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Obama: Feel the World Love

As President, Barack Obama would be better than John McCain at fixing America’s tarnished image abroad. Pro or con?

Pro: Obamamania Is Seizing the Globe

The rest of the world is as interested in the U.S. Presidential election as Americans are, and in some cases are even more engrossed. (In Japan, 83% of the population is following the U.S. election, compared with 80% here in the States, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center.) The soaring level of engagement beyond our borders indicates the world is holding its collective breath in hopes of a drastic change from the past eight years. As evidenced by confidence polls and vigorous turnouts during Barack Obama’s recent trip overseas, people of the world believe that Obama, not John McCain, can make change possible.

The facts speak for themselves. According to the Pew study, people in 22 major countries worldwide are 22% more confident about Obama than McCain. The most notable differences come from some of our staunchest allies, markedly France, Britain, Germany, and Japan, which are all at least 30% more confident in Obama.

But why this confidence in Obama, given that he only recently entered the world political arena? The answer is the dirtiest four-letter word on the world stage: Iraq.

The Bush Administration’s blunders there have led to harsh reactions, as Bush’s domestic approval ratings have sunk below 30% and are even lower overseas. Unlike Obama, McCain plans to remain in Iraq, continuing a war that has already worn on for five years and cost the lives of more than 4,000 coalition troops.

McCain’s decision to linger will only spur further parallels overseas between him and the much-maligned President Bush. Efforts by McCain to distance himself from the Bush Administration are faltering on other fronts; in July, he hired three of Karl Rove’s lieutenants to spearhead his campaign.

Obama’s recent world tour garnered tremendous interest—200,000 came to see him speak in Berlin. And some British news outlets have dubbed his world popularity “Obamamania.” If his trip around Europe and the Middle East is any indication of what is to come, Obamamania is precisely what the U.S. needs to repair its eroding relationship with the world.

Con: McCain Will Shine

First, the concessions. Barack Obama is a fresh face in a party opposed to Bush—not a bad recipe for a better international image. Plus, his opposition to an unpopular Iraq war falls right in step with the international zeitgeist—check. And his recent foreign tour saw him enveloped in rock-star status by anti-Bush fans around the globe—that can’t hurt. Surely an Obama presidency would do instant wonders for the U.S. image abroad. Right?

Instantly, sure. But the important question isn’t whether Obama would convey a better image than Bush. It’s whether he’d do better than McCain. Before asking if Obama can improve America’s image abroad better than McCain, it’s better to ask: How are they different?

What about the biggie, the Iraq war that has aroused international ire for the past five years? Obama’s initial promise of a 16-month withdrawal doesn’t look quite so resolute anymore, as he said in a July speech that the withdrawal is predicated on whether Iraq is stable and U.S. troops are safe. That’s a huge “if.” How would the international community view Obama if 16 months in office passed and—surprise—Iraq wasn’t stable?

And despite their disparate images, Obama stands on the same ground with McCain on many substantive issues:

• His views on torture? Both he and McCain detest it.
• Pre-emptive military action? Both he and McCain would use it.
• Putting more pressure on Pakistan? Ditto.
• Preventing nuclear proliferation? Same.
• Spreading American influence? Both speak of “uniting the world’s democracies” and “building democratic societies.” That won’t engender goodwill from the large percentage of foreigners who resent American political and cultural hegemony. According to a 2007 Pew Research poll, majorities or pluralities in most countries dislike American ideas about democracy.

Obama hasn’t offered any evidence to the international community that he warrants its approval, other than that he isn’t Bush. That’s not a recipe for an enduring good image.

Opinions and conclusions expressed in the BusinessWeek Debate Room do not necessarily reflect the views of BusinessWeek,, or The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Reader Comments


I think Ricky is missing a few important points. For one, the world is ready for a change in U.S. direction. Obama has shown that in his willingness to talk to rogue nations and other questionable sorts. He's not buckling under as some outlets are trying to portray him as doing. He's going back to something called diplomacy. It's been forgotten during the GWB reign of power. McCain doesn't show that he knows how to use that tool at all. Heck, he needs to get a crash course in geography before he can get to that level.

Obama has shown that he's the mature statesman in comparison in this race. November will show that.

The Dude

So the "Pro" shows several ways in which Obama will improve our international standard.

Meanwhile, the whole argument of the "Con" section is that no one can prove Obama will be better than McCain?

Seems like some pretty weak ground.


Echo of the others. The whole "Con" argument amounts to saying that Obama may not be viewed much better than McCain once all is said and done. Yeah, and? There is no argument that Obama will be viewed as worse than McCain, which is really what is required for him to be a "Con." So on the "Pro" side we have the potential that he will be embraced by the world and can live up the view of America and unite our friends and diminish the scorn of our enemies, while on the Con side, there is the possibility that in the end he won't be viewed much better than McCain would be. Umm.. .okay. Advantage Obama.

Paul Kopper

Hey, Obama wants to reach out across the Democratic-Republican divide. When is he going to reach out to Progressives? Didn't he say that he wants to reach out, and bring all kinds of people of differing views together? What about Progressives? Where do we fit in?

Ahmed Abouesh

Mindless lemmings…following a man who has no real ideas.

His wife writes thesis papers on how she hates white people. Also admitted to hating America.

His pastor is a racist and also hates America; Obama belonged to this church for 20 years.

His former Muslim coordinator was tied to Hamas, which is intent on destroying America.

You follow a man who in three different (there are more) instances is friends with, married too, or hired people who hate America.

You people will regret your decision if this lying empty suit ever gets elected.

Sarah Smith

This article is ridiculously narrow-sighted. The difference other countries see in McCain vs. Obama go far beyond Iraq. Most of our major allies have much more progressive policies regarding the environment. They also see Obama's much more interested in dialogue and working with conflicting nations than ignoring their existence and/or rashly sending military troops/coups. He's also pro civil unions whereas homosexuals are much more accepted in other countries. Many of these countries also have socialized medicine, and Obama's concern for making sure all Americans have health care parallels this. They see him as someone who (in general) will work with people of varying viewpoints/cultures and help everyone come to a common ground and stable lives. This is how mature people/countries run such things. We're so behind on the times.

"Lying empty suit"? He's not. It's sad to see how Fox News has rotted your brain, Ahmed. After the lying empty head our last president had, just about anything would be better better.

Marlene F.

Ahmed, you watch too much Fox News. This "old news" has been proven time and time again to be completely false. You need to read more.


Here is the oath of office, when a president is sworn in: "I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." Nowhere in this oath does it require the President to make nice with, agree with, sympathize with, or in any way be liked by any other nation. A president is expected and required to execute any action he/she deems necessary for the defense or protection of the United States. My vote will go to the candidate who understands this, and why I have qualms on Obama, and this entire argument about the world's view of the U.S, although McCain isn't snow white here either. But I don't like the perception I get that Obama will bend over backward so everyone has a nice warm fuzzy for the U.S. Bottom line, if he takes the oath of office, that's not part of his job. I think McCain understands that; I just hope he remembers it if he's the one being sworn in.


Let's go back in time to the year 2000, when Bush was supposed to be little more than a caretaker President, and the biggest challenge he'd have to deal with would be the dot-bust recession. His impact was supposed to be minimal, and the world's perception of America was supposed to stay the same.

It didn't quite work out this way, and we all know why and how. The assumed caretaker President became one of the most influential heads of state in recent history, love him or loathe him. The same can happen to Obama or McCain a few years into their terms. A major event can flip their presumed legacies 180 degrees.

That said, it's difficult to imagine that either of them could fail to improve America's image abroad, since their predecessor has done almost everything in his power to antagonize much of the planet and other influential nations on just about every possible issue from climate change to farm subsidies at the Doha talks to dealing with international POWs.

Right now Obama is more popular because he's trying his best to stay positive. McCain is constantly advised by the RNC to stay negative and on the attack, but should he develop a friendlier persona, other nations may judge him differently. I think it's just too early to tell.

Yankee Skeptic

The premise of the debate whether the world citizens "like" Obama better and whether he can better fix America's "image," just demonstrates the weakness of a superficial candidate like Obama.

American voters need to look beyond Obama's youthful looks, celebrity popularity, and heart-warming speeches on the promise of hope and change. Unfortunately for Obama, there isn't much there.

McCain has the real experience and common-sense judgment needed to keep the U.S. strong and the leader of the free world.

Katuta Kalebwe

Obama offers a new dawn, a fresh beginning to not so popular U.S. international policies. The correlation between the handling of the Middle East affair and the success of the President shouldn’t be passed unnoted. That’s why the withdraw of American troops from the sovereign state of Iraq is of such importance in the campaign. The international community is opposed, as before, to the continued occupation, presence of the Americans in Iraq even after the threat terrorist levels from that part of the world have gone down. Obama is going to address that cardinal point. For me, that’s a really bold move.

Peter S

There is a difference between talking and doing. Obama is good at talking, but don't think he can deliver, as most of our problems stem from Saudi occupation of DC for a few decades.

Why else could we bomb and dismember Yugoslavia in pieces but still can't get Iraq and Afghanistan right after six years? But then Obama seems to be very tight with all these people from the Saudi lobby as they are raising a fistful of dollars and are his advisors.

Plus he seems to be the favorite of people who hate America (Nation of Islam, Middle East Jihadist, Islamist, and various Domestic terrorist).

So I have a feeling things will get worse under him as he does not truly love this country, lacks operational background, and his scary friends.

He might make Europeans, fräuleins, and Miss Johnasen feel good, but those superficial qualities don't matter in the long run for restoring America's image.

Danielle Annette

I think the world is looking for hope now, and that the enigmatic senator from Illinois speaks well to the concept. However, his ability to speak well does not demonstrate his ability to lead. His ability to speak does demonstrate his ability to hire excellent image managers who carefully vet each word and action. He has skillfully been crafted into the "next JFK" by his own campaign and the media, but where is the substance?

The measure of a man is action. Obama's voting record and impromptu sessions display to me a man ill prepared for handling crises. He is not the next JFK. JFK was a seasoned politician who understood Washington, having served there starting as a Representative in 1947. I cannot count the number of times I have heard Obama say that "he's sorry," but he hasn't gotten around to fulfilling one or the other duties of his current office--as he has simply utilized that office as a catapult into this election.

What are the pros of John McCain in office? I may disagree with him on many issues, but I know his voting record, and he has proven himself to be a man of action. Internationally, McCain is known as a statesman who goes direct to the source (ground) for his information. He is decisive, fair, and can claim crossing the aisle on more than a few issues to accurately represent his constituents.

Chris from Pasadena

Of course Obama will be better at fixing our "tarnished image" (not tarnished in Africa or Georgia). Any president that lets other countries walk all over him will be viewed positively by foreigners and negatively by Americans. Who really cares what foreigners think of America, provided that their investments in America are secure and safe and international capitalism and tourism flourish? Obama is a joke without a punch line. McCain admits he knows little of economics. This is a strength, not a weakness, provided that he allows our wonderful capitalistic society to go about their business unhindered by government. His job is not to create idiotic Obama ideas to save the economy, but rather to undo the mess government has caused its republic.


The only people who hate us in the world are the socialist and dictatorial leaders (including Europe. When you talk to the real people in those countries, they certainly do not hate us). These so-called leaders get real nervous when their "subjects" see how we in this great country are free and how this freedom unleashes unbelievable human accomplishment. The problem for them is that when that happens, they (the leaders) lose control, and that is what it is all about for them. Wake up, America. We've been fed a bunch of propaganda. We're really a pretty good place to live. The opportunity here is unbelievable to the rest of the world. Let's try to keep it that way, please. I live here, too, you know.

James Bentley

Buck Obama is good at bucking the system. His jaded slogans of "Change You Can Believe In," "One Nation"(instead of One Nation Under God), Muslim background. No real scope of economics. It makes him tin horn and no experience to be a Senator, let alone President. If 22% of the world wants him, perhaps he should move to Germany, Russia, or China. Buck Rodgers and Buck Obama are same same. Fictitious characters.


I am a naturalized American citizen born in Europe.

Who cares what the world thinks of America? They all want to see a weak America, an America answering the UN controlled by China, Russia, Zimbabwe, Libya, etc. Well, you get the point.

The world (see China, Europe, etc.) are more dependent on us than we are on them. We are a self-sufficient country. With the talented labor in this country and the vast natural resources, we really do not need the world's approval on anything. We also have access to cheap labor in Mexico and more natural resources in Canada. Do we really need the rest of the world? Do we really need them telling us what to do?



Obama has already showed us his ability to make decisions. He's incapable of coming out firm and strong from the start. Just take the Jeremiah Wright situation. First he says that he is his mentor and like an uncle; several speeches later, he resigns from his church. This was not a fluke. He has repeated this behavior over and over, with the latest being the invasion of the nation of Georgia. McCain is not perfect, but his strength of commitment to our country is undeniable.

Been There Seen That

Come what may, the USA will only look out for its own good. Pre-election posturing does not reflect post-election reality.


John McCain is a military man, through and through. But he's not one of those egghead soldier types--all wrapped up in Clausewitz and strategy and whatnot. He's a man of action who believes in taking the battle to the enemy without pause. Take, for example, the Georgia issue. If McCain were President, we'd already have combat troops there, pushing the Russians out of Georgia, instead of just sitting around, waiting for something to happen like we're currently doing. Same deal with the Ayatollahs. McCain would have turned Iran into a smoldering ash heap by now. McCain's the type of leader who will put our military to work.


Wow, Fenton, what a chicken hawk. I'm sorry that there are people who actually "think" like that. The day that the U.S. tries to "push" Russia anywhere is the day that I buy canned goods and retreat to bunker.


It's one thing to talk about change and another to have the skills and experience to achieve it. Obama has no credible experience in dealing with domestic issues, let alone foreign policy agendas. Just look at his attendance and voting record in the Senate. We are a democratic republic, and Obama and his liberal cronies would like nothing more than to push this country down a socialistic path. When did we, as a nation, loose our intestinal fortitude that our forefathers had in combating aggression and the challenges against our freedom and way of life? It seems we have instead become a nation hell bent on immediate gratification as our primary concern. I guess that's why they refer to it as the "Me" generation. I whole heartedly agree with Ahmed; we will rue the day that we allowed a man like Obama to take the helm of this great nation. Islamic radicals have implied/promised that they will destroy us from within; what better ally could they have than Obama? God bless this great nation of ours and may He keep us safe and in His graces despite the potential mistakes we might make as a people.


Wow, Karl, now put those same research skills to use on John McCain. You'll find that McCain's exalted "experience" is weak and thin. McCain has achieved remarkably little during his 21 years in the Senate. McCain has never had a command position of any significant size in the military yet he pretends to be as qualified as a general. McCain graduated near the bottom of his class. He crashed five jets in training. When his wife was disfigured he cheated on her--that alone is proof he does not have integrity to lead.


America's image abroad: Going back many decades, there have been societies abroad who tended to see the Americans as naive. Many societies abroad have seen, and still see, the U.S. negatively because of its economic prowess, and no President is going to change that.

It has been said that Bin Laden had, in fact, thought that the U.S. had become a paper tiger and would not stir much after his planned strikes on U.S. soil since our embassies, ships, etc., had been destroyed already with only naive reactions from the then-Presidents. It seems that we did not even know much about organizations that in fact were killing both American citizens along with any citizens of other countries that were at the target of their hate. I wonder if in fact the terrorist organizations felt that the U.S. would fail in Iraq if they concentrated their power there. Perhaps as a result of our naivete, we have lost the precious lives of many of our men and women there, and at the Twin Towers, but by God, the power of the terrorists who saw Iraq as their greatest opportunity to humble the U.S.'s power were in fact defeated--more important, not only by the U.S. military but also significantly by the people of Iraq who realized that their lives were seen as irrelevant so long as the terrorists would win.

So, nothing new about the view from abroad.

We remain "naive Americans" with our thinking that the world will love us if we have a charismatic President. As someone has already said: For a while it may be so, but the only way a president will remain loved by the world would be if he begins to give up what we have achieved: our freedom based on democracy, our economic system, our research skills, our military power, our standard of living.

Crude, right?

Do you think the world loves us because of what we have achieved?

Exactly the contrary.

Paranoid, you say?

Do you want to give up your standard of living? How many poorer societies would like to have the same as you, and how many would like to have yours if only they could take it from you?

Of course we should be frugal and smart about our resources. Check out Ideal Bite on Web. Ah, the freedom we have to be creative!

Remember naivete...


"Who cares what the world thinks of America? They all want to see a weak America, an America answering the UN controlled by China, Russia, Zimbabwe, Libya, etc. Well, you get the point."

"Do you think the world loves us because of what we have achieved? Exactly the contrary. Paranoid, you say? Do you want to give up your standard of living? How many poorer societies would like to have the same as you, and how many would like to have yours if only they could take it from you?"

It's great that America's nationalists are so concerned about threats from supposedly envious countries and state how America shouldn't care about how the world sees it. But that was an acceptable modus operandi about 30 or 40 years ago.

Now, those supposedly evil, envious countries that hate the United States for its greatness are trading partners, and it's trade with them that keeps the American economy going. You can't treat your trading partners like spies and enemies. They will look for a way not to do business with you, and work with someone more open, more friendly, and less paranoid. They'll search for nations where there's underinvestment to store their money. They'll deal only with multinationals that are detached from the United States. And finally, they'll try to cut down the number and volume of deals that are used to slight them in nationalistic rants about how all other countries are evil, poor, and bad.

With who would you rather do business?

1. A huge mega-store where the employees grumble when you walk in and ramble about how bad, evil, and jealous you are of how great this store is and the CEO is explicitly stating on record that his customers are really wolves in sheep's clothing and can't wait to tear the store down and steal all its merchandise.

2. A smaller store with not quite as much stuff but friendly employees and a CEO who tries to make customers feel welcome and at ease and states that it's a pleasure doing business with them and that he hopes that his clients will do wonderful things with everything they buy.

The more you treat other nations as enemies and scapegoats, the more resentful they become and the more they start living up to your sinister image of them.

Rick Williams

A key element in improving relations is intellect. Bush is, well, Bush. McCain not only holds the same unpopular views but also appears to have significant problems remembering things like countries, what he just said, etc. Saying that "stupid begets stupid" may be an overstatement, but McCain will probably fall far short of the expectations of the leaders of a world power.

Snooky Lanson

The choice between Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain must be decided on far more important issues than how the rest of the world sees us as a result. Sorry, but who really cares if Poland or Jordan or Malaysia thinks we're idiots or swells? The incoming President will likely seat at least one new Supreme Court Justice; he will inherit an economy prone to inflation due to a mounting lack of confidence in the paper dollar; and he will be forced to weigh in on the notion that any fool who can survive crossing a desert is de facto welcome to stay in our country and be paid handsomely for doing so. These are the real issues, but I fear most will vote for the "new" guy--even though even he cannot tell us what he stands for, or is it that he won't?

Randy Wall

If recent articles I've seen about how much of Obama's contributions have come from overseas are true, then it seems like the Arab world will be happier if Obama is elected rather than McCain. But this is our country, and we should be more concerned with which candidate is going to be better for the American people, not for other nations. Let their own leaders determine their place in the global arena.

Roger F

I just don't get it. There are countries and people all around the world that want to see the end of our country, but we're supposed to bend over for them. I don't think so.

I hear lots of talk about hope, but I see no defined plans. "Hope" in one hand and crap in the other. See which one gets filled first.

The Pack

These times demand a strong but amicable stance. Obama will merely be seen as someone who can be negotiated around.


Obama's strength for future world affairs is that he has an intuitive understanding of nationalism from a global perspective, McCain doesn't. You can hear this contrast every time they speak. Obama has an inclusive world view that shows an understanding of his foreign and domestic audiences. McCain, like Bush, has a very narrow parochial view of the world--the kind that assumes every foreigner is a wannabe American. From my own experience, you don't learn this in college, the military, or short trips abroad, but rather you learn it during 5th grade recess living in another country, and then returning to your own. The best way to really understand nationalism is to do battle for your own country's honor on a 5th grade playground in another country, and then to come home and find yourself arguing against your own people's ignorance of foreigners. It's a variant of the famous book Everything I ever really needed to Know I learned in Kindergarten. I contend that Obama's time in Indonesia and return home to America has much to do with his much more mature world view.


What a broad assumption on your part by believing that interest dictates support. Curiosity does not equate to an affirmation of support. If you rely solely upon poll results, you are a bigger automaton than you are willing to admit. Polls can be slanted based upon the questions asked and demographics questioned. Unfortunately, pollsters seldom provide the raw data, just their results.

The next mistaken association is linking McCain with Bush. First, I would not label the Iraq campaign as a blunder. I have never been a member of our armed services, and I have never been to Iraq, but I have spoken with many soldiers who have spent considerable time in Iraq throughout the war period. In every instance a common theme has been consistent among those U.S. soldiers' responses--the general populations of Iraq are grateful for the actions by the United States, and their lives have improved dramatically. Blunder? If you label going in to a country with mixed intentions a blunder, maybe; if you call improving the freedom and quality of life for an entire country a blunder, we should support more blunders.

Your article continues to relate Bush's popularity to McCain's ability to lead international diplomacy. Obama will provide "instant wonders for the U.S. image abroad"? Right? Wrong.

If Obama were to become president, and evoke an immediate pull-out, the stability of the entire Middle Eastern region would be compromised. To dictate a specific timeframe in which this will happen, insight is stagnate. The United States withdrew from Iraq prematurely before, and the result was the genocide of many Kurds, failed diplomacy, and the rage of a dictatorial tyrant over the country of Iraq and war with Iran. The U.S presence will provide the developing government of Iraq the time it needs to establish the trust of the people of Iraq. Once the government of Iraq becomes self-sufficient, only then does it make sense for the U.S. to withdraw. Great leaders learn from history and apply these lessons to the present and future.

I too was curious about Obama when he announced his candidacy. Since, I have heard and learned more about his stances, and quite frankly, they scare me. Is McCain the perfect candidate? Far from it. I have been able to vote for the past 26 years, and this is the first election that my voting decision will be based upon the process of elimination, rather than the best candidate.

peter a. howley

Unfortunately, Obama is a featherweight based on just about any measurement. His economic policies if implemented by an all-too-willing Congress are a recipe for disaster. And as Russia is showing us daily, getting along with rogue states as President Bush has with Putin only encourages them. Every schoolyard bully knows who he can mess with and who to give some space. Yes, it's a great reflection on America that a black can be a candidate for President. But that is no reason to make him President if not qualified, and Obama is grossly unqualified by every measure. Leadership inexperience and naivete are dangerous.


Well, Borat would certainly make all nicey-nice with our enemies and practice sophisticated and nuanced diplomacy, which of course is the hallmark of the rest of the world. No doubt our "image" would improve. Who needs it? In the end, we and the Brits will still be the ones to have to take care of business while the rest of the oh-so-moral world moans.

J Michael

Learn why so many Republican legislators are scared by the idea of John McCain becoming President. Watch

P W Shaw

Barack is the Manchurian candidate, nothing more and nothing less. He will say anything in an excellent speaking voice, but he will not stand up to a true analysis of his beliefs.

There are those who say he withstood the Clinton barrage as evidence of his capabilities. However, I watched hours of Democratic debates, and what I witnessed was a general DMZ approach, wherein he was given a free pass on many issues. It took Saturday Night Live to bring this to the public attention as the media was unable to see it for themselves.

Barack offered to debate John McCain anywhere, anytime, on May 16, 2008, but then reneged on the offer when McCain took him up on it. For all of you die-hard supporters, why did he do this? Is it simply that Barack Manchurian Obama is not the man you think he is, without a TelePrompTer?

In the August 26 issue of BusinessWeek, Barack was quoted as stating that "Michelle and our girls are my first priority, and I do my best to ensure I can balance everything." I find this very interesting. In a recent piece by CNN, clearly not a conservative attack dog, Michelle Obama is quoted as saying that when Barack decided to focus on his career, it was a very trying time for the family. He was never around. Will the real Barack Manchurian Obama please stand up? The Manchurian Obama has been led to believe that he has lived the perfect unblemished life, but in the real unaltered world he is far from perfect and far from ready to be the POTUS.


Obama is the right president for the U.S.

Sondra Smith

Obama comes across to other countries as weak and wishy-washy. His stance on foreign policy and our safety, definetly scarey. Yes, we can talk to other countries, but I'm afraid of what he may be promising the dictators of the world.

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