Whomever you voted for yesterday, breathe a sigh of relief — the endlessly contentious and astronomically expensive election is over. Washington looks remarkably similar to how it did yesterday: President Barack Obama in the White House, Democrats controlling the Senate, Republicans dominating in the House of Representatives.
As both political parties and the American Punditocracy decipher – and spin — what the election results mean for the country, the rest of the world is watching the U.S. with a mixture of hope and skepticism.
Across the pond
The mood in Europe the day after Obama’s victory is — to read the headlines there — one of relief, if not jubilation.
The German broadcaster Deutsche Welle puts it this way: “Europe got its wish.” But as their sounding of experts across the continent concludes, there is a sting in the tail. The “reliability” of an Obama White House also is going to mean that more is expected of the U.S.’s European partners, and not just that they get their economic act together:
The Obama administration could call on Europe to commit itself internationally on more points than just economic issues. According to [Heinz Gärtner, Austrian Institute for International Affairs] these could include the common search for a solution to Syria, as well as steps to resolve the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program.
But Obama could also ask for transatlantic support on an issue close to Europe’s heart: climate protection and environmental policy, which Obama could put back on the political agenda in Washington.
All this, however, calls for leadership from Washington, and Deutsche Welle’s Washington bureau chief, Miodrag Soric, pulls no punches on this point:
This president must throw off his arrogance and learn from his mistakes, otherwise his tenure will go down in history as a succession of failures… In the coming four years, Obama must focus on the economy. He should reach out to the Republicans, and should be more willing to make compromises. But he should lead, not mediate. Unlike Romney, he has never learned to lead. How could he? As a social worker in Chicago? As a university academic? Before Obama became president, he was just a local politician, or a senator – not a state governor, as Romney was. Even now, insiders describe the president as a stranger in his own cabinet, where members wait in vain for clear orders.
The downbeat mood continues in the pages of the German newsweekly der Spiegel. The “lackluster victory,” writes Gregor Peter Schmitz, boils down to “an awkward opponent who will be quickly forgotten by history.”
Far more historic in this election was the Republican Party’s foolishness in failing to make a decisive effort to attract the minority groups that increasingly determine the outcome of American elections. African-American voters were expected to stand by Obama. But Hispanic voters could well have been drawn to the conservatives, given the difficult economic situation in which the US finds itself. But faced with the Republican Party’s heavy-handed xenophobia, something Romney cultivated assiduously at least during the primaries, a vast majority of Hispanic Americans cast their votes for the incumbent. American elections can no longer be won on the strength of white men’s votes alone.
Russia and Poland balk
Moving further East, the mood gets more skeptical still. Commenting in advance of the final results, Poland’s Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski (who has lived in Washington and is married to an American) reminded Poles that the U.S. is mostly interested in…the U.S. But he predicted Obama’ would, in his second term, have a more activist foreign policy, especially on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
And so to Russia, the country Mitt Romney famously identified as America’s “number one foe.” Early Tuesday there was a defiant warning shot from the Russian Central Electoral Commission. The group — that is close to Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin — issued a report saying that whatever the result, the American vote would be unfair and unfree because international election principles are not being recognized in the U.S. As the U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty commented:
Critics say the report appears to be a response to persistent criticism of Russian elections from the U.S. government and Western monitoring groups. Some view it as an answer according to the tit-for-tat principle, and it truly looks like it,” says Arkady Lyubarev, an expert at Russia’s independent election watchdog Golos. “I don’t believe this is a qualified study. I have very serious doubts that the Central Election Commission has specialists capable of correctly assessing U.S. elections. To monitor elections in any country, you have to spend time in that country and follow the process there.”
And as for the current inhabitant of the Kremlin, Persident Vladimir Putin, his view – apparently – is “better the devil you know.”
Africa jumps for joy, but not very high
Most Africans are pleased that Barack Obama won re-election, reports the The Globe and Mail. But the Canadian newspaper’s correspondent in Johannesburg also writes that the level of enthusiasm is not nearly as high as it was in 2008: “Mr. Obama remains popular across Africa, yet the happiness at his victory is muted by skepticism about his African policies. Many people are disappointed that he failed to take a higher-profile stance on African issues, despite his Kenyan heritage.” Obama traveled to Africa only once in his first term, less than George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
And honing in on Kenya, the homeland of President Obama’s father, the political leadership has thrown their support behind the president’s second term. As CaptialFM News reports, President Mwai Kibaki “said the latest example of the power of true democracy will inspire minorities throughout the world to struggle harder for equality within their nations, in particular people of colour who live in traditionally white societies in the northern hemisphere.”
Caribbean, China and Middle East still unimpressed
The Trinidad Express writes that Obama’s election will make “little difference” in U.S. policy towards the Caribbean, which was ignored in the presidential campaign. Romney might have been harder on Cuba and Obama will pay more attention to Haiti but ultimately, the Trinidadian paper argues, the difference between a Republican and a Democratic administration is in its values: “broadly speaking, Republican domestic policies tend to restrict women’s rights, immigration rights, encourage religious fundamentalism, and retard scientific progress.”
With the end of the campaign, the China Daily expresses relief that the candidates’ favorite sport, China bashing, is no longer politically useful. But Obama took a hard line towards China during his first term, imposing tariffs on a variety of Chinese goods — though he did not label China a “currency manipulator” as Romney promised to do. And the president looks set to continue his tough stance. The Chinese newspaper reminds its readership in America that 37 U.S. states rely on some form of Chinese investment, to the tune of 30,000 jobs.
And for those of you licking your wounds about an Obama win, check out this virulent opinion piece from Al Jazeera. Hamid Dabashi criticizes Obama’s first term for, as he calls it, a series of “atrocities”: the president’s sweeping overreach of executive power and a foreign policy that leaves Iraqis, Afghans, Pakistanis and Palestinians in the dust.
But all of these atrocities aside, for me, particularly troubling is Obama’s bizarre and banal servility to Israel….What depth of moral depravity would lead a man to be so utterly indifferent to a people’s suffering at the hands of a criminal regime he keeps assuring his ties with is unshakable?
If you think that’s harsh, brace yourself for this. Dabashi, who voted for Obama four years ago, says Obama is merely a symptom of a greater American problem.
The moral failure of Obama speaks of a political incapacity beyond his person and deeply rooted in the very fabric of American politics…. If anything, the American model of democracy – gridlocked as it is between two self-referential and closed-circuited political machineries of the Democrats and the Republicans – is precisely the model not to be followed by any other aspiring democracy.
But if you’re lamenting Mitt Romney’s loss, you definitely will not find succor with Dabashi.
For the moment, the world is saved from the outlandish antics of Mitt Romney – a bizarre cut between an Attila the Hun in global warmongering and Jack-the-Ripper in capitalist savagery deluded to become “the leader of the free world”, as these people call themselves.
As the U.S. picks up the pieces of a lengthy and divisive campaign season, the world isn’t offering to help clean up our mess.