"Prince America": The Old World Annoints a "New World" Leader

Sen. Barack Obama is back on American soil, but his tour through the Mideast and Europe cemented the presidential hopeful’s international rock star appeal.

Criticisms of Obama’s appearances abroad were few and far between. Foreign newspapers and journalists offered praise for Obama’s trip abroad and his speech to 200,000 Berliners at the Victory Column in Berlin.

Just how much did they like him?

Sixty-two percent of Germans approved of Obama’s appearance and praised his speech in Berlin, according to a poll conducted for the Sunday paper Bild am Sonntag by Emnid. Only 19 percent of Germans didn’t like Obama’s speech.  A whopping 63 percent think an Obama presidency would be good for Germany compared to 20 percent who don’t.

Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who had vetoed the Obama campaign’s initial plan to have their candidate speak at the historic Brandenburg Gate, said his speech “sent a positive signal” to Europe.

Obama was greeted with the headline “Prince America Embraces Berlin” by one German paper, and the German tabloid Bild sent one of their female reporters to stalk the senator at the gym.

The German Weekly, Die Zeit, has an entire section of its website devoted to the U.S. election, but the page looks like a montage of Obama’s greatest hits from his foreign tour, photos included.

The UK’s Times Online site, while it has a little more coverage of McCain, is also awash in Obamamania.  A poll in Britain found that Obama would trounce McCain 5 to 1 if the English had their say.

Amid the glitz and glam of the appearances, some Europeans used Obama’s visit and and his historic candidacy to turn a mirror on themselves. Horst Teltschik, a former adviser to ex-Chancellor Helmut Kohl, told Spiegel Online that Obama’s appearance allowed Germans to examine their own prejudices.

“Obama’s German supporters should now ask themselves if they would be prepared to elect a black German as chancellor, thereby pulling down the social walls that Obama also talked about,” he said.

In France, where President Sarkozy declared that the country would be “delighted” to see a President Obama, social critics highlighted disparities between Obama’s popularity and the limits of minority political representation in that country.

After Obama secured the Democratic nomination, a French civil rights group, the Conseil Représentatif des Associations Noires, issued a statement decrying the absence of similar figures in French politics, the Politico reported in early July. “What black candidate could stand for the French presidency with a chance of being elected that is equal to that of a white?” the group’s statement asked.

The excitement seeped past the borders of the EU. One paper in Turkey declared that Obama’s Berlin speech, which focused on the historic partnership between the United States and Europe, had something in it for Turks as well.

The Turkish Daily News said the speech was a “Soaring Call for Unity,” and declared that though Obama didn’t mention Turkey the speech was pertinent to them anyway: “While Obama made no direct reference to Turkey’s EU aspirations, he did warn against isolationism and the anti-immigrant sentiment that has swept Europe in recent years.”

One strong objection to Obama’s visit came from Palestinian writers, some of whom felt slighted that the presidential candidate praised and sympathized with Israel but said little about Palestinian hardships.  The New York Times ran a story saying Muslims in the Mideast “see more of the same” if Obama were elected because Muslims believe that the United States will always support Israel over the Palestinians regardless of who is president.

In ethnic Palestinian news outlets, an American human rights worker living in the West Bank criticized Obama’s failure to acknowledge Palestinian suffering. The letter appears in the Palestinian Chronicle, a Washington-based Palestinian newspaper.

To the extent that the international press appeared mostly mesmerized by Obama, an essay in London’s Times, a Rupert Murdoch-owned paper, offered a tongue-in-cheek retelling of Obama’s great international journey as an epic biblical quest. And by the weekend, the same paper followed with a dousing of cold water on the euphoria, with a headline saying “Obama’s Foreign Tour Loses Him Ground Back Home.”  The headline stretched the truth: while Obama’s numbers dropped in a few battleground states, according to the Quinnipiac poll, they have also improved overall, according to Gallup.

These polls are nonetheless a reminder that, as much as the world would like a say in who becomes the next American president, it’s ultimately up to the Americans to decide.

“Many people in Europe look upon Senator Obama as the president-elect, but that’s not correct. It is going to be a very close election,” senior Obama advisor Lee Hamilton warned before Obama went abroad.

With only 99 days left until the presidential election, his words have the ring of truth.