The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Around the world, harsh words for ‘lame duck’ Obama

President Obama speaks at a campaign rally for Gov. Dan Malloy (D) in Bridgeport, Conn., on Nov. 2. (Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Before voting was even finished, China's state-run Global Times newspaper was already pretty sure that President Obama would be the source of Democratic failure in the midterm elections.

"Obama always utters 'Yes, we can,' which led to the high expectations people had for him. But he has done an insipid job, offering nearly nothing to his supporters," the paper said in an op-ed published Tuesday. "U.S. society has grown tired of his banality."

It was an unusually harsh tone to take for the newspaper, especially given that the final results weren't known yet. But across the world, many are taking the Republican Party's spectacular win as a remarkable defeat for Obama. "The rest of the world has, with a heavy heart and agony of mind, reached the conclusion that his power is indeed fading," an editorial run by Iran's Press TV said.

“I believe this ‘democratic failure’ is a personal defeat for Obama, the result of his very low ratings, a sharp deterioration of his image, as he has evolved from the president of hope to the president of disappointment,” Alexei Pushkov, head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of parliament, told the state-owned Tass news agency.

These countries often react with glee to negative news from the United States, but the response from other corners of the world, once more amiable, even fawning, toward Obama, was striking.

In Britain's right-leaning Telegraph newspaper, Obama was called a "lame duck" in the opening sentence of a news story. "It was Obama who presided over the slow moral disintegration of the Democrats and so it’s Obama who should take the lion’s share of the blame," a separate opinion piece noted. Meanwhile, the Times of London called the results a "vote of no confidence" in the U.S. president, while Channel 4's Kylie Morris said it "feels like an undoing of what President Obama won."

Bild, the populist German tabloid, ran a headline that read "OH, OH, OBAMA." The paper reasoned that he wasn't just a lame duck — he also had been plucked.  "It is a knock out punch. Obama is at the end," the centrist Zeit Online wrote. "Of course there is nothing to gloss over for the Democrats and their unloved and unpopular leader," Klaus-Dieter Frankenberger added at the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "Your defeat is a debacle; the beacon of hope has become the proverbial lame duck."

"Does the French Obamania belong to the past?" Le Figaro asked. Perhaps. A selection of comments from readers of the conservative French newspaper were largely negative. "The best marketing coup of the new century!" said one, referring to Obama's 2008 election victory. "The whole world thought that he would be better than [George W.] Bush when he was President of drone attacks and thus civilian deaths," wrote another.

"Obama has declined on the international scene," French newspaper Le Monde wrote. "Faced with a Congress in the hands of the opposition, a determined President, ready for confrontation and the use of charm, can do a lot. It is true that these two provisions are not the mark of Barack Obama."

And while the French left-wing newspaper Liberation lauded the wider scope of the elections, which it called "the breakthrough of U.S. progressives," it, too, had criticism for the president's performance. "The last elections of the Obama era completely bury the great hopes raised in 2008 by a candidate who was not only 'post-racial' but also 'post-partisan,'" the paper's Lorraine Millot wrote.

"America has buried without honors the Obama era," the Spanish newspaper El Mundo noted.

In Israel, where the Obama administration has proved controversial recently, there were some mixed messages. "The severity of the Democratic drubbing was thus determined by the enthusiasm of Obama’s haters combined with the indifference and resentment of his supporters," Chemi Shalev wrote in Haaretz. Meanwhile, Israel Hayom, one of the country's largest newspapers, spoke to disappointed voters in New Jersey. "In 2008, say the people of Hoboken, almost everyone swore allegiance to Obama — the man who was supposed to take them all to new heights," Boaz Bismuth wrote. "Just like the civilian spaceship last week, this dream has also crashed to the ground."

While many of the comments from around the world were scathing for Obama, there were few with positive words for the United States in general.

Der Speigel's U.S. correspondent, Sebastian Fischer, offered a relatively sympathetic reading of Obama, portraying him as a man in the wrong place at the wrong time. "Obama is not a decisive leader like Ronald Reagan but a thoughtful leader. He is not emotional like Bill Clinton but cool-rational. He is not a deal maker like Lyndon Johnson but a loner," Fischer explains. "In short: Obama does not fit so well into this polarized time."

Millot, writing at Liberation, was more harsh about the U.S. political system. "Obama's presidency ends sadly because it was also the product of a deeply flawed political system where money is the main driver."

And even those countries gloating over Obama's failure acknowledged that it might be bad for them as well. Russia's Pushkov told reporters that he saw no hope for a “positive shift” in U.S.-Russia relations, pointing to hawkish Republican policies on Ukraine and Iran.

And a day after its editorial called out Obama's "insipid" presidency, the Global Times published an editorial that presented a bleak view of the future. "Congress, which has often bashed China, may take an even tougher line in the future," it noted. "Moreover, it may turn its dissatisfaction with the president into provoking China."

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