Inside the Capitol

Sunday, November 16, 2008

11-19 U.S. Influence Stronger Than We Think

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- "The whole world should get to vote in U.S. elections since the outcome affects the entire planet." That's a common theme among foreign leaders and journalists.
Until recently, I never had been particularly interested in the politics of other countries. Trying to keep straight the names of foreign leaders mentioned often in our news was about the extent of my awareness or interest.
I had been aware of escalating globalization and knew we are becoming an increasingly interdependent world. But I'd never figured the rest of the world had much more interest in us than I have had in them.
My wife and I have traveled to many countries since our retirements over a decade ago. Our interests have been historical and aesthetic rather than political. We couldn't escape noticing the impact of English and Western culture on the rest of the world because of the number of signs in English advertising American businesses.
But on our recent trip through the Middle East, I went with political interests in mind. We weren't sure what to expect. What we found at each stop were English language newspapers that gave broad coverage to the United States and especially to our presidential election.
Was that coverage intended just for people who read English? Maybe not, because it included statements from leaders and others within that country.
In the hospital room where we spent over two weeks, we watched English language news programs from Arab countries, England, France and Germany. They all covered our presidential election. The European stations also carried analysis.
It was obvious those parts of the world were fascinated with the possibility America might elect a minority to be our president. They seemed to be rooting for him and even though they weren't sure we would vote him in, they thought we had made a big step in the right direction.
The feelings on the European stations seemed somewhat paternalistic. America is coming of age, maturing, etc. The Muslim world appeared more excited as evidenced by the Al Jazeera station's poll of people from 22 nations who preferred Obama overwhelmingly as a minority African American from the Third World and as an underdog with whom they could identify.
We arrived home three days before the election so we didn't get to see foreign reactions first hand but I went online to read about them.
President Nicolas Sarkozy of France said Obama's election proves to the entire world the vitality of American democracy and raises the hope of the world.
India's president observed that Obama's youthful energy and forward mindset makes him much like the country of India.
Somalia's president said Obama's election is a great moment for America and Africa and will help end strife in his country.
The Philippine President Gloria Arroyo says Obama sparks hope for the world. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd offered the same sentiments. We saw celebrations from around the world the next morning on television.
It certainly seems obvious that Obama's election has dramatically boosted the image of America around the world. There is a burst of optimism that relations with the United States will be better.
With a few notable exceptions the world does not hate America. Just as New Mexicans like to take shots at Albuquerque, many in the world like to taunt America, the big bully. But most of them do quietly root for us because they know their fates are tied to what happens here.
So now that the world has the U.S. president it wants, it must step up to the plate and help produce the change for which people voted.
Many countries have indicated an eagerness to get started but are having problems with the time lag between the November 4 election and the January 20 inauguration of our new president. Obama is wisely waiting while reminding the world that we have only one president at a time.
WED, 11-19-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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