Foreign Policy Blogs

Two Foreign Perspectives on US Election

A while back I addressed a popular reaction to Senator Barack Obama's broad popularity outside the US: why does it matter what the world thinks?

Here are two perspectives from foreign Obama-supporters themselves. British columnist Jonathan Freeland sent Americans an ominous warning in an opinion piece published by the UK's Guardian newspaper, titled: “The world's verdict will be harsh if the US rejects the man it yearns for.” He argues:

“…Obama has stirred an excitement around the globe unmatched by any American politician in living memory. Polling in Germany, France, Britain and Russia shows that Obama would win by whopping majorities, with the pattern repeated in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. If November 4 were a global ballot, Obama would win it handsomely. If the free world could choose its leader, it would be Barack Obama.

The crowd of 200,000 that rallied to hear him in Berlin in July did so not only because of his charisma, but also because they know he, like the majority of the world's population, opposed the Iraq war. McCain supported it, peddling the lie that Saddam was linked to 9/11.

Non-Americans sense that Obama will not ride roughshod over the international system but will treat alliances and global institutions seriously: McCain wants to bypass the United Nations in favour of a US-friendly League of Democracies. McCain might talk a good game on climate change, but a repeated floor chant at the Republican convention was “Drill, baby, drill!”, as if the solution to global warming were not a radical rethink of the US's entire energy system but more offshore oil rigs.

If Americans choose McCain, they will be turning their back on the rest of the world, choosing to show us four more years of the Bush-Cheney finger. And I predict a deeply unpleasant shift.”

Strong words, and even more so considering the unpleasant shift in popularity American has already seen in recent years. 

A slightly less partisan observer from Britain also uses his plume to call attention to the importance of world public opinion in the US election. Gideon Rachman, foreign correspondent for the Financial Times, wrote an opinion piece titled: “World opinion counts too in America's poll.” His tone is less scolding than Freeland's, but it is quite pessimistic about Obama's chances for victory:

“Both main candidates for the White House have outlined foreign policy platforms that stress the need to rebuild American alliances. With Wall Street in meltdown and the American military overstretched, the days when a new US president could confidently promise to “pay any price, bear any burden” are long gone. The next occupant of the White House is going to want to do a bit of burden-sharing. And he will have to turn to the Europeans – feckless and irritating though they may be – first of all.

There is little doubt that a President Obama would start with much more goodwill than a President McCain – and that would be a big advantage. But either candidate is going to have a chance to introduce himself to the world in the first few months of the presidency. Both would find it useful to be as charming as possible. So here are some suggestions – one for a putative President McCain and one for a would-be President Obama.

Mr McCain would be up against the impression that he is just another George W. Bush. So it would be important to him to make a couple of dramatic gestures that reversed unpopular Bush policies. He has promised to close Guantanamo and to take climate change more seriously. It would be a good idea to move fast on both issues.

An Obama administration could capitalise on the fact that Mr Obama is half politician, half rock-star. At the Democratic convention in Denver he was preceded on stage by other rock stars such as Stevie Wonder and Sheryl Crow.

In the first few months of an Obama administration, the US government should arrange a huge open-air concert in London, featuring all these artists – with an Obama speech as the last act on stage. It would draw a crowd far bigger than the 200,000 that came to see Mr Obama speak in Berlin. It would reintroduce Europe to the idea that America – and the American president – can be cool. Shame that it seems unlikely ever to happen.”

What do you think of that idea? Use Obama as a rock star to rekindle the transatlantic relationship? Well-intentioned, but a little too gimmicky, as I see it. I might be biased, but I don't think the Senator needs to be featured in a rock concert in order to look cool. McCain might, in which case the government should make sure he doesn't take dance lessons from Karl Rove.

Stepping back, these two foreign observers hope that Americans will consider the broader context in which this US election occurs. Unfortunately, I see this is increasingly unlikely, as the American economy falters; it is times like this when Americans become even more introverted.



Melinda Brouwer

Melinda Brower holds a Masters degree in Global Politics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She received her bachelor's degree in Political Science and Spanish at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received a graduate diploma in International Relations from the University of Chile during her tenure as a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar. She has worked on Capitol Hill, at the State Department, for Foreign Policy magazine and the American Academy of Diplomacy. She presently works for an internationally focused non-profit research organization in Washington, DC.