Foreign reactions to Obama’s election


Before telling you about Oman, though, many people have been asking me about foreign reactions to Obama’s election. One of the nice things about living in Dubai is that I get to meet people from all over the world; and I can tell you that George Bush was pretty universally despised everywhere. People everywhere are infatuated with the United States. Part of this is the realization that the United States is such a dominant force in the world’s economy and politics – they are in awe of the wealth and power. Another part, of course, is that they are bombarded with images of the United States in both pop culture – music, movies, television – and in the news; so they are infatuated, in part, with the IMAGE of the United States rather than the reality. But an important part of that image, consciously or subconsciously, is the spiritual aspect of America: freedom, equality, fairness, opportunity, and a sense of morality that is manifested in the way the United States operates. They, like Americans, recognize that no one can actually live up to the ideals that we set for ourselves; but the fact that we set them is impressive in itself! In every country outside of Europe that I have been to, including countries that are not supposed to “like” us, the dominant internet ad is for companies promising to secure Green Cards for America. People in other countries seem better able than we are to separate the heart of a country from its politics, perhaps because they have so much less control over their own politics. People disliked most of George Bush’s international political actions, but I think they resented him even more for his betrayal of what they see – and what we advertise – as the heart of America.

Obama’s election seemed to vindicate that heart, that spiritual aspect of America. In their minds, he seems to have redeemed the years of racism that hang over our history and verified the values that they want America to stand for. And here is a man who speaks thoughtfully and rationally, who speaks of healing and inclusion instead of anger and divisiveness, who even speaks in complete sentences! In the Arab world, they were honored that he spoke to them in the inaugural address and called them on his first day in office – and honor and respect go a long way in this part of the world. People listened to his campaign promises to end the debacle in Iraq, to bring a fair solution to the mess in Palestine, to fix the economy that is eating away at their recent gains. But they often don’t completely realize that Obama is not a king or a military dictator, that politics in a democracy is the art of compromise, that our President’s power is limited by an actual working Legislature and by the diverse electorate that granted him his power, and by historical and social forces that are beyond his control. Some disillusionment is already evident, now that they realize that this man does not walk on water. But Obama still enjoys enormous political capital around the world. And he has the benefit of following George Bush. People WANT to believe in him, and that can go a long way. I hope that he can live up to at least some of their expectations, and that America can again project the image that we all aspire to.


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