Could an Obama Win Restore America's Global Image?

A potential Obama win, say experts, would undercut some of the talking points and emotional arguments that demonize the United States to the benefit of Muslim extremists.

"Barack Obama must be unsettling for Mr. bin Laden. An African-American with a father born in Kenya and a childhood spent partly in Indonesia presents a very different face to the world," wrote Joe Nye of Harvard University.

"Certainly, the election of the first African-American as president would do wonders to restore the soft power that the Bush administration has squandered over the past eight years. That is why Mr. Obama is such a threat to Mr. bin Laden: on the crucial soft power skills of emotional intelligence, vision and communication, Mr. Obama has the edge? that must be giving Mr. bin Laden a headache."

Hafed Al Ghwell of the Dubai School of Government said the projected image of a President Obama would deflate the extremist cliche of America as a crusader state, targeting Muslims at home and abroad.

"That's the jihadists' image of America that they've been able not only to portray but to solidify by using the policies of President Bush," Al Ghwell said. "Ironically, Bush solidified their arguments in the region. It's no longer going to be valid with somebody like Obama in office.

"He will take that sting out of any sort of sense that people feel that [policies] are racially or religiously or culturally motivated policy. People will not see them in terms of a white man trying to impose his rule."

Latin America

Just south of American voting booths, in Mexico, perceptions of a racially polarized election have fed similar fears.

"People in Mexico really want Barack to win," said Jose Cohen, a journalist in Mexico City. "There's a fear in Mexico that when white Americans get into the polls they won't vote for the black guy.

"You hear people being skeptical of whether the extreme right will let him win, saying it's never going to happen. The extreme right will never allow a black man to be president."

In Mexico, visions of the American dream -- a shot at working one's way up the economic ladder -- have paled with the financial downturn. Cohen said that 1,500 people are crossing the border back into Mexico as job opportunities grow scarce. Mexico has felt neglected by the Bush administration, punished for opposing the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

"Bush blew us off the rest of his presidency," Cohen said.

The desire for change has driven support for Obama, overpowering an initial bias rooted in Mexico's own racial fears.

"At first, when he was contending with Hillary Clinton, Mexicans worried, felt that Hillary would be more for Mexico and Barack more for blacks," Cohen said. "Now people are starting to see it as an advantage that he's from a minority."

Meanwhile, Venezuela, an Iranian ally with strong political and commercial ties to the Islamic Republic, has been a stalwart American foe during the Bush era. Widespread admiration for Obama among Venezuelans could muddy, if not derail, the harsh rhetoric between Caracas and Washington given an Obama win.

"For some time [President Hugo] Chavez would have to cool off the fight with America," said Fernando Juaregui, a Venezuelan journalist.

"The fact our president is [biracial], like Obama, helps people in Venezuala relate to his background. There's respect that he's a self-made person."

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