PostGlobal: World Reactions to the U.S. Election

David Ignatius
Co-Moderator, PostGlobal
Thursday, November 6, 2008 2:30 PM

Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, co-moderator of PostGlobal, was online Thursday, Nov. 6 at 2:30 p.m. ET to discuss international reaction to the U.S. presidential campaigns and election.

Photo Gallery: World Celebrates New U.S. President

The transcript follows.


Youngstown, N.Y.: David - Thanks for the insightful commentary over the years. Since the situation in America right now could be considered dire and we shouldn't expect much from Mr. Bush in terms of any shift towards a center/left solution, do you think if we as Americans offered him an early retirement package or golden parachute he might step out of the way before January 20th, 2009? I bet we could collectively put together an enticing sum regardless of the economic climate.

David Ignatius: Actually I think the Obama team would rather that Bush stay until Jan. 20 while they put their team in place and figure out what to do. As several of their people have stressed in conversations with me, Obama believes we only can have one president at a time, and that the world should deal with Bush until noon on Jan. 20. It won't work that way of course, but it illustrates that Obama wants to take his time and think clearly about his course, and then hit the ground running.


Lyme, Conn.: Have we heard reports of what the Russian people think of Obama's victory? Is there hope there could a better degree a reconciliation between our two countries instead of our current slow drift back towards the Cold War?

David Ignatius: One Obama priority, I'm told, is to put our relations with Russia on a sounder basis. Obama was cautious after the Russian invasion of Georgia precisely because he didn't want to add to the "new Cold War" rhetoric. I would look for an early effort to explore whether (and how) the U.S. and Russia can be effective partners. The same holds for China. Obama's people see these two relationships as baselines.


Tucson, Ariz.: To what extent do people around the world understand the deep cultural divide -- the interior red states vs. the coastal blue states -- that plays such a large role in our elections? How we can elect Obama and Bush in succession must be perplexing to outsiders, I'd imagine.

David Ignatius: Part of why the election of Obama surprises and pleases the world is that people abroad feared that Bush's vision of an aggressive, pre-empting, unilateralist America was the "new normal." Obama's election suggests otherwise. It's also a reminder of the resilience of American democracy -- something the world had come to doubt as well, at least based on my conversations as I travel.


Arlington, Va.: Why should we care what other countries think or prefer when it comes to our president? Of course, I'm happy that many around the world are happy, but we should not be choosing and electing a president based on some global popularity contest. I would be even more concerned if we developed policies based on overseas polling numbers on our government.

David Ignatius: We should care what other people think, because it affects our national security. Frankly, the United States has been too unpopular in recent years. Some of that can be dismissed as grumbling from resentful or envious America-haters who wouldn't like any assertive American president -- but not all of it. In that sense, I do think that there's a national security benefit in the election of a new president and a symbolic "turning of the page." That would have been true too if McCain had been elected, to a lesser extent.


Boston, Mass.: Always love your columns, David. The media narrative has been that the world is universally relieved to have Obama elected. And that may be true at the street level. But the reality is that elites in many countries have certain issues -- India (nukes), Brazil (trade), Jordan (terrorism), for example -- around which they have some common interests with the current Republican administration. Which countries do you anticipate may actually be worried about Obama?

David Ignatius: I think that many countries are puzzled -- they aren't sure what policies the new president will follow and how that will affect their core interests. I suspect that applies to some of our close friends, such as Japan and Israel. I think America's enemies, current and potential, also are befuddled. Iran is a good case in point: They feared Bush, but that also found him a useful counterpoint for their propaganda. I don't think they know yet what to make of Obama.


Philadelphia: Hopefully this is purely a hypothetical question, but -- should there be a major terrorist attack or some major international relations development between now and Inauguration Day, when if ever should President Bush be expected to invite President-elect Obama into the Cabinet-level and other strategic decision-making meetings?

David Ignatius: I would think that in that horrible situation, Obama immediately would be invited for briefings and perhaps more. But again, both sides would preserve the idea that we only have one president (and commander in chief) at a time.


Vernon, British Columbia: Yes, the world celebrates for the gift of hope your country has given us. But I am confused that none of the pundits trying to analyze how McCain lost have mentioned the horribly negative tone of his campaign, especially after the RNC convention, where even Bush's speech commented on 'the angry left". From Giuliani to Palin, all sarcasm and nastiness. Contrasting the two campaigns can be done in one example. When McCain would mention Obama's name, people would boo and McCain would talk louder. When Obama supporters would boo, Obama would say "Don't boo, just go vote." How wonderful for your country, and the world, that 52 percent of you chose hope and change over divisiveness, exclusivity, hypocrisy and self righteous arrogance, all exhibited by the RNC and the McCain campaign. Civility and common decency has returned to the US political forum, (we hope).

David Ignatius: I agree with you that the negativism of the McCain campaign was evident -- and I also think it was costly. I admired McCain for trying to stop the hecklers -- during his graceful concession speech, and earlier when someone in the crowd said that Obama was a Muslim and McCain corrected him. I think you also have to credit McCain for not raising the Jeremiah Wright issue. That said, I would repeat that the tone of the McCain-Palin campaign was negative, and that that hurt the GOP.


Freising, Germany: Barack Obama seems to be by nature a consensus maker rather than a conflict oriented autocrat, which will presumably keep him popular overseas.

Part of Obama's popularity is no doubt due to his soaring rhetoric (which made quite an impression on 200,000 onlookers in Germany&), but also his stance on issues such as Iraq and Climate Change.

Obama, because of his popularity, might be able to convince NATO nations to shore up forces in Afghanistan, and perhaps more closely align Pakistan in anti-Taliban activities, but with the recent Banking Crisis and the economic downturn, do you think that Mr. Obama will continue to be supportive on anti-Climate Change legislation?

David Ignatius: As I wrote this morning, the channel markers we can see for the Obama presidency are "change" and "caution." Both will be welcomed at home and abroad. It's striking just how deliberative Obama is -- he really is the law professor listening to the arguments, thinking things through and then making up his mind. He did that to good effect during some of the rocky moments of the campaign. To a surprising degree, the man looks unflappable. We'll see if that style holds up in the pressure cooker of the White House.


Germantown, Md.: I would bet the only time the U.S. has been popular in the world was during World War II, and even then only because we fed, clothed and armed the entire world for free except for Germany and Japan. We then took care of those two countries after the war. In short, the only time other countries like us is when we are giving them something. After the Sept. 11 attacks we were popular because we were victims. As soon as we started fighting back we lost our popularity. Do you really think France, just to name one country, gives a fig what we think when they create policy?

David Ignatius: Nobody loves a superpower. That said, we have been more unpopular these past few years than I can remember in 30 years of traveling the world. As my friend Tom Friedman of the New York Times reminds me, there was a time when people in the world named streets after our presidents. I don't think we'll see a lot of streets called "Avenue George W. Bush."


Yonkers, N.Y.: Didn't both candidates talk about increasing our human intelligence resources abroad? How easily will we be able to recruit on-the-ground sources of information when entire countries are livid about arrogant insults to their people and their religion like Abu Ghraib and Gitmo? Why is this simple concept, which any salesman can understand, so difficult to explain to conservatives?

David Ignatius: I think the idea that you easily can turn up the flow of human intelligence is nonsense. This isn't a water tap you can adjust to the desired volume -- it takes years to identify and recruit agents who have access to secrets that matter. Maybe we should give the intel community less money, not more, and force them to make hard choices about who is worth recruiting. Alas, we seem to be going in the opposite direction, toward quantity metrics.


Los Angeles: My neighbor just returned from two weeks in Greece, Malta, Turkey and France and reports dozens of people approaching them with excitement and friendliness, wanting to talk about Obama. Considering how unpleasant it has been traveling overseas in recent years, this is as good a reason as any to care what the rest of the world thinks of our election.

David Ignatius: Well said. This election has created space for creative diplomacy -- something we badly need. Whether that space will be filled wisely is another question.


Fairfax, Va.: Outside of Not Being Bush, what are the biggest expectations for a Obama presidency around the world, and how likely is it that Obama will be able to meet these expectations?

David Ignatius: It's inevitable that some of the expectations Obama has created abroad will be impossible to fulfill. That said, Obama has an unusual opportunity to communicate over the heads of political leaders abroad, by speaking directly to their publics, and creating constituencies to support his policies. That's a real opportunity.


How we can elect Obama and Bush in succession must be perplexing to outsiders, I'd imagine.: Britain went from Major to Blair to Brown. We really are not that different. Nations sometimes want change.

David Ignatius: My British friends tell me that this moment reminds them of the Major to Blair transition -- a party in power for so long that it was pretty well exhausted, giving way to a team that looked young and fresh. As we saw with Blair, that honeymoon moment does not last forever.


Our friends abroad: Given Bush's generous effort to remove and destroy Iran's one serious rival in the region, I would think that there should be a "George W. Bush Boulevard" in Tehran.

David Ignatius: This brings a smile, because there is a ring of truth. Strange to say, but Iran has benefited immensely -- and unintentionally -- from the Bush years.


Arlington, Va.: In response to a previous post, I would bet that someday in Iraq we'll see a street named after President George W. Bush, don't you think?

David Ignatius: There should be -- certainly in Kurdistan and the Shiite South, where people suffered so grievously under Saddam Hussein's rule. I think those people always will be grateful for the sacrifices made to free them from Saddam, even if they have been unhappy (as most Iraqis are) with U.S. occupation.


David Ignatius: With apologies to all, I must end the chat here -- because (typical!) I have to catch a plane to go overseas and get a first-hand sense of how people are reacting to this "change" election. I will be writing about what I see and hear in my column in The Post, and on the PostGlobal Web site, which I would invite people to visit. Thanks to all, and sorry I could not answer all the questions.


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