The World Weighs In
As Washington wakes up to a new shift in power, the world's press is trying to figure out what it means for them -- and whether Obama is still worth talking to.
View reactions from the global media.
DOHA—For all the talk of decline, Americans can rest easy: They are still leading the world in the production of mindless babble. For months, U.S. media outlets have been gnawing over every minute aspect of Tuesday's midterm elections -- never mind that it was obvious, given the state of the economy and rising voter anger over government bailouts -- that Barack Obama was in for a rebuke of historic proportions. Perhaps the only interesting question, aside from the fates of radical candidates like Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, and Christine O'Donnell, was just how many seats the president's party would lose: 50, 60, 72? In the end, the results were pretty much as the polls predicted: The Republicans took the House of Representatives, while the Democrats hung on to the Senate by the skin of their teeth.
View reactions from the global media.
DOHA—For all the talk of decline, Americans can rest easy: They are still leading the world in the production of mindless babble. For months, U.S. media outlets have been gnawing over every minute aspect of Tuesday’s midterm elections — never mind that it was obvious, given the state of the economy and rising voter anger over government bailouts — that Barack Obama was in for a rebuke of historic proportions. Perhaps the only interesting question, aside from the fates of radical candidates like Rand Paul, Sharron Angle, and Christine O’Donnell, was just how many seats the president’s party would lose: 50, 60, 72? In the end, the results were pretty much as the polls predicted: The Republicans took the House of Representatives, while the Democrats hung on to the Senate by the skin of their teeth.
Around the world, though, U.S. midterm elections generally elicit little more than a collective shrug. Beyond the obvious fact that it’s hard to whip up enthusiasm in Brazil over the congressional race for Kansas’s 1st district, the world’s newspapers are generally focused on their own political dramas — Tim Huelskamp’s romp in Kansas isn’t about to kick Dilma Rousseff’s groundbreaking election off the front pages in São Paolo. But this year’s Democratic meltdown is notable because the global infatuation with Obama is now cast against his diminished luster in the United States. To the extent that there is any theme to the coverage, it’s an attempt to answer the age-old question: What’s in it for us? But, moving forward, there’s a larger issue lurking: Is Obama still the undisputed leader of the world’s most powerful nation?
Let’s begin our brief tour of the world with Britain, where commentators saw a chance to validate their ideological positions.
The Telegraph‘s conservative pundits are largely heralding the Republican victory. Simon Heffer says the Democrats’ loss boils down to “a fundamental failure to manage expectations.” Benedict Brogan worries, “If David Cameron goes to Washington, there is no single, representative Republican figure he can call on.” Toby Young observes, “In an odd way, a Tea Party Movement would make much more sense in Britain where, if it was only able to capture the commanding heights of the Conservative Party, it would stand a real chance of rolling back the frontiers of the state.” Nile Gardiner says the GOP win “may have saved a superpower.”
Over at the liberal Guardian, it’s a mixed bag. Ewen MacAskill writes, “The victory buried any remnants of the euphoria that surrounded Barack Obama’s White House victory two years ago and gives the Republicans a solid base from which to mount a guerrilla campaign against Obama.” Richard Adams mocks John Boehner’s emotional moment: “Gosh he’s getting really weepy. It’s kind of sweet and then you think, this man is going to be in charge of the House of Representatives.” (He also called Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party Senate hopeful in Delaware, an “unqualified mouth on a stick.”) Jonathan Freedland says Obama should “use the next two years to expose his opponents as dangerous extremists, threatening to destroy much that the voters hold dear.”
Writing in Der Spiegel, German pundit Gregor Peter Schmitz seems to have absorbed the worst habits of American political punditry, attributing the Democrats’ losses not to the jobless economic recovery but to Barack Obama’s supposed lack of charisma. “Once celebrated as a great communicator, the president has lost touch with the mood in his country,” he writes. (An accompanying staff essay asks, “Is the American Dream Over?”)
France’s Le Monde covered the midterms intensively, with a heavy (and predictably snide) focus on the Tea Party. Ahead of the polls, the paper published an interview with François Vergniolle de Chantal, a French “specialist” in American politics, who argued that French and Americans have a very different perception of the role of the state that dates back to their founding moments: In France, it was a republican state that brought broad equality, whereas Americans have traditionally seen the federal government, “born in distrust and rejection,” as their enemy. “That’s also why conspiracies theories find such resonance across the Atlantic,” he said.
Indian newspapers — mostly focused on Obama’s upcoming visit to Mumbai and New Delhi — covered the stunning victory of Tea Party favorite Nikki Haley, an Indian-American of Sikh origin who overcame ethnic slurs such as “raghead” to be elected South Carolina’s first woman governor. The Times of India notes, however, that Indian Americans generally had a bad night, with all six House candidates headed for defeat. In an op-ed written before the elections, Minhaz Merchant predicts, “the second half of Obama’s term will turn on three pivotal issues: guarding against double-dip recession, domestic reforms and U.S. military operations in Afghanistan.”
China, which figured prominently in the campaign as a vehicle for voters’ fears about the state of the U.S. economy, largely yawned. The elections “will herald only a slight adjustment of attitude toward China on heated topics such as currency and trade issues,” according to an article in China Daily, a state-run paper. But just in case, an op-ed warns the new Congress not to get any funny ideas about cracking down on Beijing’s manipulation of the yuan. “There’s a simple solution to all the currency-related problems that the U.S. fusses about,” the author writes. “Let the dollar cease to be the dominant world currency.” Other commentators see changes coming at the margins. Tsinghua University analyst Sun Zhe tells the Global Times, another state-run paper, “Republicans are tough on problems related to China, such as Taiwan and currency issues, so they might become a sharp sword to be wielded against China.”
South Korean papers focused heavily on prospects for the passage of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which has gone nowhere under a Democratic Congress but could get some traction in the weeks ahead. The South Korean government is likely thrilled that
General Motors Michigan Democrat Sander Levin will no longer be chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, though he’ll no doubt remain a staunch opponent of the FTA. Republican leaders have vowed to push through the Korea deal — worth an estimated $68 billion in two-way trade — along with smaller U.S. trade agreements pending with Colombia and Panama.
In Israel, there’s a lively debate over whether Obama will launch a new drive for Middle East peace, or whether the new, more Republican Congress — led by staunchly pro-Israel voices like Eric Cantor and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — will tie his hands. According to Haaretz, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expects Obama to double down on the peace talks, and the Palestinians want to see him put more pressure on Netanyahu. “Palestinians hope that after the vote, Obama will refocus on foreign affairs and use the last two years of his presidential mandate to seek a place in history by securing an end to the decades-old conflict, regardless of obvious domestic risks,” the paper reports. Another big topic is Iran’s nuclear weapons program, which is back in the news after the outgoing head of Israeli military intelligence said Tuesday that Iran already has enough uranium to produce a bomb. Columnist Aluf Benn writes: “Netanyahu may be tempted and take action, relying on his Republican friends to impose U.S. aid to Israel against a retaliatory strike by Iran and its proxies.”
No doubt other pundits will begin to weigh in as the full extent of Obama’s defeat becomes clear — and the markets will have their say as investors digest what Republican policies could mean for the country’s long-term fiscal position.
A major theme, as the president heads to Asia on whirlwind “China containment tour” of U.S. allies in the region, is going to be Obama’s weakness: The new calculus in Washington will have a significant impact on how world leaders calibrate their level of cooperation. As Wimar Witoelar, an Indonesian analyst, told Reuters: “People will not be listening to Obama’s position, instead working behind his back and looking to what the Republicans are doing. He is no longer a strong partner to have.”
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