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As expected, Obama has generated an outpouring of good will for the U.S.
Todd Finkelmeyer — 11/12/2008 10:58 am
Expectations that Barack Obama would generate international good will for the United States if he were elected president turned out to be true, say UW-Madison observers.
"It's almost like after 9/11, when you had this outpouring of sympathy for the United States -- even French newspapers were saying, 'We are all Americans now,' " said Andrew Kydd, a political science associate professor. "And he's got that kind of popularity now. He makes people like America.
"I've read a couple things where people say, 'We've wanted to like America. We've been waiting for this. This makes it OK for us to like America again.' "
What this initial outpouring of positive energy ultimately means is anyone's guess, Kydd and other political experts admit. Obama, the U.S. and the world face a plethora of challenges that good feelings, smiles and handshakes simply won't resolve.
"It's not because Obama won't be brilliant or wonderful," said UW-Madison political science Professor Edward Friedman. "It's because this is not the end of World War II where the United States is the dominant power. Europe has risen. Japan has risen. China has risen. The OPEC countries have risen. You have the rising of places like Brazil and Russia and India. Therefore, any kind of an international deal to solve the economic crisis, for example, has to include so many more actors and interests, and it's just a hard thing to pull off because all those countries have such different interests."
And the economic crisis must be Obama's first priority, says Friedman, who predicts the president-elect is going to favor a stimulus package, infrastructure development and job creation. Whatever Obama does, Friedman says, people in other countries will want to know what the impact will be on them.
"Because of the weight of the United States in the world, everything he does has international implications. And given the global crisis that you now have in the economy, the world is just going to be waiting for the United States to take some kind of initiative."
The biggest hurdle Obama and world leaders will have in tackling this economic crisis, says Friedman, is convincing every country that it's going to have to absorb its share of pain before things turn for the better.
"And that's not going to be easy, because everyone is parochial," he said. "So putting together international deals on these kinds of issues is really tough sledding."
Beyond the global economic crisis, there are other key international trouble spots awaiting Obama.
One item Americans will watch closely is how and when Obama ultimately winds down the war in Iraq, and what kind of resources he puts into Afghanistan and Pakistan to go after resurgent al-Qaida, Taliban and other militant groups. In addition, many believe the North Korean and Iranian nuclear crises must be added to any short list of foreign policy priorities, while Obama could also face tests on how he proceeds diplomatically with such countries as Syria, Venezuela and Cuba.
To make things a little more challenging, some observers feel Russia is stirring after a long hibernation. Just last week, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev revealed plans to put missiles on the European Union's doorstep in its territory of Kaliningrad, which is located between Lithuania and Poland. The move comes as a response to American plans to put missile defense bases in Eastern Europe.
"Russia has been spoiling for a fight in some sense for awhile now," said Kydd. "It's been very much rejecting American policy. So it could be that Russia is going to, in a way, present us with a missile crisis. And that's ironic because of some of the comparisons between Obama and (John F.) Kennedy -- the charisma, the popularity, the youth factor. And now, like Kennedy, Obama apparently is also going to be tested by Russia over some missile issue."
For now, Obama will likely enjoy some measure of a honeymoon period abroad because his election does give the impression that the country could be turning a new page, Friedman said. "And I think that there will be a period of openness and wanting to do things differently."
The good will can't hurt," echoes Kydd. "That's something that the Bush administration never quite understood -- the fact that you just can't essentially treat people with disrespect and then expect them to happily go along with what you want.