In Some Nations, People Look to Obama as President of the World
President-elect Barack Obama is being embraced worldwide as a symbol of a new beginning for international relations.
Barack Obama's election on Tuesday set off international celebrations and ignited a fervor for the United States that has been unseen since the days immediately following the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.
To some observers, the international reaction has elevated America's president-elect to an unparalleled post: president of the world.
In Kenya, where Obama's father was born, a national holiday was declared on Thursday. In Indonesia, children danced at the school Obama attended when he was a young boy, embracing him as much for what he represents abroad as for the policies he advocates at home.
"People from all over Africa, especially in Kenya, where this is a holiday, are feeling that the most powerful person in the world does not have to be a white guy. That's a huge breakthrough for the United States and for humanity," said Walter Russell Mead, the Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. Foreign Policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.
"This is the fall of the Berlin Wall times ten," Rama Yade, France's junior minister for human rights, told French radio. "On this morning, we all want to be American, so we can take a bite of this dream unfolding before our eyes."
America's popularity abroad waned dramatically during the Bush administration, and some voters expressed hopes that in electing Obama, they could restore the country's image. The wave of good feelings since Tuesday night suggests that even before taking office, Obama has made substantial inroads.
"This may be the beginning of a new world. It marks the end of old elites and opens the door for new approaches worldwide," an Israeli man in his mid-50s said in Tel Aviv.
Foreign observers, who paid rapt attention during the long election season, are taking a personal stake in the outcome of a vote a world away. Expectations are high for the 47-year-old Obama, who will take over on January 20 amid a financial collapse and who will preside over two wars on his first day in office.
"The standing of everybody in the world is going to be affected by what President Obama does or doesn't do," said Mead, noting that all eyes will be looking to the new president for a way out of the global financial crisis.
In the Muslim world, the response has been mixed. A journalist with a pan-Arab news channel told FOX News that on election night, workers were going around the newsroom congratulating each other, as if Obama were their president-elect.
Iraqis have expressed skepticism that any rapid changes will come as a result of the election, but many see their fates ineluctably tied to Obama's foreign policy. "By God, the new American President Obama has promised to pull the troops out. This is in the best interest of the Iraqi people," said one Baghdadi.
Arab heads of state have been more circumspect, waiting to see whether Obama's Mideast policy will depart significantly from that of the Bush administration, and some newspapers in the Arab world have openly announced their distrust of the president-elect.
"There is no significant difference between Obama and McCain. They disagree only on the means to achieve America's chief goal, which is to rule for another hundred years," said an editorial in the Saudi daily Al-Watan, according to the Middle East Media Research Institute, which monitors the Arab press.
But some Iranians, speaking to FOX News, said they were excited by the prospect of the coming administration.
"I want to congratulate you on Barack Obama's victory that really turned a new chapter in the world's history -- that an African-American man, decent and intelligent, became president of the world," one Iranian said.
"This was done in America. Your nation has the credit for it."
Not all observers expect this world embrace to be long-lasting. "I think overseas, as at home, opinion over the longer term will depend on what he actually does," said John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Obama was issued an early challenge Wednesday, as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev ordered the deployment of short-range missiles near his country's border with Poland.
"Those who have issues with us are certainly not giving him a honeymoon," Bolton said of Russia's action, which may have been intended to send a cold word of welcome to Obama and to test his resolve.
Russian citizens, too, have been wary in their evaluation of the next president.
"I don't think he can really become the world political leader," said Tatyana Solomonova, a real estate agent in Moscow. "The fact that he's black can be an obstacle -- there's still a lot of racism in the world, in Europe and Russia too. I think he can take a leading role in the Western hemisphere, but not in this part of the world."
In Moscow Thursday, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who has a history of controversial remarks, was asked by a reporter about the prospect for U.S.-Russian relations after Berlusconi met with Medvedev.
Berlusconi responded by saying that the relative youth of Medvedev, 43, and Obama should make it easier for Moscow and Washington to work together.
Then he said, smiling: "I told the president that [Obama] has everything needed in order to reach deals with him: he's young, handsome and even tanned."
Italian news agencies said Berlusconi later defended his remark, calling the statement "a great compliment."
"Why are they taking it as something negative? ... If they have the vice of not having a sense of humor, worse for them," the ANSA news agency quoted him as saying.
But Italy's only black lawmaker, Jean-Leonard Touadi, called the comment embarrassing.
"In the United States, a joke like that wouldn't just be politically incorrect, but a great offense to this amazing example of integration, which it seems the Italian premier should take as an example," Touadi said.
For good or ill, all eyes are now on Obama.
"Not everybody is going to get what they want, but this is a moment of hope," said Mead, who added that Obama was sure to fall short of some expectations.
"If you look at Jesus Christ, he walked on water and fed the 5,000 and he ended up getting crucified, so I think it's not unlikely that President-elect Obama is gonna disappoint some people also."