Barack Obama a Year Later: The World View

A look at how the president is perceived overseas on inauguration anniversary.

ByABC News
January 20, 2010, 1:28 PM

Jan. 20, 2010— -- The day Barack Obama was inaugurated the 44th president of the United States, there were parties all around the world. Kenyans danced in the streets, celebrating their "native son's" presidency. Obama's former school friends in Indonesia cheered for "Barry!" Television sets in Kabul were tuned into the satellite channel carrying the ceremony. The small Japanese town of Obama held a special event where residents wore Obama T-shirts and munched on Obama noodles into the wee small hours.

A year later, is this global euphoria still in evidence? ABC News asked some of its reporters to assess the president's image overseas.

Click on the country name here to read what's on the mind of the people there: Afghanistan | Pakistan | Russia | France | Italy | The Middle East | Japan | China | Kenya | Britain

President Obama has committed 30,000 more U.S. troops to fight the war in Afghanistan, so with the focus clearly shifting from Iraq to this conflict, it can be seen as the move that could define President Obama's time in office vis-a-vis his foreign policy.

According to Daud Sultanzoy, an independent Afghan member of parliament, the presidential elections that were marred by fraud allegations last year created a delay for President Obama in dealing with Afghanistan.

"He started off late," Sultanzoy said. "With regards to the elections, that wasted a lot of time for the Afghans. And for the U.S., that was an unfortunate delay that nobody was prepared for. We are basically a little behind the curve. The U.S., I think, is a little behind the curve.''

But Sultanzoy added that progress has been made since.

''I think that some of the issues they were grappling with -- like the new strategy for Afghanistan, Gen. McCrystal's report, all of them -- are related to what we were talking about three or four years ago. Nobody was paying attention to it, and I am glad that he has picked up on that.''

Sultanzoy said people in Afghanistan have been waiting for decades to see some kind of change and now, he said, the nation has ''an opportunity of this sort.''

President Obama's speech to the Muslim world in Cairo last June brought with it a message of dialogue and diplomacy, but Sultanzoy said that is not enough.

''Mr. Obama cannot move a magic wand and change things," he said. "We need action on many fronts -- for example, when it comes to the Palestinian issue, when it comes to the Afghan issue, the Iranian issue, the Chinese and the Russians and the rest of the region here. There are countries, their leaderships, there is politics, so he's not the only player, he can play his role, but everybody else has to play their role.''

After a year in power, is President Obama seen as a success or a failure?

''Just the dialogue alone is a major difference," Sultanzoy said. "He has many problems, he's not out of the woods, but he is on the right track."

On the streets of Kabul, however, the tone is different. Many want more than just promises.

Mohammed Naveed, a 22-year-old student said he hasn't seen any significant changes to the United States' foreign policy.

''Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay," Naveed said. "This was something he campaigned for, and so far it remains open.''

But he remains hopeful.

"I am still optimistic," he said. "It will take some time to put into action all the promises made.''

The issues of safety and security resonate with many in the capital.

"My hope is for peace," street vendor Abdul Hai said. "I don't want suicide attacks or bombs. I am happy as a street vendor. I don't want anything more but security.''

The Afghans are generally a resilient population. Perhaps 19-year-old high school student Ramin Ishaque summarized the mood best.

"There have been a lot of promises to help with the economy here, but nothing has been done," Ishaque said. "I am optimistic. I'm always optimistic that there will be changes for the better. But so far, nothing has been done.''

Obama's inauguration was met more cautiously in Pakistan, where there was a tempered hope for change.

"His approach and policy is better and should have a better impact on Pakistan," Gen. Talat Masood, a former Pakistani secretary of defense, told ABC News.

But, Masood added, there is a feeling that Obama has been unable to address the core issues that are of concern to Muslims, in general, and Pakistan, in particular.

"There has been no progress on the Palestine issue or Kashmir issue and no understanding of sensitivity in the Islamic world which he mentioned in his speech," Masood said.

Even so, Masood preached patience, saying Obama needs time to successfully put his policies into practice.

Others were not so forgiving.

"One year is too short a time to see positive results," Saeed Akhtar, a shopkeeper from Islamabad, told ABC News. "But with time, I am losing hope."

"I have no hope for any American president, Obama, Bush, etc.," said Khurshid Anwar, a student. "They are all the same."


One of the primary foreign policy goals of the young Obama administration was to "reset" relations with Russia, ties that had hit a post-Cold War low under President George W. Bush.

In April 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with a yellow and red industrial "reset button" to demonstrate their commitment to the goal. However, "reset" was mistranslated into Russian and instead read "overcharge."

Nevertheless, it is undeniable that relations between Moscow and Washington have warmed since Obama took office, though experts say there is a long way to go before a full reset.

"There is certainly a difference in the tone and the atmosphere, certainly in the rhetoric," says Masha Lipman, a political analyst at the Carnegie Moscow Center. "Substantially, I'd be much more cautious. There are serious underlying problems, such as the distrust and the general sense that the U.S. wants to take advantage of Russia."

Russians themselves are heavily influenced by the state-run TV channels and recognize the gradual strengthening of ties between the two countries while being decidedly less interested in Obama than other nationalities.

"He understands that it is in his interest to have good relations with Russia and take into account Russian interests," said 55-year-old Tatiana Reznik.

A year ago, the French expressed real hope at the inauguration of Barack Obama.

An African-American president in the White House represented an extraordinary step-forward for a multi-racial country like France.

The enthusiasm surrounding Obama's election was compounded because it meant the end of the Bush years, which were particularly chaotic for Franco-American relations.

Today, the excitement following Obama's election has calmed down, but the French remain somewhat indulgent toward Obama. They think that after a year in office it still is too early to judge the American president.

"We're expecting a lot from Obama," Christian Malard, senior foreign analyst for France 3 TV, told "But we can't judge him by saying he has not done anything. It's only been one year. We must give him time.

"We placed too much hope in this man," Malard added. "We made him a sort-of savior who was going to resolve all the problems of the U.S. and the rest of the world. And it's not that easy."

French opinion toward the U.S. has changed dramatically over the last year. Recent French polls show that 3/4 of those asked had a turnaround opinion of America in the last 12 months.

"Relations between the two countries are excellent," Malard said. "It's true that we're dealing with two different men, the pro-American Sarkozy, who would like to have privileged relations with Obama, and Obama, who wants to establish with all his European partners the same kind of equal relations. But both countries are in tune, in general, on all issues."

Italian commentary on Obama's first year in office is mostly an assessment of how he has done in the eyes of Americans, rather than Italians. It is clear that Obama's popularity at home has fallen, though many Italians still believe his accomplishments have been significant.

"At home, he avoided a financial apocalypse, but thwarted catastrophes aren't easy to communicate, they yield little in political terms," said an editorial in Italy's prestigious daily Il Corriere della Sera, which devoted four pages to the anniversary of Barack Obama's election.

"Instead of being relieved, America is demoralized by record unemployment and frightened by the explosion of public debt," continued the unsigned editorial. "[Obama] has restored the image of the United States in the world as a constructive and responsible power that looks for dialogue with all, including its enemies, and which respects human rights, but here, too, the recognition has come more from abroad than from American public opinion."

Maurizio Molinari, U.S. correspondent for the daily La Stampa, sees Obama at a crossroads, with U.S. public opinion about him hanging in a balance. The issues that will decide which way the scales will fall include health reform, the economy, and the climate and energy at home.

Overseas, the watersheds are Afghanistan, Iran's nuclear capability, and, at a crucial moment for Obama, the humanitarian crisis in Haiti.

Obama wants to show the international community that the U.S. can use its "imposing military arsenal for pacific purposes and to alleviate suffering," and at the same time prove to Americans that "this administration will not repeat the mistakes made by George W. Bush," when the aid for victims of hurricane Katrina arrived late and badly.

But "there are many perils lurking" in this, he wrote, including the tension with other countries committed to providing aid. In Haiti, wrote Molinari, "Obama cannot afford to make mistakes."

The Middle East

A year into his presidency, the initial support for President Obama in the Middle East has evaporated just as his efforts to kick-start a meaningful peace process have floundered.

Arabs are disappointed that the fine words of Obama's famous Cairo speech have not been followed up by action.

"We like what he said, but it was too much. It's actually become counter-productive and done harm while he's tried to achieve good," said Mishaal Al Gergawi, a newspaper columnist based in Dubai who said Obama is perceived as "weak" and "reactionary" on Iran.

There is also frustration with what is seen to be the administration's continuing support for Israel and its inability to extract a proper settlement freeze from the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

In Israel, people have grown suspicious of the new president. Many are still captivated by his charisma, but supporters of the right-wing government feel his earlier insistence on a settlement freeze was unfair and revealed a bias towards the Palestinians.

Relations with Netanyahu's government started badly and have been slow to improve.

"He's about more than rhetoric, because it's reminiscent of a time when America really came through for the world," Al Gergawi said. "I don't think he's going to have any headway in the Middle East."

Last year, as speculation swirled over issues of security and the future of U.S.-Japan relations, the nations' leaders, who both were inaugurated in 2009, met.

President Obama and Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama agreed that the alliance between the two countries needed to be strengthened to reflect the new challenges of the 21st century. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.

"America's commitment to Japan's security is unshakeable," read Tuesday's statement from the White House, "and our cooperation to meet common challenges is a critical part of our engagement with the world."

This "cooperation" is being watched closely. Last week, Japan ended its naval refueling mission in the Indian Ocean that was supporting U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan. And last month, Prime Minister Hatoyama delayed by several months a contentious decision about the possible relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa.

While many residents -- especially those from the namesake town, Obama -- welcomed the president's visit to Japan last year, many hope the Nobel Peace Prize recipient will find time to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the only cities directly hit by U.S.-detonated atomic bombs.

"As a Japanese citizen," Toshikawa commented, "I highly esteem President Obama's leadership in pursuit of nuclear abolition speeches."

Despite the issues the Obama administration faces, Toshikawa said, "I sincerely hope that they keep pursuing the theme of 'change' and sustain the passion we all evidenced when they assumed the government."

"The relationship between the United States and China will shape the 21st century, which makes it as important as any bilateral relationship in the world," said Obama said last July.

Since then, the relationship has been somewhat tested.

During his trip to China last November, Obama experienced firsthand the powerful PR machine of the People's Republic's censors.

His speech on the merits of Internet freedom was not carried on any major T.V. channel. And when the floor was opened to questions from the audience of students from Shanghai, the microphone was not handed out at random. Those who asked the president questions had been carefully selected.

He left the trip disappointed, returning with none of the hoped-for concessions on trade and climate change. And climate change caused more tension between Obama and his Chinese counterpart during the Copenhagen conference.

ABC News approached students at Beijing University today to see what they thought of Obama one year later.

"I think Obama did a good job in his first year," said Miranda Zhao, clearly a fan. "He played a positive role in the recovery of American economy. I think most of his policies are correct."

Alex Zhao, a student from Liaoning province, said, "Talking about economic policies, I don't think he did a better job than Clinton."

Maggie Liu, a student from Hebei province in northeast China, was the least positive.

"Obama works very hard," Liu said. "But unfortunately, he didn't live up to all his promises."


Millions of Kenyans watched President's Obama's inauguration last year with special pride. The son of a Kenyan was now the leader of the free world.

Both the love for the man and the expectations for him were great, especially in Kogelo, his father's homeland, where Obama still has relatives.

A year later, some of the expectations have been met. For example, a museum honoring the history of the Obama family is being built, and there are more American tourists going to Kogelo.

"We are really proud of this Kenyan son. He has been able to accomplish so much in such a little time, and that to me is more important than any other promises," said Jack Oloo, a shop owner in Kogelo. "Kogelo has changed too. We get regular visitors, and this means that the country gets income from the huge number of visitors."

But as in the rest of the world, there are Kenyans who feel a little bit let down by the president's first year. There was the issue of him visiting Ghana first instead of Kenya, a decision many Kenyans supported.

But some say the U.S. needs to do more to push Kenya towards having better governance.

And Kenyans aren't immune to world opinion of President Obama. Many echo some of the same sentiments heard around the world.

"I think President Obama has failed in some of his major promises like withdrawing U.S troops from Afghanistan and other countries, " said Josephat Kimari, a university student in Nairobi.

Kenyans remain excited about their "native son" being president of the United States, but citing the continuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the fallout from the financial crisis many are now taking a wait-and-see approach to whether his presidency will be successful.

Njuguna George, a businessman, summed up the attitude.

"I think we just need to give him more time to see whether he will accomplish most of his promises," he said.

"We did not expect direct benefits like huge infrastructure projects to come to Kenya because of an Obama presidency," said Adams Oloo, a political analyst and professor at the University of Nairobi. "But we got some benefits indirectly -- like more American tourists who come to visit Obama's ancestral home, and more so the inclusion of the western grid of the country to the tourism map of Kenya. Though Obama governs one of the biggest economies, the economic recession also affected the U.S. and many other countries. This should not be seen as one of his downfalls."

Britain's love affair with all things Obama is still going strong a year later. Beyond his leadership, the strong admiration for him in the U.K. has much to do with how he is perceived as a person.

His attitude towards his political counterparts outside of the U.S., as well as being seen as a doting father and husband, has won him many plaudits for his diplomatic know-how and cultural sensitivities. In short, he is the man people in Britain are falling over themselves to meet.

His presence at various international meetings over the past year, including the G-20 meeting in London, highlighted the difference in attitudes towards the international community between himself and his predecessor, George W. Bush. Time and time again, President Obama, has been seen as progressive, inclusive and willing to do dialogue, a big change from the Bush days.

"The difference is that Obama seems to be much more willing to engage with foreign partners on a relationship of equals," Graeme Cooke, project leader at the British political think tank, Demos, told ABC News. "The advantage for Britain with Obama is that he clearly wants to pursue a more multilateral foreign policy , and we see that around issues such as Afghanistan and climate change, in particular, where they've brought in a partner they can do business with on an equal basis. So it's a certainly a boost for Britain there."

As far as the "special relationship" between the U.S. and U.K. goes, Britain is shaking off the much-maligned "poodle" label it acquired during the Bush-Blair days.

The moniker came during the darker days of the Iraq War when then-Prime Minister Tony Blair was seen as being too eager to partner up with President Bush over the invasion of Iraq.

With the Bush-Blair days behind, the "Obama effect" also has been felt in other ways, most strongly on the race issue.

"Clearly, his election has sent a massive signal that race should never be a barrier to getting on in life or, indeed, becoming successful politically," Cook said. "We see how under-represented black and ethnic communities are in the British parliament, and hopefully in the next election more people from those communities will get elected so one day we hopefully, one day, might see a black prime minister."


Darius Lam, a 38-year-old from Mumbai, believes Obama has made strong progress in his first year.

"Although the actions have been a little slower than hoped, he still continues to impress with his vision and passionate way of speaking," said Lam, an automotive industry expert.

India became enchanted with Obama during the last several months of his presidential campaign and Obama Fan Clubs sprung up around the country of more than 1 billion people.

More importantly than any specific progress Lam said that Obama has created a positive image for the US.

"He's really raised America's profile and portrayed a good! positive image for the US in the rest of the world," he said.

Rahul Gidwani, a strategic marketing consultant, was a bit more critical:

"I think Obama has talked a good game on a number of policy issues over the last year, both domestic and foreign, however he is yet to show he can implement and deliver on these policies, especially on foreign policy," he said. "I think it's too early to judge him definitively and I believe that he still has a long way to go to prove himself as an effective president. In short – he has talked the talk, he now needs to walk the walk!"

Lama Hasan, Bruno Roeber, Habibullah Khan, Alex Marquardt, Christophe Schpoliansky, Ann Wise, Simon McGregor-Wood, Sonia Gallego, Zoe Magee, Margaret Conley, Lara Setrakian, Karen Russo, Fan Bing, Dana Hughes and Wilfred Wambura contributed to this report.

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