By Barnaby Phillips in Athens / Al Jazeera English / October 24, 2008
In Athens’ Hard Rock Cafe, just around the corner from my flat, hundreds of Americans of all political persuasions turned up to see the McCain-Obama debate on a giant screen.
Even the US ambassador showed up. I was there too, not an American, (albeit married to one), just one of millions of foreigners caught up in the excitement of this election.
And let me start with a confident assertion; the overwhelming majority of non-Americans who follow international events will be cheering for an Obama victory on November 4.
If you doubt this, take a look at the global election being conducted on the website of the Economist magazine.Readers from across the world are asked for their preference. So far, only two (rather small) countries lean towards John McCain; Georgia and Macedonia.
That Georgia favours McCain is probably because of his tough anti-Russian position, and Macedonia, I assume, is doing so because of a (perhaps mistaken) belief that Obama would support Greece in the dispute between the Balkan neighbours.
Missing the message?
In every other country in the world that has registered enough votes, Economist readers (not radicals by inclination) give Obama a landslide victory.In several African countries, 100 per cent of votes go to Obama. Sure, it’s not scientific, but it’s indicative of how the world feels.
There have been similar polls in recent months, carried out by the BBC (in 22 countries) and Reader’s Digest (in 17 countries), and they also show massive majorities for the Democratic candidate.
In part, this is because many foreigners just do not get large parts of the Republican party’s message.
Talk of abortion, gun rights and patriotism may win elections in America, but it leaves outsiders indifferent, or, (especially in Europe), it turns them cold.
The more the Republican Party tries to make this an election about “values” and “culture wars”, the more it repels foreigners.
Sarah Palin, the Republican vice-presidential nominee, attracts crowds, and voters, in the heartland with her patriotic talk and folksy style, but abroad people are concerned about her lack of knowledge of the outside world.
But there are also more specific reasons why, in 2008, the world is leaning so heavily towards Obama.
America’s image in the outside world has taken a terrible beating in the past eight years, and while John McCain has tried to disassociate himself from the Bush-Cheney administration, he cannot do so entirely.He belongs to the same party and, to foreign ears, his language is just as hawkish.
John McCain believes in consulting allies, and acting through international institutions where possible, but many foreigners worry that after the Iraq debacle, he is the more likely of the two candidates to get America involved in another reckless war.
Change, in the shape of Obama, is a much more attractive option for a majority of foreigners.
In truth, after Bush and Iraq, any candidate put forward by the Democrats would have enjoyed the support of most non-Americans.
But Barack Obama has struck a chord across the world. If you think the huge crowd that turned out to see him in Berlin was enthusiastic, just imagine if he wins, and see the reception he will get in Lagos, Nairobi or Jakarta.
A ‘tarnished commodity’
In Africa, a continent where I lived and worked for many years in different countries, I hear from friends and colleagues of huge excitement at the prospect of an Obama victory.
Africans, often struggling to overcome poverty and prejudice, have always taken encouragement from the successes of their descendants in the diaspora.
I’ve watched Nigerians (many with no previous interest in tennis) cheer on Serena Williams in a Wimbledon final, or Thierry Henry as he scored another glorious goal for Arsenal.
The son of a Kenyan is now poised to become the most powerful man on the planet.
Some think it is almost too good to be true.
The outside world is entranced by Obama’s rise not just because of the (maybe shaky) assumption that a man with a cosmopolitan background will relate to the rest of the world with greater sympathy than his predecessors, but also because of what it says about the United States.
The “American dream” is a tarnished commodity these days, but this election has done something to revive it in the eyes of outsiders.
I remember watching Bill Clinton, the former US president address the Nigerian house of assembly back in 2000, in Abuja.
It was a masterful performance, in which Clinton in turns flattered and inspired his audience, urging Nigerians not to abandon their fragile democracy.
At the end, the applause and cheers cascaded down the chamber.
Only an American leader could have done this.
|Americans will ultimately vote for their own interests[GALLO/GETTY]|
But in recent years, America has infuriated and frustrated many beyond its borders.Now, by coming close to electing the son of an immigrant from a minority community, it has humbled the outside world.
Europeans are left wondering whether such a thing would be possible in their own country; and, if they are being honest, they may conclude, “probably not”.
An Obama victory, in the eyes of some foreigners, does not only grant the United States redemption for the sins of the past eight years, it also reasserts America’s right to international leadership.
Given all this, it does not require great powers of prophecy to see that one of the first casualties of an Obama presidency would be the crushing of foreign expectations, as the new man struggles to cope with the limitations of the job, and the need to satisfy competing interests at home and abroad.
Not that any of this need bother the Republicans right now; they, sensibly, are oncentrating on the task at hand.
On November 4, it is only Americans who will vote, and for their own interests.