The impact of Obama’s presidency on the international community

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As President Barack Obama is sworn in to take over from a government whose final bow a Nigerian newspaper described as the “end of an error”, expectations are running high but so are criticisms. According to Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, “I hope I am wrong, but I believe Obama brings the same stench [as Bush],”… The Middle East with its complex disputes has already ruled out any miracles from Obama, while scattered political voices in Asia have come together with their wish-list… Below are views from international editors.


Barack Obama’s message of hope and change has been absorbed by millions in Africa, disillusioned with the capacity of their politicians to deliver much of either, and quick to identify Mr Obama as one of their own.

Meeting those expectations will be tough. Mr Obama comes to office at a turbulent time on the continent, when progress towards democracy is under threat and the promise of growth has been blunted by the collapse of commodity prices.

With several states on the verge of renewed conflict, the new administration may quickly find itself fighting fires. Because of the financial crisis, the US will have less money to throw around than its predecessor.

George W. Bush drove up US development spending. But his policies in the Middle East brought scorn in Africa as elsewhere. When there is so much to celebrate in Mr Obama’s arrival, few will mourn Mr Bush’s departure. One Nigerian web site, described the transition as “the end of an error.”

William Wallis, London


Asia does not often speak with one voice, but in so far as Asians can agree on a common agenda, they primarily want an Obama administration to sort out the US economy and banking system.

Half of Asia’s goods end up outside the region and very few Asian economies will prosper without a recovery of US demand. China and Japan also want the restoration of US financial credibility, as a sharp fall in the dollar would lead to losses on their huge holdings of treasuries.

Asians are also nervous that a Democratic president, encouraged by labour unions and growing unemployment at home, may be tempted to play the protectionist card. Any tougher rhetoric or trade action against China could prompt a counter-offensive from Beijing.

Asia will want US support on North Korea’s denuclearisation process, brokering tense relations between India and Pakistan, and consolidating better relations between Taiwan and mainland China.

David Pilling, Hong Kong


Europeans are almost as enthusiastic about Barack Obama as the Americans who will fill Washington’s streets on Tuesday to greet their new president. But the continent’s hopes are tempered by a realisation that expectations of Mr Obama are unreasonably high.

Nonetheless, Europe is first of all counting on Mr Obama to arrest the decline of the US economy and stabilise the financial system. Europeans hope Mr Obama’s proposed $800bn (€608bn, £551bn) fiscal stimulus will enable the world’s largest economy to turn a corner, dragging Europe behind it.

Europeans also want the US to co-operate on reform of financial regulation. France and Germany have made it clear they expect the US to sign up to a bigger role for the International Monetary Fund in monitoring and regulating markets, an overhaul of accounting and prudential standards, full regulation of the hedge fund industry and curbs on tax havens. Beyond that, they hope an Obama administration will become serious about climate change.

Ben Hall, Paris

Middle East

The wave of enthusiasm that greeted Barack Obama’s election in the Middle East started to fade after Christmas as Israel launched its offensive in Gaza and the new US president’s team kept largely quiet.

Even in the best of times the Middle East presents such conflicting expectations and complex disputes that Mr Obama is bound to disappoint. While US power is seen to be in steep decline in the region, everyone still looks to America to resolve its problems.

Israel is hoping that Mr Obama will be as “steadfast” in his support as George W. Bush. Israel’s Arab neighbours are happy to be rid of Mr Bush, and are urging the new Obama administration to be more even-handed in its treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Iraq, still fragile, is looking forward to the departure of US troops, yet wants them to stay until it is ready to govern itself. Syria sees in Mr Obama hope for an end to its international isolation.

Iran wants a more co-operative US, a regional role for itself and the right to pursue its nuclear programme.

Roula Khalaf, London

Latin America

Latin Americans like what Barack Obama says and the way he looks. The first black US president benefits from not being George W. Bush, but he also enjoys sympathy among the large proportion of Latin Americans from indigenous, mixed race, or African backgrounds.

For some leaders, including Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, who has built his political career around attacking the US “empire”, this presents difficulties. “I hope I am wrong, but I believe Obama brings the same stench [as Bush],” he was quoted by Reuters as saying last week. Otherwise, US policies on drugs, immigration, trade and Cuba loom large. Latin American governments hope for a softer line on Cuba and pray Mr Obama’s links with trade unions will not spell more protectionism.

Stephen Fidler, London

Financial Times

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