Obama Outside the United States

It is clear that this US presidential election has brought to the surface a bunch of lingering issues inside the country: racial, class and gender stresses. Even more starkly it has rekindled emotions outside the US, affecting how the world views America, from presumably allied countries in Europe to the developing world and, especially the Muslim world.
 

It is amazing how quickly the mind gets cleared of American TV and internet chatter after a business trip to Europe with an added leg in the Middle East. For starters, we may be complaining about the cost of everything in the US, but that becomes preposterous once you find out that $500 in London and Pairs goes about as much as $100 in almost all US cities. In Moscow a decent hotel can set you back $750 per night.
 

Then, sitting in the airport departure lounge of a major Arab country and watching Al Jazeera, considered the unbiased and open Arab TV network, one cannot help but detect the transparent hope for a Barack Obama victory. His own advertisements would be less effusive than the coverage and commentary.
 

If polls in the US give Obama 95% among African Americans to John McCain's 5%, in the developing world it would be 99%; in the Muslim world it might be 99.999%. A superficial or partisan analysis in the US, with much of the press fawning over the candidate, this may be interpreted as a reaction to the Iraq War and the ubiquitous grievousness surrounding Israel. But then again how can Obama's West European numbers from 80% in the UK and France to even higher in Germany be interpreted? Distaste towards George W. Bush simply cannot make up such margins.

 

Discussing with foreign academics, after the usual reasons about Obama's youth and vigor or more elaborate, but not too convincing, arguments about his "policies", unclear and fuzzy as they maybe outside of "change", the most common thread is that, if elected, he would "humanize" America. This wished for transformation of America and praise for its diversity is hard to take from people that are far more ethnocentric than even the most bigoted Americans would ever be. Is there any reasonable Frenchman, German or British that would actually envision a French Algerian, German Turk or British Pakistani running for the highest office in those countries? And yet they are all rooting for the half-Kenyan, half-Anglo Obama, whose background has little to do with the US "black experience".

 

I am clearly not a right wing Republican nor am I a racist, being myself a naturalized US citizen, still with a strong accent. For more than 30 years I actually thought of myself as a Democrat and I would have absolutely no problem voting for a black or woman candidate. But far from liking the prospect of an Obama election, the international reasoning makes me scared of him the most. It may also be his ultimate undoing in the election if most other US voters see the danger he embodies.

 

Put it simply, Obama's popularity outside the US is very much linked with why many people hate the US -- but far from the usual, such as the opposing of UN resolutions by the US, to the more recent global climate clamor, and the ever present Israel issue, much of it comes from huge inferiority complexes and the inability of large parts of the world to absorb modernity. America as the only remaining superpower is the obvious target to blame for everybody's shortcomings. They can have as large a range as human foibles could muster.

 

But contradictions in foreign minds abound. Much of the dislike towards America, as with most psychological afflictions, is guttural, unexplainable to the bearer, in some cases even after prolonged stays in the country they so much resent.

 

Contradictions are not just the superficial signs, as in youth-dominated Iran where American pop-culture is as pervasive as it is in Houston.

 

Much more important is the widespread admiration for America and American business, the can-do attitude and the work ethics, as in "sorry for all the problems in doing business with us, this is not America."

 

And when one digs a bit further, in single-strongman-dominated countries (at last count close to 100) almost all would wish to have a leader as benign as the much reviled George W. Bush. Jealousy is hard to disguise.

 

Among the European professoriate, let alone everywhere else, it has been a lingering grudge that US graduate students have a more comfortably life than senior academics there. So the reasons why much of the world admires America become the very same reasons for the rampant hatred.

 

McCain is a flawed candidate for certain in a number of important issues. His energy policies, my area of interest, are not much better than Obama's. But he is much closer to understanding the role that America has to play in the world, one of leadership and not one of "why can't we all just be friends?" Obama, like socialism or other "isms" of old, symbolizes a forced egalitarianism by lessening America. I think this is touchy feely ideology but not a winning ticket and I hope Americans understand it when they vote next November.

 

Mr. Economides is Editor-in-Chief of the Energy Tribune.
It is clear that this US presidential election has brought to the surface a bunch of lingering issues inside the country: racial, class and gender stresses. Even more starkly it has rekindled emotions outside the US, affecting how the world views America, from presumably allied countries in Europe to the developing world and, especially the Muslim world.

 

It is amazing how quickly the mind gets cleared of American TV and internet chatter after a business trip to Europe with an added leg in the Middle East. For starters, we may be complaining about the cost of everything in the US, but that becomes preposterous once you find out that $500 in London and Pairs goes about as much as $100 in almost all US cities. In Moscow a decent hotel can set you back $750 per night.

 

Then, sitting in the airport departure lounge of a major Arab country and watching Al Jazeera, considered the unbiased and open Arab TV network, one cannot help but detect the transparent hope for a Barack Obama victory. His own advertisements would be less effusive than the coverage and commentary.

 

If polls in the US give Obama 95% among African Americans to John McCain's 5%, in the developing world it would be 99%; in the Muslim world it might be 99.999%. A superficial or partisan analysis in the US, with much of the press fawning over the candidate, this may be interpreted as a reaction to the Iraq War and the ubiquitous grievousness surrounding Israel. But then again how can Obama's West European numbers from 80% in the UK and France to even higher in Germany be interpreted? Distaste towards George W. Bush simply cannot make up such margins.

 

Discussing with foreign academics, after the usual reasons about Obama's youth and vigor or more elaborate, but not too convincing, arguments about his "policies", unclear and fuzzy as they maybe outside of "change", the most common thread is that, if elected, he would "humanize" America. This wished for transformation of America and praise for its diversity is hard to take from people that are far more ethnocentric than even the most bigoted Americans would ever be. Is there any reasonable Frenchman, German or British that would actually envision a French Algerian, German Turk or British Pakistani running for the highest office in those countries? And yet they are all rooting for the half-Kenyan, half-Anglo Obama, whose background has little to do with the US "black experience".

 

I am clearly not a right wing Republican nor am I a racist, being myself a naturalized US citizen, still with a strong accent. For more than 30 years I actually thought of myself as a Democrat and I would have absolutely no problem voting for a black or woman candidate. But far from liking the prospect of an Obama election, the international reasoning makes me scared of him the most. It may also be his ultimate undoing in the election if most other US voters see the danger he embodies.

 

Put it simply, Obama's popularity outside the US is very much linked with why many people hate the US -- but far from the usual, such as the opposing of UN resolutions by the US, to the more recent global climate clamor, and the ever present Israel issue, much of it comes from huge inferiority complexes and the inability of large parts of the world to absorb modernity. America as the only remaining superpower is the obvious target to blame for everybody's shortcomings. They can have as large a range as human foibles could muster.

 

But contradictions in foreign minds abound. Much of the dislike towards America, as with most psychological afflictions, is guttural, unexplainable to the bearer, in some cases even after prolonged stays in the country they so much resent.

 

Contradictions are not just the superficial signs, as in youth-dominated Iran where American pop-culture is as pervasive as it is in Houston.

 

Much more important is the widespread admiration for America and American business, the can-do attitude and the work ethics, as in "sorry for all the problems in doing business with us, this is not America."

 

And when one digs a bit further, in single-strongman-dominated countries (at last count close to 100) almost all would wish to have a leader as benign as the much reviled George W. Bush. Jealousy is hard to disguise.

 

Among the European professoriate, let alone everywhere else, it has been a lingering grudge that US graduate students have a more comfortably life than senior academics there. So the reasons why much of the world admires America become the very same reasons for the rampant hatred.

 

McCain is a flawed candidate for certain in a number of important issues. His energy policies, my area of interest, are not much better than Obama's. But he is much closer to understanding the role that America has to play in the world, one of leadership and not one of "why can't we all just be friends?" Obama, like socialism or other "isms" of old, symbolizes a forced egalitarianism by lessening America. I think this is touchy feely ideology but not a winning ticket and I hope Americans understand it when they vote next November.

 

Mr. Economides is Editor-in-Chief of the Energy Tribune.