Usually it is difficult to find out what people in other countries think about the United States. We hear from the foreign media and politicians but not from the man on the street. Through the internet, however, we can now contact ordinary people in other countries. Almost every day, I chat or e-mail with at least a dozen people in foreign countries using Livemocha, a social-networking site with a special twist: helping people learn a new language by communicating with native speakers. I thought that, by interviewing some of my contacts on Livemocha, I could gain some insight into how we Americans look from the outside.
People who responded came from a variety of countries: two from China, two from Brazil, and one from Vietnam, Morocco, Syria, France, Spain, Mexico, Uruguay, Colombia, Argentina, and Peru.
I interviewed some people by chatting or talking on-line. To the remainder I sent a questionnaire, which included a comprehensive list of the policy positions of John McCain and Barack Obama taken from the Daily Telegraph.
Responses were diverse. However, common themes were the powerfulness and wealth of the U.S. Many stressed their desire for a peaceful world, and several wanted a world with a fair distribution of wealth. The majority said they would vote for Obama (primarily because he had been against the war in Iraq), four were not willing to choose, and one supported McCain. When asked about their opinion of the U. S., people stressed the power of the United States, its military strength, its wealth, its high standard of living, and the freedom from terrorist attacks since 9/11:
"Many people in China say America is the world police; it manages all world issues." (China)
"The U.S. has good education and good medical care. Americans enjoy every minute." (China)
"Americans earn a salary that allows them to buy a house and a car and to live a decent life." (Mexico)
"America, like my country, is stable and safe from terrorism. We only see violence on the TV news." (Syria)
One person compared our government to theirs: "Your government is better than ours: more rights. We have a lot of corruption. I get to vote, but it doesn't mean anything." (Vietnam)
Other views of the US were less positive:
"I don´t understand how people can live together in the most powerful country in the world, and there are still many poor." (Spain)
"It is a country that achieved greatness but doesn't know where to go next." (France)
"Bush is the worst terrorist in the world, because of the war he has created in the middle east, from which the defense industry is profiting, while the American economy is damaged because of the money spent to finance the war. When I think of America the words that come to mind are arrogance and economic tyranny." (Brazil}
"Politics in the U.S. is the same as in Arabic countries. It is all for business. For business we do some things that are against humanity. The politics of the U.S. has changed. Now the American people are against the Muslim people. " (Morocco)
Many of the people who favored Obama had one explanation: his opposition to the war in Iraq.
Others added more reasons: "I like him as a person, and for how he treats other people." (Mexico)
"Obama sees the U.S. more as a large country than a powerful country. He wants to govern for all." (Brazil)
"I would vote for Obama, especially since McCain chose his running mate, Sarah Palin. In my opinion, Palin shows a complete lack of political vision. Having strong orthodox judeo-christian values does not automatically make someone a good leader, as some politicians would like America to believe." (France)
The man who favored McCain believed he would preserve, and perhaps improve, America's power: "I would vote for John McCain because the future government of the U.S. must maintain and expand its national strength so it can deal with threats and challenges before they damage its people or its interests." (Peru)
In these interviews, the United States is still seen as a superpower, a world leader. Some of its policies, however, are viewed as short-sighted or too aggressive. The war in Iraq was almost universally condemned.
This week OffTheBus is publishing a variety of stories that cover the presidential election from an international perspective.