Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Falling Back in Love With America

(This is a delayed article, originally posted on WireTap.)

"Why do they hate us?"

These are no longer the words that come to most Americans' minds when talking about the world beyond the borders of the United States. After President Obama's first trip overseas, Americans can breathe easy when their leader goes to represent them in the cities of Europe or the Muslim world. Because instead of getting a pair of shoes thrown at him, this American president had endless cheers and seas of admirers following his every move.

President Obama has indeed charmed his way around the world. From Strasbourg to Istanbul, huge crowds came out to greet him, waving flags and hoping to shake his hand. In Prague alone, over 30,000 people waited for hours just to catch of glimpse of him and the First Lady before he gave a speech on nuclear proliferation. The president delighted European youth with a taste of home-grown American politics when he held town hall-style meetings in which he gave them - and not the ever-inquisitive journalists - the chance to ask questions about everything from American-European relations to the economic crisis. The Obama couple even (quite literally), “touched” the British royalty, with the President presenting an iPod to Queen Elizabeth, and the First Lady embracing her – an act that could have been a major breach of protocol. But instead, for the first time in her public career, the British monarch returned the embrace.

President Obama can’t seem to go wrong.

But despite his popular reception by most Europeans, there are many at home and abroad who are critical of the President’s first trip overseas. "I think there was relatively little coverage of policy, partly because no one wanted to shatter the dream," says Adam Boulton, the political editor of UK-based Sky News. Just like in America, critics are saying, people around the world are projecting their hopes onto President Obama – often at the expense of seeing the real man and his very real policies before them.

While such criticism isn’t unfounded, and is even necessary to keep the new American administration on its toes, it doesn’t acknowledge President Obama’s major achievement: this one man has managed to infuse people around the world with a renewed belief in … themselves. And that’s why the President is so popular outside the U.S. He doesn’t just signify a shift in the foreign policy of the world’s major superpower. He embodies the potential that all countries’ leaders and citizens have to steer their countries towards change and improvement.

The world has entered into a love affair with the new American president. Some are warning that it could end in heartbreak if his administration doesn’t deliver on his promises. But from what we’ve seen, the benefits from this relationship are worth the risk.

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