"Obama Takes Europe by Storm," ABC News.com proclaimed earlier this year. The International Herald Tribune was more understated when it ran a headline that confirmed the inevitable: "Obama grabs the spotlight in Europe, too." And this is only the beginning.
The president of the United States has as much if not more influence over many nations around the globe than the countries themselves. So I've long suggested, perhaps half jokingly, that non-Americans should be afforded a one-tenth vote in our elections.
Were this the case, then Barack Obama would win the international vote in a landslide. Polls show Europe is Obamaland. The same holds true for Africa and all Muslim nations. East Asian countries and India are somewhat less enchanted over the junior senator from Illinois, but still generally lean in his direction.
Like many North Americans, most Europeans, particularly the French, really don't know much about Sen. Obama, but what they see, they like `beaucoup.' They are projecting their hopes and aspirations onto the image of Sen. Obama, seeing in him America as they would like it to be reborn.
You can feel a passion here for Obama that is quite remarkable, and an earnest hope that America may soon return to being its old, pre-Bush, pre-9/11 self.
Obama is wildly popular abroad because he is, of course, the non-Bush. Hillary Clinton was also a non-Bush, but she inspired surprisingly little support in Europe even though her husband Bill was widely liked here.
Today, the three Americans public figures most respected internationally are Barack Obama, Jimmy Carter, and Al Gore. They are widely seen as representing many of America's best qualities, including fairness, compassion, and honesty. The three Democratic caballeros are also regarded as welcome antidotes to the seemingly hard right Southern evangelicals who have hijacked the Republican Party.
In Europe, Obama is widely portrayed as a new leader who can end the violent, unilateralist Bush era and return American to a moderate, productive role in world affairs. He is expected to end the Iraq War, cease Bush's militarized foreign policy, and re-integrate the United States into the company of law-respecting, environmentally conscious nations, of whom the European Union is now the leader. Obama comes across to Europeans as dignified, decent, eloquent, and truthful -- qualities notably lacking in either George Bush and Dick Cheney who seem to symbolize cruder national instincts and aggressive patriotism.
Much of Europe would hail and admire America for electing a man of color, though many of its nations, particularly France or Germany, couldn't contemplate doing so themselves at this point in time. The emergence of the youthful Obama reinforces the widely held view abroad that the United States, in spite of an eight-year hiatus under the Bush administration, remains the world's most revolutionary, dynamic nation.
However, America's international image is in desperate need of emergency repair. A host of surveys in recent years have shown surging dislike and hatred for the United States in many parts of the globe. One shocking international survey found the three most poorly regarded nations were Israel, Iran and the United States, with North Korea a close fourth.
Soaring anti-American sentiments abroad have played a key role in mobilizing extremist and terrorist groups to attack US interests and allies.
A 2006 poll by the respected World Opinion organization conducted in four leading Muslim nations found that most respondents believed the primary foreign policy goal of the Bush White House was to attack and undermine Islam. In the age of globalization, image has become an important element of US national security.
Fortunately, much of the current anti-American rancor around the globe is focused on the persons of George Bush and Dick Cheney, who are today probably the most disliked men on earth. Barack Obama could sharply alter America's highly negative image as a determined enemy of the Muslim world created by Bush and his neoconservative Praetorian Guard.
This change in view would not be so much because Obama's father was a nominal Muslim, but because of the senator's image of fairness and a sensible foreign policy that calls for open dialogue with the Muslim world, including Iran, rather than confrontation. If Americans want to repair relations with the Muslim world, electing Obama is a good way to start. And Europeans understand this dynamic. But whether Obama can resist Washington's powerful, entrenched special interests pull remains to be seen. Recently, Sen. Obama was disturbingly quick to support calls by the pro-Israel lobby for military action against Iran.
Even so, Europe expects a major change in Washington and a return to centrist politics of previous administrations. The French media adores Obama, hailing him `the black John Kennedy.' Obama-mania has even occasionally pushed France's first lady, the stunning Carla Bruni, off the front page.
In contrast to all the Obama euphoria, the prospect of a president John McCain throws ice water on European spirits. Little is known about Sen. McCain except that he is old, hard-line, wants to continue the war in Iraq, which Europeans bitterly oppose, and sounds frighteningly like President George Bush. McCain's pledge to champion Israel's right wing parties and confront Russia and China cause the few Europeans who care about his politics unease. However, Europe's three right wing leaders, France's Nicholas Sarkozy, Germany's Angelika Merkel, and Italy's Berlusconi, have all expressed respect for McCain.
Nonetheless, the globalized generation of young and even middle aged French are increasingly bilingual -- embracing both the French and English language. America, to them is the new, cool destination for young French people and Obama fully represents this phenomenon.
Europe, and much of the world, awaits the coming of Obama, and a political dawn to sweep away the long night of the Bush era. Of course, it may only be a matter of time before Republicans start accusing Obama of being, `too French.'