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How the world views Obama at one year

While Obama remains a ‘rock star’ in many countries, skeptics don’t see much tangible change in US policy.

By Staff writer / January 14, 2010

A protester with a message for Barack Obama took part in a demonstration outside the venue for the global climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.

Peter Dejong/AP

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If there was anything Germans wanted most from Barack Obama in the first year of his presidency, it was action at the climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark. They knew the new American president represented change.

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That’s why some 300,000 Germans gathered near Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate when candidate Obama gave his main foreign-policy speech there in July 2008. (President Bush’s last state visit to Germany a month earlier was ghostlike – a media-free visit outside Berlin.)

Last summer, Germans cheered President Obama when he agreed at the Group of 8 summit to a limit of 2 degrees C on global warming. Green Party adviser Bastian Hermisson quipped it was “a giant leap for the US and one small step for mankind.”

Yet in the hapless aftermath of Copenhagen, German attention fixated not on a US president failing to spin a miracle deal, but on China’s ability to control the outcome. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s repeated “No” in the key meetings was seen by many in Berlin as a historic shift – to a world in which transatlantic power is constrained and rising powers from Brazil to South Africa have new clout.

A year after the ebullient inauguration of America’s first president of color, the perception abroad of Obama is tempered by a recognition of the limits on his power. On Nov. 4, 2008, Obamamania reached such planetary peaks that it was widely felt he was elected president of the world. Dominique Moisi, a leading French intellectual, called it a “Copernican shift” in perceptions about the United States.

Indeed, as a symbolic figure, Obama remains, a year later, an inspiration, a “rock star,” a Jack Kennedy with African roots. He isn’t particularly liked in Israel and Russia. But his approval ratings in Africa, Europe, and Asia are strong. Obama’s poll-sapping criticism inside America from “tea party” Republicans doesn’t get great mention abroad.