Could an Obama Win Restore America's Global Image?

Anti-Americanism runs rampant worldwide; Obama presidency would change that.

ByABC News
October 27, 2008, 8:15 AM

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Oct. 28, 2008 — -- If the world could vote, Barack Obama would win by a landslide.

He'd take 78 percent of the vote in France, 72 percent in Germany, 70 percent in Canada and 61 percent in Japan, according to global newspaper polls and Harris Interactive, a market research firm in Rochester, N.Y.

Beneath those numbers, running parallel to Obama-mania, is a shifting global view of the United States.

One week before Election Day, the world is revising its opinion of America. After a drop of confidence in the United States, presidential candidate Barack Obama has revived the U.S. brand, exporting a vision of American renewal to a world watching the election with unprecedented interest.

"He's just stirred the imagination of ordinary people," said Daniel Kinnear, a veteran diplomat based in South Africa. "For a country like South Africa that is coming out of a legacy of apartheid and is still dealing with its legacy, Obama remains a sign of hope. There's an incredible romanticism of having a black American on the forefront of change in the United States."

"If Obama does win, this could also be the moment when the world stops hating America," Vir Sanghvi, an Indian columnist, wrote in the Hindustan Times. "The world will feel engaged by an Obama presidency. By electing Obama they have the chance to earn ... goodwill, to transform their country's image, and to finally stem the rising tide of global anti-Americanism."

Since President Bush took office in 2000, approval of the United States has dropped, along with its soft power -- indirect influence by which the United States can advance its policy goals without the use of force or coercion.

Through wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, plus the ineffable war on terror, America's battle tactics have cut into its moral standing abroad.

Europe experienced the rise of "friendly fire anti-Americanism" when protests against America rocked longstanding U.S. allies such as France, Spain and Germany, where roughly one in three people now hold a favorable view of the United States -- significantly fewer since the war in Iraq.

In this year's Pew Global Attitudes poll, the United Kingdom was the only European country surveyed in which a majority of people, 53 percent, expressed a positive view of the United States.

Economic might, usually a given for the United States, has withered, as most countries begin to believe that the U.S. economy is having a negative effect on theirs, experts say.

"There's a lot of anger that this financial crisis was made in America and that other countries are going to be paying the bills for the casino culture on Wall Street," said Jeff Kingston, a professor at Temple University's Japan campus.

Whether Obama can solve those problems -- and whether he wins -- he is the man of the hour to a world yearning for a clean break from the past eight years. That "change" is Obama's foremost talking point and has aligned him in timing and tone with the global zeitgeist.

Obama's marquis moment as a global statesman was a July 24, 2008, speech in Berlin that drew 200,000 cheering Germans at the pinnacle of a trip that also took him through Kuwait, Iraq and Israel.

Karsten Voigt, the German government's coordinator for trans-Atlantic relations, told reporters that "Germany is Obamaland. Germans see the African-American senator as a kind of mixture of JFK and Martin Luther King Jr."

In the Berlin speech, Obama emphasized terrorism, security, nuclear nonproliferation and climate change as campaign priorities, all topics that resonate powerfully with a global audience.

Obama has been similarly embraced by the masses in other European states. Among the French public, only 1 percent would want Sen. John McCain as president, according to a poll by France 24, a news and current affairs television channel. In France, Obama's rise revived the discourse about racial minorities there, where blacks and Arabs have long complained of being politically marginalized.

In Japan, where approval of the United States has dropped 11 percentage points since last year -- roughly half of Japanese people disapprove of America -- Obama has a strong fan base. The epicenter of enthusiasm is the coastal enclave of Obama City, Japan. The local population of 32,000 has embraced the senator, who happens to share their city's name.