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If Foreigners Could Vote in '08 (WSJ)
If Foreigners Could Vote in '08
On Every Continent
By DAVID LUHNOW in Rio de Janeiro, JOHN W. MILLER in Brussels, and SARAH CHILDRESS in Nairobi
March 26, 2008; Page A5
For America's presidential candidates, the global electoral map is looking as divided as the domestic one.
When foreigners look at the three contenders, Sen. Barack Obama seems to have the lead among Europeans and Africans. Sen. Hillary Clinton is popular among Mexicans and Chinese. Sen. John McCain just returned from a campaign swing through the Middle East and Europe.
U.S. presidential contests often attract interest from foreign countries. The world's sole superpower has such an impact on the globe that, as a Belgian newspaper recently suggested, the rest of the world may feel it should be allowed to vote, too.
This time around, all three candidates have made restoring America's stature abroad a key part of their foreign-policy platforms, making overseas opinions of the U.S. of greater interest to American voters. And the fact that Sen. Obama -- a man with African and Muslim roots and an Arabic middle name, Hussein -- could become U.S. president has created buzz around the world. In Germany, the title of a recent book, "Obama: the Black Kennedy," echoes frequent newspaper headlines comparing Sen. Obama with Germany's favorite former U.S. president. In Kenya, the homeland of Sen. Obama's father, people order the local beer, Senator, by asking for an "Obama."
As in the U.S., however, some people elsewhere harbor doubts about both Sen. Obama's experience and his policies. In China and Mexico, two countries with economies that rely on exports to the U.S., people fret over the senator's antitrade rhetoric and largely back Sen. Clinton on the assumption she will follow her husband's free-trade agenda.
There also are concerns about Sen. Obama's mettle in places like Colombia and Israel, where security concerns trump other issues. In January, the former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Danny Ayalon, wrote an article headlined "Who are you, Barack Obama?" raising concerns about his stand on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
Sen. Clinton also gets higher marks outside Europe, especially in Mexico and China, where she benefits from her husband's popular presidency. In Mexico, listeners calling in to one Mexico City radio station picked Sen. Clinton over Sen. Obama, 65%-34%, mostly because of former President Bill Clinton's legacy in signing the North American Free Trade Agreement. Deng Jie, owner of a business in Beijing, said, "I don't know who Obama is. But I think I wish Hillary wins because during the eight years that her husband, Mr. Clinton, was in the position, the U.S. economy went well."
Sen. McCain's recent trip through Iraq, Israel, Jordan and Europe was designed to showcase himself as comfortable with world leaders, knowledgeable about world affairs and able to bolster foreign opinion of the U.S. He ran into embarrassing press coverage when he mistakenly said Iranians were training al Qaeda fighters and sending them back into Iraq. His visit was welcomed in France "because right now, he's seen as an adversary to [George W.] Bush and thus friendly," says Patrick Jarreau, a political reporter for French newspaper Le Monde.
For many Europeans, Sen. Obama's candidacy "is romantic," says Elmar Brok, a German member of the European Parliament and a member of the Parliament's committee on U.S. relations.
Part of Sen. Obama's appeal globally is that he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia and had a Kenyan father, making him particularly popular in Africa.
The western part of Kenya is the ancestral home of the Luo tribe to which Sen. Obama's father belonged. The senator's grandmother is alive and has grown accustomed to foreign journalists tramping to her village home in the area. The rise of a favorite son has been a welcome change from Kenya's own presidential election. The vote was marred by irregularities in late December, spiraling into open ethnic warfare that has killed hundreds. Raila Odinga, the opposition presidential candidate who recently made peace with the Kenya government over the vote, is also a Luo and has called Sen. Obama a "cousin" on the campaign trail.
Muslims across the Middle East have also been drawn into the race, partly because of Sen. Obama's Muslim roots. A practicing Christian, the senator has described his father as a nonpracticing Muslim. "What he has accomplished so far...is in itself an unprecedented U.S. social revolution," wrote leading Egyptian-American democracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim in a Cairo newspaper. "If he becomes the president of America, this 'revolution' will become a global one."
But the fascination with Sen. Obama's roots also is tinged with a deep skepticism over how much a fresh face in the White House might change American policy.
Hossein Karmun runs a small grocery store in an Arab-Turkish neighborhood in Brussels and supports Sen. Obama, but he doubts Americans will embrace him in the end. "His middle name is like my name; how is he going to win in America?"
I'm not sure how much any of this means...
Although I'm suspicious of the Clinton-Chinese connection being as simple as "the U.S. economy went well".
Oh, and the idea McCain is "an adversary to [George W.] Bush and thus friendly" in France makes me wonder if they really are stupid.