The International Election

As the race for the next president continues, foreign policy remains an important factor among voters in deciding which candidate to support. An ABC News-Washington Post poll claimed that 35 percent of voters consider Iraq the top issue in choosing the next president. Even more consider foreign policy more important than domestic. Despite all this stress on foreign policy, voters are not considering international perspectives on the 2008 presidential election. Over the past two decades, America’s global reputation has steadily declined, and voters believe that it is time for a change. So who does the rest of the world think should be our next president? The answer is not yet clear. The current front-runners each appeal to various regions of the world, and no candidate is universally favored. Kishore Mahbubani, in Newsweek, calls the United States presidential elections “the most undemocratic in the world.” While this statement may be a stretch of imagination, his reasons are not. Mahububani states that only 126 million people vote, while the American election affects 6.6 billion people. A president is restricted domestically by the Constitution and many laws, but presidential prerogative is much broader. Sadly, no candidate is totally competent when it comes to international relations and rebuilding America’s reputation abroad. Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain all have many global supporters, but each has his or her detractors. Barack Obama’s election might cause the most change from the image of the current president, given his race and charisma, but his lack of experience hinders him in some parts of the world. His election would have the most immediate impact. Africans, says Mahbubani, would feel great cultural pride for the first black president in American history, and their anti-American sentiment might decrease. Obama’s partially Muslim heritage would improve (but not solve) U.S. relations with Muslims in the Middle East. Muslims are also not entirely supportive of Obama due to his Pro-Israel stance. Al Jazeera interviewed citizens of Iran and the general consensus was that every candidate who stands a chance to be elected, even Obama, would do little to help long-term peace in the region. Nonetheless, Obama’s charisma wins over many foreign sympathizers. In Iowa, Obama received a standing ovation after this statement about his foreign policy: “And I will lead the world to combat the common threats of the 21st century: nuclear weapons and terrorism; climate change and poverty; genocide and disease. And I will send once more a message to those yearning faces beyond our shores that says, ‘You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now.’ ” Obama’s greatest handicap, especially in the eyes of Europeans, is his lack of experience. Inexperience in an American president has adversely affected the world before, even recently, and foreigners are wary of this repeatable mistake. Senator Hillary Clinton has gained some global support thanks to her husband’s popularity. Latin Americans, who approved of Mr. Clinton, are then likely to support his wife. In Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, the wife of the former president, has just been elected. She compares herself to Senator Clinton: “We’re culturally formed to be citizens of two worlds, public and private.” The Senator’s cold attitude, however, often described as removed and inconsiderate, is not effective in dealing with international situations. The Senator may come off as an untrustworthy candidate who’s wants to be president “just to be president.” Al Jazeera, reporting on Islamist thought, called Clinton “violent and in the pockets of corporatist forces and aggressive Zionist interests in America.” McCain may have the most appeal in foreign countries, but even he has flaws. McCain has far more foreign policy experience than any other candidate and seems to have a greater understanding of the world stage as well. The Indians and the Chinese tend to favor Republicans because of their policies on free trade, but McCain and his centrist advisors stand out in the minds of these rising powers. In a positive sense, McCain is not thought of as another George Bush, despite their sometimes-similar policies. He was quick to criticize Bush’s military strategy in Iraq and one of the first to call for Rumsfeld’s resignation, a decision which which has gained much respect. He, however, believes in an unpopular military surge. This surge may very well reduce a considerable amount of violence and bring our troops home more quickly, but the rest of the world will view the attack as another act of aggression by the superpower United States. While it is debatable who is to blame for the U.S.’s altered foreign relations, it is not debatable that America has tarnished its image worldwide. Unfortunately, the general consensus of the world seems to be that no candidate will make a considerable difference. Perhaps then it’s best we keep our own counsel, but with the awareness that our choices have strong ramifications for now dire international relations.