Obama win restores world's hope in U.S.: expert
Andy Johnson, CTV.ca News
Published Wednesday, November 5, 2008 7:58AM EST
Last Updated Friday, May 18, 2012 9:27PM EDT
TORONTO - Barack Obama's stunning U.S. election win Tuesday will be seen as a symbol of hope to a world that is largely jaded with U.S. leadership, says one expert.
Leading up to the election, several major, international polls showed that if the world could vote, Obama would easily be carried to the White House on the shoulders of all but a few nations.
Beth Fischer, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said his victory will be welcomed by a world that is weary of George W. Bush.
"Not only has Obama energized the American electorate, he has energized public opinion in many regions throughout the world," Fischer told CTV.ca.
"Probably the only exception is Asia and Latin America. So I think he's going to be a powerful symbol of change."
The fact that Obama is an African-American, that he grew up in Indonesia and that his father is from Kenya, has set Obama apart from previous U.S. presidents and sparked great hope among many nations, Fischer said.
Across Europe, Asia and the Americas millions spent all night celebrating the Obama win, and even in much of the Islamic world Muslims celebrated a new start for relations with the U.S.
"What an inspiration. He is the first truly global U.S. president the world has ever had," Pracha Kanjananont, a 29-year-old Thai in Bangkok told The Associated Press. "He had an Asian childhood, African parentage and has a Middle Eastern name. He is a truly global president."
Nizar al-Kortas, a columnist for Kuwait's Al-Anbaa newspaper, wrote that an Obama victory was "a historic step to change the image of the arrogant American administration to one that is more acceptable in the world."
CTV's London Bureau Chief Tom Kennedy said Wednesday morning the global reaction was overwhelmingly positive.
"The president of France called it a brilliant victory and the European Union said it was a new deal for the new world," Kennedy told Canada AM.
"In Asia there was similar reaction -- China called it a new period of history, some regional leaders in Asia called it a new era for the world, in the Middle East there was some cautious optimism from Syria."
Though many people around the world hoped -- and in the case of Kenya, prayed -- for an Obama victory, the fact that it actually happened came as a shock to many, Fischer said.
"I think a lot of the world, a lot of foreigners, didn't think a black person was going to make it to the top position in the United States. So just the symbolism of a black man taking over the most powerful political position in the world will be powerful."
However, the world's high hopes for Obama, Fischer said, are also probably somewhat unrealistic.
Though his honeymoon period is likely to be longer than most newly minted presidents, Obama is likely to come back down to earth pretty quickly following his election, she said.
According to Fischer, America's global might was at its apex immediately following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11.
The nation was an economic and military powerhouse and was enjoying the most global support it had ever had.
In less than a decade, the Bush administration managed to erase almost all of that, she said.
The reality Obama faces now includes a broken and debt-saddled U.S. economy, an unpopular and expensive war in Iraq and a world that sees the U.S. as a cowboy country willing to act unilaterally.
"So the Bush administration has dug a very deep hole for the next administration," Fischer said.
Obama himself signalled in his victory speech Tuesday night that it will take time for America to get back on its feet. He seemed to suggest Americans shouldn't expect any major changes overnight, though he said "I promise you, we as a people will get there."
"The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there," Obama said in Chicago.
Climbing out of that hole will require action on three fronts, Fischer said.
"One might be a renewed emphasis on multilateralism. Secondly, Iraq -- pulling out of Iraq in a way that stabilizes the country but also signals to the rest of the world the U.S. is not an imperial power -- those will be the two big ones," she said.
"A third would be a renewed emphasis on diplomacy."
Through the choice of his key advisers, his endorsement by respected Republican Colin Powell and his decision to spend some of his campaign in the Middle East and Europe -- 200,000 came to hear him speak in Germany - Obama has indicated he intends to follow those steps, she said.
'I don't think he'll have the same cowboy-swagger that Bush had," Fischer said.
One element of Obama's global support that the polls don't reflect, Fischer said, is the degree of passion behind his supporters -- even those who don't have the right to cast a ballot.
She used the example of a friend who recently began teaching English literature at a university in France. For their first assignment, she asked her French students to write about something they felt passionately about.
"In the first class 30 per cent wrote about the American election and Obama. In the next class it was 25 per cent," she said.
"They were passionate about Obama, passionate about the need for change in American leadership, passionate about getting out of Iraq and ending the war. So I don't think the polls necessarily capture the degree of passion that Obama has ignited around the world."