Just two years ago, the world watched with fascination as Americans elected their first African American president, who raised expectations with promises of a new direction in how U.S. power was projected abroad. But a ramped-up war in Afghanistan, stumbling attempts to broker peace in the Middle East and sharper clashes with China over the global economy have led to a widespread sense of letdown over Barack Obama's presidency.
This week's midterm elections with their overwhelming focus on U.S. domestic issues predictably aroused much less interest outside the United States, despite curiosity about the "tea party" phenomenon. With the U.S. economy mired in a slump, voters were demanding that their politicians talk jobs, not the Afghan war. The result was an election that seemed to have little to do with the rest of the world.
But the votes that gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives and reduced Obama's maneuvering room in the Senate may yet have repercussions on the administration's foreign policy. Concern about job losses could lead to a tougher line with China over what is seen in Washington as its undervalued currency. One clue as to how much of a change to expect will be how much attention Obama gives to the issue of American jobs that have been outsourced to India when he visits New Delhi later this week.
Republican resurgence could also make it more difficult for Obama to wring concessions out of Israel in Washington's pursuit of Mideast peace. Anti-Afghan war Democrats will make Obama more dependent upon Republican support if he chooses to press an extensive ground war beyond his self-imposed August 2011 deadline to begin pulling troops out of the fight against the Taliban and other insurgents.
Here is how the midterm results played in parts of the world (and how Mexican authorities reacted to the defeat of the California ballot proposition that would have legalized personal use of marijuana):
Danny Danon, Likud Party member of Israel's parliament:
"The huge influx of newly elected representatives and senators includes dozens of strong friends of Israel who will put the brakes on the consistently dubious, sometimes dangerous policies of President Obama regarding Israel these past two years. The change of majority in the House, with its responsibility for shaping America's budget, gives tremendous influence to our friends as a counter-pressure to the president's role in leading on foreign policy work."
Benedict Brogan, deputy editor of the Daily Telegraph, London:
Barack Obama's love of printing money and deficit spending is bad enough, but you will find folk in Downing Street who fear mainstream Republicans are on the wrong economic path as well. Tackling the fiscal mess is not the priority in America that it is here. A big difference. Which is why many in the leadership say we should listen to the body of the Tea Party movement, not its zanier witch-friendly fringes. They like a lot of what they hear from this remarkable movement, they just wish the Republican leadership was more responsive to its arguments.
Mohammad Marandi, head of the North American Studies department at the University of Tehran:
"Contrary to what is often believed to be the case in the U.S., the Iranian view is that Obama never made any serious move or gesture to improve relations and that he hasn't shown the courage needed to bring about real change. Iranians believe that unless the U.S. changes course on its Iran policy and moves toward easing tensions, the situation will continue to grow worse for the United States in the region."
Rafia Zakaria, an attorney and frequent commentator for Dawn, an English-language Pakistani daily:
"A split government is a slow one. With Republicans controlling the House of Representatives, the Obama administration will find it far more difficult to pass legislation without significant compromises. For Pakistanis, this could mean further delays and conditions attached to the military and civilian aid packages whose delivery they await from Washington."
Mexican Health Secretary Jose Angel Cordova:
"I think the rejection [of Prop. 19] was really a successful response of the California community that believes that [legalization] would bring an increase in the use of drugs, something that has been scientifically demonstrated. From a public health point of view, we do not believe that legalization is good policy because it will increase consumption ... and bring about more problems of demand and sick addicts."
— Times staff writers Edmund Sanders in Jerusalem; Borzou Daragahi in Beirut; Alex Rodriguez in Islamabad, Pakistan; and Tracy Wilkinson in Mexico City contributed to this report.