As I have already discussed recently, people around the world are rooting for Obama. Obama’s candidacy and nomination has restored some of the faith in the United States by the citizens of the world.
In a recent op-ed piece for the Washington Post entitled “Whose Race Problem“, Anne Applebaum correctly speaks about Europe’s fascination with Obama and how many in the old continent are asking whether the U.S. is ready for a black president. But then she asks whether Europe and other countries are ready for the U.S. to have a black president. Having spent the last eight years living abroad and witnessing America’s moral authority go down the tubes, I think that she’s got it partly right.
There are two separate issues here. The first is what does an Obama victory mean for European politics and that of the rest of the world, and the second is why the world is so eager to see Obama victorious.
From my experience living abroad, people see Americans as Americans — regardless of whether they are black or white Americans. That doesn’t mean that they are less racist. They are, but they are racist against their own minority groups or against undesired immigrants of color.
Europeans bring up the issue of Obama’s race because they have always believed the U.S. to be a disingenious and segregated society. The hard question they face is not their own racism towards an African American, but whether their own countries’ politics will begin to be integrated. In France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and England there is almost no representation in politics by minority groups. So it will increasingly be harder for other nations to play their moral superiority card when confronted with their own very closed and inbred political systems.
On the second issue, I think that the rest of the world wants to see Obama win because they are desperately seeking the same thing that Americans are: change and hope. Similar to points made above, a recent special on Al Jazeera English discussed how Obama’s candidacy gave hope to millions of immigrants and minority groups around the world, especially those in France and England.
Overall, though, the sense is that the world needs the United States to drastically change the course of George W. Bush. I have spoken with people about this throughout Europe and this weekend in Morocco — Obama gives them that hope. Not beacuse he is black per se but because he is young, fresh, is putting an emphasis on dialogue and negotiation. Obama’s race is only important to the extent that it may indicate a positive move away from the unilateralist status quo of Washington’s foreign policy for the past decades. McCain, on the other hand, is seen as old and part of the past, the ugly war-mongering American past.
Believe it or not, people around the world want the U.S. to be prosperous, powerful and influential. The fact of the matter, though, is that the U.S. is proving itself to be none of those things. By its disasterous military, strategic, and public relations blunders in Iraq, the Bush Administration is barely a force to be reckoned with in the Middle East. Just look and see how Qatar and Turkey have mediated in Israel, Syria and Lebanon without anyone asking the U.S.’s opinion. If we continue down the path of recent years, America will only become more irrelevant. Meanwhile, it’s interesting to see that around the world people seem to want change they can believe in — a U.S. they can begin to appreciate again.
What the world may learn though — if it is not tuning in only superficially — is that Obama may have to say a bunch things it may not like to get from here to November (ie, trade, Israel, playing tough).
Update: I just came across this very similar article by Thomas L. Friedman in the New York Times.