World welcomes Obama with (mostly) open arms

Some think expectations may be too high for the new president.

Global reaction to Barack Obama's inauguration yesterday brimmed with optimism, though many cautioned that the new US president faces huge challenges – and vaulting expectations that will be hard to meet.

In an editorial titled "Let change be contagious," The Japan Times urged Tokyo to seize the chance to change a policy of "blindly following" its US ally, especially in the fight against terrorism.

With a new president at the U.S. helm, it is important that Japan shed its habit of passively following the course set by Washington....
If Japan merely obeys the will of the U.S. and ignores its own principles, it will not only arouse suspicion among neighboring countries but also invite disrespect from the U.S.

In the fishing village of Obama, Japan, a group of self-styled "Obama girls" performed a hula dance in honor of the president's state of birth, Hawaii, Agence France-Presse reported.

In China, Reuters and others reported that state-run TV station CCTV censored references to communism and dissent in its simultaneous translation of Mr. Obama's inauguration speech.

In an editorial in the China Daily, Yuan Peng wrote that Obama's administration and China "should make joint efforts to prevent potential problems from hijacking bilateral ties."

Yuan wrote that the two nations would face "thorny" economic issues and warned of possible trouble due to the US Democratic Party's close ties with the Tibetan leader-in-exile, the Dalai Lama, and because of US arms sales to Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a wayward province. "On the Tibet issue and the Taiwan question, the US should avoid intervention in China's internal affairs," Yuan wrote.

In an editorial titled "Morning, Mr. President," The Times of India noted the "enormous" challenges Obama faces, and urged him to shift the US military focus away from Iraq. "One war needs to be wound down responsibly while America's attention has to shift to the real battleground in Afghanistan and Pakistan."

In Iran, the Los Angeles Times quoted an aide to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying the Iranian president "planned to ignore televised coverage of the inauguration," due to Israel's invasion of Gaza.

"The tragedy in Gaza made him so upset and he is so preoccupied with Gazans' problems that he does not feel like being glued to the television," the advisor told The Times, speaking on condition of anonymity.
On Friday, Ahmadinejad called the Obama team "hostile" toward Gazans.

In Gaza itself, Agence France-Presse quoted a Gazan woman dismissing Obama's message of change.

"Obama won't bring my husband back to life," the Gazan woman, whose husband was killed during Israel's bloody offensive on the Palestinian territory, told Agence France Presse (AFP)....
Khalil, who lost her husband when Israeli bombs fell on a school in north Gaza, says the new American leader will not bring her back what she has lost.
"He was martyred and left me with six children to feed on my own," Khalil, 42, said of her late husband. "Obama won't repair our house that was damaged in the raids."

Reuters reported that many Arabs and Muslims who watched Obama's inauguration speech were hopeful that he would take a new approach to the Muslim world, though many said they would be fully convinced by his actions, not his words.

With some exceptions on the fringes, a clear majority said they welcomed a new tone from Obama, who promised relations based on mutual interest and mutual respect.

"This is a speech that reflected a new spirit of dialogue, reaching out and working together. This is a new direction that is certainly not what the Bush administration has been pursuing," said former Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher.

Writing in The Moscow Times, Fyodor Lukyanov warned that US-Russia relations will remain tense under Obama, due to the new US president's likely commitment to further NATO expansion, and his choice of Hillary Clinton as secretary of State.

The Clinton name brings up direct associations with the 1990s, a period Russian propaganda views as a black hole from which Moscow miraculously escaped. On the other hand, those in former President Bill Clinton's administration who were responsible for dealing with Russia cannot but help to experience an unpleasant aftertaste now.
The clash of those two opposing perceptions of the same events -- one Russian and the other American -- does not bode well for creating a climate of trust.

A 17-nation poll conducted for BBC found a high level of optimism that relations between the US and the rest of the world will improve under Obama, with 67 percent of those polled saying Obama would strengthen international relations.

Europe was the most optimistic, with almost 80 percent of respondents in Italy and Germany saying Obama would improve US foreign relations. Only two countries polled – Japan and Russia – had less than a majority share the general optimism.

In France, newspaper Le Monde quoted former presidential candidate and Socialist Party leader Ségolène Royal claiming that "I inspired Obama, and his team copied us."

In an opinion piece in the same paper, a writer identified as historian "Pascal P" argued that "saying his [Obama's] election is historic because of the color of his skin is itself simply racist."

When will we learn from our mistakes? It's time to move past the question of the color of one's skin, and to judge people based on their abilities alone, not on their outward appearance.

In Belgium, a cartoonist complained that Obama's good looks made him a far less enticing target for caricature than George Bush, Reuters reported.

"It's never a gift for a caricaturist to draw a handsome man," said Pierre Kroll, from Belgium, which prides itself on its comic book culture including Tintin.
"Somehow, we prefer overweight people, people with a beard, huge noses, ridiculous glasses ... If caricaturists could elect presidents, we would choose people with faces we enjoy drawing, and not a playboy like him," said Kroll.

The Spanish newspaper El Pais posted an interactive online guide to the new Obama administration.

In Brazil, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva over the weekend said he hoped Obama would talk to the leaders of Venezuela and Bolivia, who both had tension with the Bush administration, according to The Independent.

Mr da Silva said: "I see the fact that the American public voted in a black man as president... as an extraordinary sign, and I think that Obama must transfer this gesture of the American people into a sign of transcendence of American policy towards Latin America, respecting our sovereignty, our democracies."

In a commentary in Canada's Financial Post titled "More Bush than FDR," Terence Corcoran noted that the themes in Obama's inaugural "held close to themes that have dominated presidential inaugurals for many years – themes that reflect a lot more of George W. Bush than the legend of FDR ... the long line of liberals and progressives who think the new president will usher in a New New Deal may well be in for disappointment."

The website The Moderate Voice ran a sampling of cartoons about Obama from Canada, Sweden, and China.

A cartoon in The Times (of London) shows Obama in Superman garb lifting the entire globe out of a dark "Slough of Despond," with the caption below asking, "Are we expecting too much?"

Cartoonist "Matt" in the Telegraph depicts a man with a briefcase telling his wife, as she holds a newspaper with the word "Obama" on the front page: "Right, that's enough hope, I'm off to work."

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