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Abroad, fresh image of U.S.

Many see Obama, Clinton successes as fitting the ideals of US democracy and diversity.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / January 10, 2008

Who's The One? Japanese watched the results of the New Hampshire Democratic primary in Tokyo Wednesday.

Shizuo Kambayashi/AP



Regardless of which Democrat pulls ahead as the candidates race toward Nevada and South Carolina, the rapid political rise of a Harvard-educated Illinois senator with a Kenyan father is bringing ripples and some tides of excitement in the near and far corners of a weary world.

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It's clear that the buzz around America's first realistic black candidate has fed the imagination of many non-US observers, who see the controversial superpower as offering something different.

The image of a young, lanky African-American who combines charisma and a sense of nobility vying with a high-powered woman senator for the planet's most powerful office lends a feeling of history and symbolizes the democracy and diversity that many abroad want to see as America's significant contribution.

"Whether it is Hillary or Obama, what the world is seeing is a new America in these candidates," says James Hooper, a former US diplomat now at the Public International Law and Policy Group in Washington.

"[Barack Obama is] what the rest of the world dreams America can be," says JacquesMistral, a transatlantic specialist and director of economic studies at the French Institute for International Relations in Paris. "He looks like a Kennedy type, and that he's black is very new. In Europe, the idea that a woman can win is accepted. But for a black person to win would represent a radical change – for the US, and the world."

It is too early to say that "Obama-mania" is sweeping the planet, particularly after the junior senator's second place showing in New Hampshire. The public in Europe and Asia have only recently focused on Mr. Obama, though in Africa he's been news for some time.

But in a world where nearly every poll shows America's image seriously dragging after the Iraq war onset, and scant interest in Republicans, Obama has made a significant splash, especially among the young. In Germany, which still swoons over JFK, he's been called a "black Kennedy" – though as in much of Europe, German opinion is divided between the "experience" brought by Sen. Hillary Clinton, and the "charisma" of the newcomer who won the Iowa caucus.