Overseas, Excitement Over Obama

British papers heralded Obama's victory in the Democratic race. Reaction was not enthusiastic everywhere; Israel and China have policy concerns.
British papers heralded Obama's victory in the Democratic race. Reaction was not enthusiastic everywhere; Israel and China have policy concerns. (By Kirsty Wigglesworth -- Associated Press)

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By Kevin Sullivan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 5, 2008

LONDON, June 4 -- For much of the world, Sen. Barack Obama's victory in the Democratic primaries was a moment to admire the United States at a time when the nation's image abroad has been seriously damaged.

From hundreds of supporters crowded around televisions in rural Kenya, Obama's ancestral homeland, to jubilant Britons writing "WE DID IT!" on the Brits for Barack discussion board on Facebook, people celebrated what they called an important racial and generational milestone for the United States.

"This is close to a miracle. I was certain that some things will not happen in my lifetime," said Sunila Patel, 62, a widow encountered on the streets of New Delhi. "A black president of the U.S. will mean that there will be more American tolerance for people around the world who are different."

The primary race generated unprecedented interest outside the United States, much of it a reflection of a desire for change from the policies of President Bush, who surveys show is deeply unpopular around the globe. At the same time, many people abroad seemed impressed -- sometimes even shocked -- by the wide-open nature of U.S. democracy, and the history-making race between a woman and a black man.

"The primaries showed that the U.S. is actually the nation we had believed it to be, a place that is open-minded enough to have a woman or an African American as its president," said Minoru Morita, a Tokyo political analyst.

While Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton has admirers, especially from her days as first lady, interviews on four continents suggested that Obama is the candidate who has most captured the world's imagination.

"Obama is the exciting image of what we always hoped America was," said Robin Niblett, director of Chatham House, a British foreign policy institute. "We have immensely enjoyed the ride and can't wait for the next phase."

The presumptive Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, who has extensive overseas experience, is known and respected in much of the world. Interviews suggested that McCain is more popular than Obama in countries such as Israel, where McCain is particularly admired for his hard line against Iran.

"Although no one will admit it, Israeli leaders are worried about Obama," said Eytan Gilboa, a political scientist at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. "The feeling is that this is the time to be tough in foreign policy toward the Middle East, and he's going to be soft."

In China, leaders are widely believed to be wary that a Democratic administration might put up barriers to Chinese exports to the United States.

But elsewhere, people were praising Obama, 46, whose emphasis on using the Internet helped make him better known in more nations than perhaps any U.S. primary candidate in history.

In Kenya, Obama's victory was greeted with unvarnished glee. In Kisumu, close to the home of Obama's late father, hundreds crowded around televisions Wednesday morning to watch Obama's victory speech, chanting "Obama tosha!" -- "Obama is enough!"


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