Election Unleashes a Flood of Hope Around the World
PARIS - From the front lines of Iraq to more genteel spots like Harry's Bar in Paris, the election of Barack Obama
unlocked a floodgate of hope that a new American leader will redeem
promises of change, rewrite the political script and, perhaps as
important as anything else, provide a kind of leadership that will
erase the bitterness of the Bush years.
Whether it was because of Mr. Obama's youth, his race, his message
or his manner, some European leaders abandoned diplomatic niceties to
compete for extravagance in their praise, while others outside the
United States - fascinated by an election that had been scrutinized
around the globe - reached for their most telling comparisons.
"There is the feeling that for the first time since Kennedy, America
has a different kind of leader," said Alejandro Saks, an Argentine
script writer in Buenos Aires. Or, as Ersin Kalaycioglu, a professor of
political science in Istanbul, put it, "The U.S. needs a facelift and
he's the one who can give it."
There were some glaring departures from the feel-good mood. One in
particular illustrated the challenges that will test the
president-elect: President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia chose the day to lambast the United States and threaten new missile deployments.
The final moments of the election were covered in obsessive detail
far from America. In Australia, radio stations interrupted their shows
to broadcast the Obama acceptance speech. In Berlin, newspapers printed
Perhaps one of the most poignant accolades came from Nelson Mandela,
South Africa's former president, who said in a letter to Mr. Obama:
"Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world
should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better
Significantly, though, among American troops in Iraq, the hope
seemed tinged with skepticism that change in the White House would not
automatically mean change in American doctrines that have meant
deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"It's not like even if Obama is elected we'll up and leave," said
Specialist James Real, 31, of Butte, Montana, as soldiers watched the
returns on television at Forward Operating Base Falcon in Iraq.
Indeed, Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari
said Iraq itself did not "expect that much change in the American
policies toward Iraq. Any changes won't be made in one night."
In Afghanistan, where American troops are also deployed in an increasingly bitter war, the election brought a rebuke .
"Our demand is to have no civilian casualties in Afghanistan. The
fight against terrorism cannot be won by the bombardment of our
villages," said President Hamid Karzai, referring to a string of coalition airstrikes that have caused civilian casualties.
For many outsiders, Mr. Obama's victory raised expectations that a
new administration would seek new relationships across the globe.
"I think he can restore the image of America around the world,
especially after Bush got us into two wars," said David Charlot, 28, a
lawyer with French and American citizenship who was among a throng of
expatriate revelers outside Harry's Bar in Paris.
The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy,
said something on similar lines. "Your election raises in France, in
Europe, and elsewhere in the world, an immense hope," he said in a
message that called Mr. Obama's victory "brilliant" and his campaign
"exceptional." Chancellor Angela Merkel
of Germany called his victory "historic" and invited Mr. Obama to
return to Berlin, where he addressed a huge rally during his campaign.
Even in lands whose leaders are no friends of Washington -- such as
Venezuela and Iran -- the election outcome cut through official
propaganda to touch some people.
"It's kind of nice to feel good about the United States again," said
Armando Díaz, 24, a bookkeeper in Carcacas, Venezuela, where Enrique
Cisneros, a storekeeper summed it up like this: "A few hours ago, the
world felt like a different place." In Iran, too, some said the
American example should persuade politicians closer to home to adopt
similar political ways.
‘'His election can be a lesson for the dictators of the Middle
East," said Badr-al-sadat Mofidi, the deputy editor of the daily
Kargozaran newspaper. Some in Iran focused on their hopes for a change
in American attitudes towards their country. ‘'The nightmare of war
with the United States will fade with Obama's election," said Nehmat
Ahmadi, a lawyer.
Indeed, for many who had watched this campaign from afar, there was
a sense that the election was not just an American affair but something
that touched people around the world, whatever their origin. "I want
Obama to win with 99 percent, like Saddam Hussein,"
said Hanin Abu Ayash, who works at a television station in Dubai and
monitored early returns on his computer. "I swear if he doesn't win,
I'm going to take it personally."
In Berlin, Anna Lemme, a 29-year-old architect, said she did not
usually hurry to catch the news first thing in the morning. ‘'But this
morning I jumped to the radio first thing at 5 a.m.," she said.
There was little doubt that for some, Mr. Obama's skin color made his victory all the more exhilarating.
"The United States is choosing a black man as its president. Maybe
we can share a bit in this happiness," Mr. Cisneros said in Caracas.
The Afghan president, Mr. Karzai, said the election had shown the
American people overcoming distinctions "of race and color while
electing their president" and thereby helping to bring "the same values
to the rest of the world sooner or later."
For many in Africa - and in Kenya in particular - his election evoked a deepening of pride. As President Mwai Kibaki
said in a message to Mr. Obama, "your victory is not only an
inspiration to millions of people all over the world, but it has
special resonance with us here in Kenya" - the birthplace of Mr.
Obama's father and paternal grandparents.
That sense of association may also encourage some to believe that
Mr. Obama will give Africa special attention. "We express the hope that
poverty and underdevelopment in Africa, which remains a challenge for
humanity, will indeed continue to receive a greater attention of the
focus of the new administration," said Kgalema Motlanthe, the South
Many outside Africa competed for his attention, too.
In a statement, the 27-nation European Union said it saw "the promise of a reinforced trans-Atlantic relationship" in Mr. Obama's election. Even big business joined in.
"From a business perspective, I'm very happy that the economic issue
was at the top of the agenda in the campaign," said Lakshmi Mittal, the
head of the world's biggest steel-maker, "and we're very positive that
we'll see more measures to address the economic crisis with his
On momentous occasions, politicians reach for big words. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner,
for instance, said that "American democracy has just lived through a
marvelous moment, one of those major turning points that periodically
demonstrates its vitality, its belief in the future and its trust in
the values on which it was founded over two centuries."
In parliament in London on Wednesday, members of Britain's three
major political parties lavished praise on Mr. Obama. Prime Minister Gordon Brown
said that Mr. Obama had run "an inspirational campaign, energizing
politics with progressive values and his vision for the future."
Mr. Brown mentioned several times that he planned to work closely
with the new administration, said he had spoken to Mr. Obama "on many
occasions," called him a "true friend of Britain" and said: "I know
Barack Obama and we share many values."
But politicians also peer through the prism of self-interest.
In South Korea, some pondered the destiny of a free-trade agreement
negotiated by the Bush administration and criticized by Mr. Obama. Lee
Hae-min, South Korea's top trade negotiator, warned that any change in
the deal could undermine South Korea's support for the deal and "open a
In the Middle East, the focus of much tension that has drawn in successive American administrations, Saeb Erakat, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas,
urged Mr. Obama to transform the proposal for a two-state solution in
the Palestine-Israel conflict "to a realistic track immediately."
At the Vatican,
a statement urged Mr. Obama to show "respect of human life" and
expressed the hope that "God should illuminate the way" for him in his
Some saw a chance to patch up old feuds.
Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero,
who displeased Washington when he withdrew Spain's troops from Iraq in
2004, said Mr. Obama's victory "demonstrated the vitality of this great
country, and of democracy and the unstoppable force of the ballot to
bring about change."
"I am confident this opens a horizon of promise for relations
between the United States and Spain," he told a press conference in
But even in the moment of triumph, some in Europe questioned whether Mr. Obama would really make a break with his George W. Bush, the least popular American president among Europeans in recent history.
"When Obama takes office on January 20," the Frankfurter Allgemeine
Zeitung said in an editorial, "we will see whether the Europeans - and
especially the Germans - really just had a problem with Bush's
presidency or with America itself."
Others were less cynical. "The margin of victory was emphatic and,
whatever else follows, today the world changed," said an editorial in
The Times of London, and The Guardian newspaper proclaimed: "They did
it. They really did it. So often crudely caricatured by others, the
American people yesterday stood in they eye of history and made an
emphatic choice for change for themselves and the world."
That was not a universal view in Moscow where one analyst, Mikhail Delyagin, compared Mr. Obama to Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who is often blamed in Russia for destroying the Soviet Union.
"Not having large-scale management experience, he has greater
chances to disorganize America, to destabilize America, out of the very
best intentions, as Gorbachev once did."
But the supporters generally outnumbered the skeptics.. "We were all
hoping that he would win," said Carla Saggioro, a retired architect in
Rome. "And the fact that he did with such a large margin is a sign of
real change _ at least let's hope so."
Alexei Barrionuevo contributed
reporting from Buenos Aires, Basil Katz, Susanne Fowler, David Jolly
and Katrin Bennhold from Paris, Alissa Rubin from Forward Operating
Base Falcon in Iraq, Michael Slackman from Dubai, Choe Sang-Hun from
Seoul, Simon Romero from Caracas, Norimitsu Onishi from Tokyo, Seth
Mydans and Thomas Fuller from Bangkok, Sam Dagher and The New York
Times bureau from Baghdad, Rachel Donadio and Elisabetta Povoledo from
Rome, Sarah Lyall from London, Barry Bearak and Celia W. Dugger from
Johannesburg, Somini Sengupta from New Delhi, Peter Gelling from
Jakarta, Sabrina Tavernise from Istanbul, Sophia Kishkovsky from
Moscow, Carlos H. Conde from Manila, Abdul Waheed Wafa from Kabul,
Meraiah Foley from Sydney, Nicholas Kulish from Berlin, Victoria
Burnett from Madrid and Nazila Fathi from Tehran.