Global crises temper adulation Obama was given

Many taking a wait-and-see approach

By William J. Kole
Associated Press / January 19, 2009
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Barack Obama got a global standing ovation long before he was elected president. But in a fickle and fast-moving world, the overseas reviews are already turning mixed.

Though much of the world will party through the night tomorrow after Obama is sworn in as America's 44th president - just as it did when he was elected - there are signs the ardor is cooling as the sheer weight of his challenges sinks in.

A deepening global recession, new hostilities in the Middle East, complications in closing the Guantanamo Bay prison, Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan - an impatient world has a stake in all of them and is asking how much change Obama can deliver.

"Just two months ago, the future president seemed a cross between Superman and Merlin the magician," Massimo Gramellini wrote in a commentary for Italy's La Stampa newspaper. "Now he himself admits he won't be able to keep all his promises, and who knows? Maybe someone will ask for his impeachment by the end of next week."

"The idealism has diminished," said Samuel Solvit, who heads an Obama support network in France. "Everyone was dreaming a little. Now people are more realistic."

Muslims want to know why Obama hasn't joined the chorus of international criticism of Israel's offensive in Gaza. Last week posters of him were set on fire in Tehran to shouts of "Death to Obama!"

"By the time Obama takes office, hundreds or thousands more will be killed in Gaza and it will be too late for him to act," said Adel Fawzi, an Egyptian government clerk in Cairo.

Obama has expressed concern about Gaza, but says he is reluctant to say much more until his inauguration.

Meanwhile the global economic collapse is already closing in on him. Around the world, leaders and their publics are waiting to see what he does to calm roiled markets and restore confidence.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany both say they're confident the Obama administration will succeed in working with Europe and China to build a stronger global economy.

"He has a big vision of how America can contribute to the long-term prosperity of the world," Brown said.

"The chances of us working this out are good," Merkel said in Berlin, where Madame Tussauds rolled out a wax likeness of Obama to great fanfare.

Sweden's prime minister, Fredrik Reinfeldt, told Parliament last week he empathizes with the monumental challenges facing Obama.

"I think it's difficult to find an American president who is being met with such a number of expectations as Barack Obama," he said.

That's the problem, said Reginald Dale, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington: People everywhere simply expect too much, practically ensuring Obama will disappoint.

"The United States can't solve all the world's problems," he said in an interview. "It doesn't have enough money or military power. And the president is constrained by Congress and the constitution. The founding fathers wanted to stop someone from being like a monarch."

Dozens of developing countries rely on US foreign aid, which historically has been generous. But an administration preoccupied with keeping Americans from losing their homes and jobs may have to cut back on foreign assistance.

Even items on Obama's agenda that initially seemed straightforward are turning out to be fraught with complications, such as closing the Guantanamo Bay prison in eastern Cuba. Obama has hinted that it may be his first executive order - but analysts say it could take a year to accomplish.

Mexico has tempered its expectations that Obama will bring "transformational change" to the economy or quickly tackle immigration reform. As Agustin Carstens, Mexico's treasury secretary, put it: "At the end of the day, we have to be realistic."

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