diplomat could have designed or planned.

I had the same reaction whenever I was abroad this year, but it was always just a possiblity that even my most progressive colleagues in Europe doubted would happen. Now its time for Barack to go on a tour of the European and Mid Eastern Capitals. It’s a traditional rite of Presidential nominees to do so. My guess is this time he might be really greeted with flowers and cheers.

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0 Responses to Obama & America's Reputation Abroad

  1. Morgan Warstler says:

    In most other countries, people have to be “let to win.”

  2. Disinterested Observer says:

    Morgan, are you even trying anymore?

  3. Andres says:

    Thanks for posting this Jon.

    As you know, I have spent the last 4 years traveling around the world filming documentaries. In all of my encounters over the past year and a half all I hear about is people discussing the possibility of Barack Obama becoming the next president of the United States.

    What is notable is the expression on the faces of the hopeful; their eyes glisten and focus on your every word, as if the news is to good to be true.

    Now Chavez, Ortega in Nicaragua, Correa in Ecuador, Ahmadinejad, Mubarak and all of the other anti-U.S. leaders, will have to amend their rhetoric to focus on the real issues affecting their interests because they can no longer just point a finger at the U.S. and say “they are evil” as their only source of foreign policy and internal rallying cry; not with President Barack Obama in the White House.

    Besides my own ruminations on the subject, this is a consistent comment I receive, suffice it to say that my DP who is from Madrid requested I get her an Obama T-Shirt for her to proudly wear back home; I did and she does.

    The future is looking bright.

  4. rob murray says:

    Hate to rain on the parade but Canadians who know anything about our “joined at the hip” economies and Democrat protectionism have little to look forward to under Obama. His threat to dump NAFTA put a chill on the Obama love fest here. Bush was all sorts of bad stuff but he was generally good for North American trade. Not that you’ll ever catch me longing for the Bush years. Like most Canucks I’ve lived within an hour’s drive of the US border all of my life. I grew up thinking that the differences between Canadians and Americans were mostly superficial. Having our noses rubbed in our “foreignness”, my fellow citizens extraordinarily rendered and imprisoned without charge or process, has fixed that notion. I haven’t been to visit in six years and don’t have any plans for the near future. Here’s one foreigner who isn’t ready to cheer just yet.

  5. bernard Fauchier says:

    I think one of Obama’s first challenge will be to unite the “Americas ” North & South, I really dont know how he will go about it but I know that it will happen sooner then later.

  6. Hugo says:

    rob, that’s a shame for a lot of reasons, and I hope that Mr. Obama will reverse Canadian opinion soon, but mostly I lament it because Canada, and Native North Americans also, will be crucial to helping the U.S. Government sort out what will have to be an extremely complex energy policy viz natural resources. You folks have the exact kind of financial expertise (and probably also the public ethic) toward which we now are led kicking and screaming. So, an inopportune time to piss off Canada.

  7. Azmanon says:

    In the half o’ dozen European countries I’ve visited in recent months, the question has always been. “Oh you’re American, what do you think of Obama?”. Nobody has ever asked about Clinton or McCain.

  8. Hugo says:

    But I think we all understand that this goes to the heart of the prevalent anxiety over the loss of national sovereignty to globalism. At some point it becomes obscene for foreign opinion to impinge the sacrosanct decisions of free-born sovereign citizens voting in the privacy of their polling booths.

    Moreover, operationally, it risks a great error: an insult to the American voters topping even the Nob Hill Fiasco. McCain, left stateside by Obama’s pre-victory tour among non-Americans, could rather easily gut Barack like a fish.

  9. Jon Taplin says:

    Hugo-You may have a point about us resenting “furriners” liking our prospective candidate. I think he has to go to Iraq anyway. Perhaps a nice picture with the troops would suffice?

  10. Hugo says:

    Yes, I really think that’s the prudent way: to stick with Americans abroad and with those foreign nationals who signify what Americans are doing overseas. If he wins, then he and Michelle can be the toast of Paris, etc., but until November they should be as Grant Wood as possible.

  11. zestypete says:

    I seem to recall arguing ages ago that an Obama win would represent a significant psychological boost, not only for the US but for the rest of the world, and that in turn would have a remarkably positive effect on the general state of things, albeit in the short term.

    In the UK, there are rumblings that we’re talking ourselves into a recession, despite the fact that we’re in better shape than many to weather the economic shitstorm. I know than an Obama win would turn the UK’s attention back to the US, in economic terms at least, instead of China and India, where Gordon Brown’s been looking longingly since he stepped into Blair’s shoes. And that in turn would be good for the US both psychologically and economically, which would be a good thing for the UK etc etc.

    On the other hand, when French President Sarkozy visited the UK in his first official state visit (after he married former model Carla Bruni), the media, the government, the royals and the public at large here couldn’t stop slobbering over them as the new jetset glamour couple on the international governmental scene. Promises were made about improving ties, plans were put in place for future dealings and for a brief moment, the sun shone out of Sarkozy and Brown’s collective arses. Did it change anything? Nope. And Sarkozy’s numbers are reaching George W approval levels these days, while Brown’s struggling to be taken seriously as a prime minister.

    So would an international tour make any difference to Obama’s public perception back home at this stage? Doubtful. But an Obama win could send positive ripples around the world.

  12. Hugo says:

    Yes, zestypete, I fer-one remember that you did make the point. And now you’ve made the important case for that point being more important than ever.

    His victory lap, tastefully timed, will mean much more than his dancing in the End Zone now.

  13. Todd Sieling says:

    As a Canadian observer and in the last 8 years a nervous neighbour, my future interest in visiting the US hinges on the upcoming election. It’s clear that Americans don’t seem to take responsibility for the disaster that has been Bush, and I’m rooting for a hearty rejection of the Bush world view in a thorough defeat for McCain. Should McCain get in, I doubt I will ever want to visit again.

  14. Hugo says:

    But Todd, it hasn’t been a disaster; that’s hyperbole, and you folks have the remove with which to be measured about such things. You guys have kept us safe, and we’ve kept you safe, and evidently in the President’s mind—knowing whatever hellish things he knows—that’s pretty good. I’m counting on your understanding that these things aren’t usually known until well after our vitriol has turned clear.

    If you buy the line that McCain is Bush Redux, then that’s your call. But I for one judge the man without historical amnesia, as any real knowledge of contemporary American political history shows far more differences between, than similarities of, those two particular gents.

    For myself, I wouldn’t want to win the election and lose Canada. But I’m counting on you guys to be more discerning than are those of us who, having to cast our votes, are caught up in the sinister fog of it all.

  15. Ken Ballweg says:

    Hugo, It may have more to do with the party each represents than the man himself. From a outsider’s view our current political choices can look like they are between the right wing democrats, and the far, far, far, far, far right republicans. McCain may differ from Bush significantly, but he still is associated with a fairly extreme brand of politics relative to the choices European and Canadian voters are offered.

    By that I don’t mean they don’t have extreme right wing pols, but that they have more leftist left wing choices than we do. It’s all about relative centers, from what I hear from my foreign friends.

  16. Todd Sieling says:

    Points taken, but my friend, history is amnesia, selected by violence and circumstance.

  17. Hugo says:

    Too true, Todd, but…

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  19. Andres says:

    This from McClatchy DC dot com:

    “…A Pew Global Attitudes survey released Thursday found that people abroad feel more favorably toward either Obama or McCain than they do toward President Bush. But when they were asked how confident they are that the next president will make good foreign-policy decisions, Obama beat McCain in almost every nation, including 72-19 percent in Spain, 82-33 percent in Germany, 52-17 percent in Indonesia and 31-23 percent in Egypt.”


    …In Western Europe, Hulsman said, Obama is “fanatically popular. People here, they’re mesmerized by the notion an African-American could be elected president. They see Obama talking and hear Kennedyesque strains in what he says, and think maybe America isn’t as bad as they thought.”

    Bush tours Europe and is received by protests then Obama goes and he is received with cheers; I think that that news cycle would drown out anything McCain has to say on the matter and would give Americans all over a long lost sense of pride in their leaders.

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