Wednesday, January 21, 2009

International Response to Inauguration

The NYTimes reports largely positive responses from around the world, as people throughout the globe hope that this change in power will mean a major shift in U.S.-Foreign Relations, particularly toward a more diplomatic (rather than shoot 'em down) approach.

Other responses have been a bit more subtle, such as China censoring the parts of Obama's speech in which he referred to Fascism and Communism as ideologies defeated not just by missiles and tanks, but by enduring convictions. They did not just object to being considered a defeated ideology, but lumping Communism with the much-reviled Fascism.

At the same time, there is skepticism about the Obama policy toward the middle east--basically with the historical situation that no matter who is in office the U.S. policy never really changes much--these were sentiments expressed in Lebanon and Egypt. Even in such skepticism, however, hope mixes with doubt. Europeans seem more optimistic, excepting Putin, who sees positive signs but warns against high expectations.

These responses from Germany and France respectively seemed interesting:

Matthias Weyland, 29, who works for an environmental organization said he felt a bit overwhelmed after watching President Obama’s address. “We Germans are not used to things being quite so emotional,” said Mr. Weyland. “Generally, I don’t have much hope for party politics, but this time I’ll wait and see,” said Mr. Weyland, citing Mr. Obama’s promise to close Guantanamo Bay as one of the most positive signs for the new president. “I found it very good in the speech that he included so many groups, not just different nations, poor nations, but within society, different religions, Muslims for instance.”

Hundreds of French and American guests crowded the main hall of the Hotel de Ville, as city hall is known, in the center of Paris, to watch the inauguration. The audience thundered or booed depending on who appeared on the giant screen at the end of the room. Al and Tipper Gore drew cheers, while Dan Quayle and Walter Mondale drew no sign of recognition. Jimmy Carter and later Bill Clinton were loudly cheered. Rick Warren was also booed.

Ambassador to France Craig Stapleton, speaking in French, said he saluted Mr. Obama’s victory because it represented that “a new generation is at the helm of the country and its new leader Barack Obama symbolizes that, well, that everything is possible in the United States.”

One of the things that struck the French was the overall religiosity of the inauguration. France is highly secular, and religion is seldom cited in the public sphere. Obama’s inclusion of “non-believers” in his address struck some as being notable, new, and important.

This last issue is something that was brought up in one of my postings yesterday--both the religious element of the inauguration ceremony (such as the invocation of God by nearly everyone, the two prayers, the use of a Bible to swear in, and, in fact, the invocation of God as part of the Oath of Office--the "so help me God"--and Obama's inclusion of a wider net of religious groups, including non-believers.

For these and more responses from around the world, including Kenya, see here.

Most of the international newspapers I read have already moved on, in a way. No longer responding to the inauguration itself, except with some pictures and transcripts, they have moved on to discussing Obama's first day--his phone calls to world leaders, particularly in the middle east, and his positions on Gaza and Guantanamo. That's at least what's going on in the London Times and Le Monde.

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