Global support for Obama divided in White House race
The Obama-mania that swept the world four years ago is a distant memory, but foreign enthusiasm for challenger Mitt Romney is far from universal
It’s not only the US that finds itself fiercely divided as it goes to the polls today. In hindsight, President Barack Obama’s 2009 Nobel Peace Prize may have represented the zenith of a worldwide devotion that once approached cultish status. Today, deep political infighting, a sluggish economy and the realities of doing business with a recalcitrant Congress may have tarnished his brand back at home, but overseas, the focus is on trade, defence and, of course, foreign policy.
China’s elite would normally be watching the election more closely. But with its own once-in-a-decade leadership transition beginning just days after the US votes, it has other matters on its mind.
Some will follow the US polls avidly, but others are concerned only about its impact on China.
“I like Obama’s style. He’s a very charming guy ... Romney seems quite aggressive,” said Beijing-based marketing researcher Ming Ming . “I’m more concerned about who will have better policy towards China.”
Despite the tough-talking on tackling China in the presidential debates, Zheng Jihua, an entrepreneur, said: “I don’t think it makes much difference whether it’s Obama or Romney. The economic connections [between the countries] matter more than political things.”
But Shi Yinhong, an expert on Sino-US relations, said most people were more concerned by issues such as tensions with Japan over disputed islands.
Experts say tough talk from US candidates is rarely matched by their action once in office.
Even so, Shi warned that “Sino-American rivalries have become more profound and sometimes more tense.”
The Obama-mania that swept Europe four years ago has faded fast amid transatlantic rows over the euro crisis, the administration’s failure to close Guantanamo Bay, and the US’ waning attention paid to Europe.
But despite the centre-right remaining in the ascendancy across most of Europe, disaffection with Obama is not translating into support for Romney.
Exploring why Obama’s popularity endured despite disappointments, US expert Friedrich Mielke said the president was viewed by Germans as a “dove of peace”.
Romney, in contrast, was seen as a “locust capitalist” who “spreads social frigidity and egoism”, Mielke said.
Obama has, in significant ways, failed to live up to the expectations he created in his long-awaited Cairo speech in June 2009.
Many in the region see little difference between him and Romney, but Obama is probably still their preferred candidate.
Following the murder of the US ambassador to Libya, Washington has also signalled continued support for the new government in Tripoli.
Obama’s election provoked euphoria in his ancestral village in Kenya and among African governments. But four years on, there is a sense of deflation.
“Four years ago, there was so much hope in this country,” said Boniface Mwangi, a photographer and political activist. “Now, we’re no longer that hopeful and asking where we went wrong.
“I thought Barack Obama would do well for Africa, but I’m ashamed to say that George Bush did more. Obama has done nothing for us.”
Obama, who once hailed the “blood of Africa within me”, has spent only 20 hours on sub-Saharan African soil since becoming president.
Ousseynou Bissichi, a guide at the African Renaissance Monument in Dakar, Senegal, said: “A lot of people in Africa thought Obama would be the president of Africa ... Later, we realised he’s an American president, not an African president.”
Two weeks ago, Randi Mellman Oze, 54, printed off her absentee ballot paper, marked a cross next to Mitt Romney’s name, sealed the envelope and sent it to the US.
A lifelong Democrat voter until she relocated Israel five years ago, changing her political stance was “a very big deal”.
“I was always a Democrat, and my family are all Democrats. But I don’t feel Obama has Israel’s best interests at heart,” she said.
Mellman is among up to 250,000 American-Israelis entitled to vote in the election.
Polls of all Israelis show that most support Romney.
Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu is widely perceived to be backing Romney, against all protocol.
Relations between him and Obama have been strained by the Israeli leader’s insistence on a tougher US stance on the Iranian nuclear programme, which the US has resisted.
Romney is seen as being more hawkish on the issue, but he is even less inclined to push Israel towards allowing the Palestinians an independent state of their own.
Public interest in the contest is virtually zero in both nations, and anti-Americanism appears to be at an all-time high in Pakistan.
“After the last four years, people now know that Americans are Americans and George Bush and Barack Obama are two sides of the same coin,” said Munawar Hasan, president of the conservative Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami, damning US policy on the region, including the sharp increase in CIA drone strikes on Pakistani soil.
In neighbouring Afghanistan, most believe that the outlines of US policy have already been set. The timeline for the US forces’ departure will not be altered, whoever wins.
“The Afghan people are not paying a lot of attention, because ... both candidates are in agreement about taking their troops home,” said 32-year-old Afghan, Najibullah Hosseini.