Obama has captivated the world

Times Staff Writer

No one’s tossing confetti or releasing balloons, but U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s ascent to likely Democratic Party presidential nominee has captivated many of those watching the American political contest abroad.

Newspaper front pages and television newscasts throughout the world Wednesday featured photographs and footage of the smiling Illinois lawmaker, who a day earlier clinched the Democratic nomination by winning enough delegates to edge out Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The conservative French daily Le Figaro described him as “the man in a hurry who dethroned Hillary.” The left-leaning London-based Guardian called him “a political giant slayer” who defeated his own party’s entrenched interest. And in Mexico, an editorial cartoon in the daily Reforma depicted him as a Christ-like figure atop the Democratic donkey on Palm Sunday.

“Obama’s America on the doorstep of history,” said a headline on the front page of As Safir here in Lebanon.


Obama remains intensely popular throughout the world. According to a poll released this week by the pan-Arab Qatar-based Al Jazeera news channel, more than half of those interviewed in 22 countries preferred Obama over Clinton or Republican John McCain, who was the least recognized and least preferred presidential candidate.

Even in stridently anti-American Iran, state-controlled television showed video of Obama making a speech behind a lectern bearing a placard reading “Change.”

“It’s a matter of the heart. It’s a matter of affiliation,” said Radwan Abdullah, a professor of international relations at the University of Jordan in Amman. “He’s a minority African American from the Third World. He was the underdog. People identify with his type.”

Still, some analysts expressed concern about Obama’s foreign policy positions. In Turkey, some worried about his support for Armenians, who are locked in a dispute with Turks over the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century. There has been some nervousness in Tokyo about whether Obama’s criticism of the North American Free Trade Agreement hints at possible trade disputes for Japan’s export-dependent economy. Many Israelis worry that Obama has been too willing to negotiate with the Jewish state’s enemies, especially Iran.

Some Israelis were heartened by remarks he made Wednesday at a conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, where he declared his willingness to confront Iran and support a unified Jerusalem as capital of Israel, a position that appeared to go beyond even the Bush administration’s position on Jerusalem.

“He said all options for dealing with Iran are on the table, which means he would negotiate but there would still be a credible military threat,” said Michael Oren, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, an independent Israeli think tank.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected Obama’s support of a unified Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

“The whole world knows that East Jerusalem, holy Jerusalem, was occupied in 1967, and we will not accept a Palestinian state without having Jerusalem as the capital,” Abbas told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.


Obama’s newcomer status has also caused doubt among some trying to gauge his positions on various issues.

“Obama is not a well-established politician,” said Abul-Fazel Amoee, a Tehran political scientist close to Iran’s conservatives. “He comes out of the blue sky. Obama’s slogans are ambiguous and may change. Obama is not coming from a family like the Kennedys. He seems open to pressures.”

Despite such concerns, people marveled at Obama’s rise and considered it a U.S. milestone. Al Jazeera devoted an hour Wednesday night to a discussion about his prospects.

“The fact that he become the candidate of the Democratic Party proves that there is a change in the public opinion in the U.S.,” said Ghassan Ezzi, professor of political sciences at the Lebanese University in Beirut. “He said that he was ready to talk to [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. This shows a lot of courage. It’s like saying I am ready to talk to the devil.”


For many, Obama’s rise is a global event, regardless of the outcome in November.

“I’m hugely aware of what his achievements mean for the wider world, way beyond America,” said David Lammy, a British lawmaker who, like Obama, is of African descent. “It’s a huge achievement to come from a place where very few people believed he would be on the ticket.”

Even if he loses the presidential election to McCain, he’s already won, said an editorial in the English-language Khaleej Times, a daily based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

“If McCain is America’s past,” it said, “Obama is its future.”



Times staff writers Richard Boudreaux in Jerusalem, Janet Stobart in London, Achrene Sicakyuz in Paris, Ken Ellingwood in Mexico City and Bruce Wallace in Tokyo and special correspondents Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Raed Rafei in Beirut and Noha El-Hennawy of The Times’ Cairo Bureau contributed to this report.