Obama victory spurs congratulations from world leaders, and new requests


People celebrate the reelection of U.S. President Barack Obama at the sprawling Kibera slums of Kenya's capital Nairobi, Nov. 7, 2012. (Noor Khamis/Reuters)

With President Obama’s victory just a few hours old Wednesday, the world’s wish list for his second term stacked up as fast as the congratulatory telegrams that arrived in Chicago.

Leaders around the globe seemed quick to blame their disappointments about Obama’s first term on his need to win a second, whether it be inaction on the conflict in Syria, missile-
defense tensions with Russia or saber rattling toward Iran. And as Obama caught a few hours of sleep Wednesday, others worldwide used their time-zone advantage to get a jump on making requests for his next four years.

Many leaders seemed to suggest that a second-term Obama would be unshackled from the constraints that bedevil a first-termer, no matter how polarized the United States remains after years of bitter campaigning. Some hoped that changes were imminent.

British Prime Minister David Cameron had barely tweeted a “warm congratulations” to his “friend” before he said that he wanted to start working harder on stopping the bloodshed in Syria.

“There are so many things that we need to do,” Cameron said during a visit to a Jordanian refugee camp Wednesday, according to a transcript on his Web site. “One of the first things I want to talk to Barack about is how we must do more to try and solve this crisis.”

Some Turkish and NATO officials have said privately in recent weeks that they thought the United States was holding back on Syria until after the election, though the White House has given no public indication of that being the case. According to the Associated Press, Cameron’s office said Wednesday that it was planning to hold internal strategy meetings to talk the Americans into taking a bigger role in the conflict.

In Egypt, a top official with the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, Essam el-Erian, also said that he hoped to get down to business on Syria, according to the state-run Middle East News Agency.

On other foreign-policy flash points, many observers abroad welcomed what they hoped would be a less-heated tone, with Obama done proving his tough-guy bona fides.

In Iran, where the state-run English-language television channel Press TV carried a live broadcast of Obama’s victory speech, many citizens sighed with relief. For months, he and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, competed with each other about who could take the harder line against Iran and its efforts to obtain nuclear weapons.

“Now I can breathe, because we won’t be attacked,” said an 89-year-old woman in Tehran.

The hope, many said, is that Obama will be more inclined toward negotiations if he isn’t worried about being accused of going soft on Iran. Among Iranian officials, there was a subdued response to the election results, but some indicated a new openness to negotiations in remarks to state news agencies.

Ties and influence

What might be a bright spot for Iranians is a fear for Israel’s leaders, who with Romney’s defeat lost the chance to work with a man who has been friends with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for decades.

The Obama victory raised immediate questions about the future of the rocky relationship between him and Netanyahu — specifically whether, in his second term, Obama might be firmer with Israel on a possible military strike against Iran’s nuclear program and promoting peace efforts with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu promised Wednesday that he would continue to work with Obama “to assure the interests that are vital to the security of the citizens of Israel.” But some opposition leaders worried that Israel may have lost some influence with its biggest ally over the course of the U.S. presidential campaign. Both Obama and Romney have pledged their friendship and support to the country in recent months.

And in China, which will usher in new leadership of its own this month, many were hoping that Obama’s victory would end some of the harsh anti-China rhetoric that marked the U.S. campaign. The official Xinhua News Agency, which usually reflects the Chinese government’s viewpoint, ran two commentaries Wednesday calling for better ties between Washington and Beijing.

Some expectations for Obama’s second term seemed to verge into wishful thinking, with unpopular American policies written off as simple reelection ploys.

Drone attacks, for example, have been deeply unpopular across the Middle East, but the Obama administration has made them a key part of its counter­terrorism strategy, expanding its network of bases across Africa and the Middle East. Pakistan’s most popular politician said he thought the drone strikes were all about the politics.

“Obama’s first term was very tough on Pakistan,” Imran Khan said at an economic conference in New Delhi. “With Obama no longer having to worry about reelection, his natural instincts are against war. . . . Now I think he will follow his instincts and give peace a chance.”

And in Afghanistan, where more than 60,000 American combat troops are stationed, some local residents greeted the reelection with deep ambivalence. Many Afghans hold Obama responsible for four years of intensifying conflict in their homeland and acrimonious relations with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

At a teachers college in Kabul, among a cluster of students and teachers from half a dozen provinces who were munching on snacks between classes, opinions about Obama’s past actions and future intentions toward their country were skeptical, resentful and suspicious.

Most associated Obama chiefly with the U.S. military role in Afghanistan and seemed ambivalent about it. Many expressed anger over the presence and behavior of American troops, yet they said they were fearful of what would happen after those forces begin to leave in 2014, as Obama has announced.

“The American government is only here for its own interests, to get rid of al-Qaeda, and we are the victims of that war,” said Ahmad Jawad, 30, a graduate student from northwestern Faryab province. “Where has all the money gone? Where is the democracy they said they would bring? If their troops leave as they say, our forces won’t last a single day.”

Other possible pivots

But if major policy shifts on Afghanistan and drone attacks seem unlikely, others pivots have been suggested by the president — perhaps fueling some of the broader global assumptions that Obama’s policies will quickly evolve.

At a nuclear security summit in Seoul in March, Obama was overheard on a live microphone telling Dmitry Medvedev, who was then Russia’s president, that he could do little about Russia’s concerns over a European missile defense system until after the election.

“This is my last election,” Obama said. “After my election, I have more flexibility.”

Those remarks may have prompted the friendly tone from Russia on Wednesday. After months of denouncing the United States, and after throwing the U.S. Agency for International Development out of the country, Russian leaders quickly offered congratulations on Obama’s reelection. Analysts predicted improved relations.

And in his victory speech, Obama signaled another shift, mentioning climate change after a campaign that was short on discussion of environmental topics. Although the desire for an America “that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet” was mentioned only in passing, commentators in Europe seized on it, perhaps reflecting their own green-friendly hopes.

Keith Richburg and Wang Juan in Beijing, Pamela Constable in Kabul, Simon Denyer in New Delhi, Richard Leiby in Islamabad, Ingy Hassieb in Cairo, Pakistan, Joel Greenberg in Jerusalem, Jason Rezaian in Tehran, Kathy Lally in Moscow, Karla Adam and Eliza Mackintosh in London, and Petra Krischok in Berlin contributed to this report.

Michael Birnbaum is The Post’s Moscow bureau chief. He previously served as the Berlin correspondent and an education reporter.
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