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US Presidential Election Generates Interest Around the World


It seems that the best gift that an American could offer a European or an African these days is a Barack Obama button or a Hillary Clinton T-shirt. After eight years of the Bush administration, people in the United States and around the world seem to be ready for change. Yosemin Congar, assistant editor of the Turkish newspaper Taraf expresses the feeling of many people around the world when she explains why this year's U.S. election is different:

“Because this year there is such a rivalry between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and because everyone in Turkey expect a Democratic candidate to become the next president," she said. "They are really very much interested in what's going on in the primaries.”

Matthias Reub of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says that the Europeans are crazy for Obama and Tom Mshindi, Managing Director of the Monitor newspaper in Eastern Africa shares this sentiment saying that for Africa, this is an emotional issue. "For obvious reasons. One of the leading democratic contenders for the position has African roots, specifically Kenyan roots. There is a very strong feeling of ownership there about Senator Barack Obama,” he said.

Be it Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton or John McCain, one of the biggest changes everybody expects from a new president is a new course in Iraq. But as Matthias Reub of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, points out, whoever wins the White House, he or she, will likely inherit the remaining issues as well. Like Afghanistan or international trade.

“Obama in one of his rallies in Texas already mentioned that it's not going to be OK that the Americans and the Brits and the Dutch and the Danes are doing the heavy lifting in Afghanistan and countries like Germany and Spain have their troops deployed in more quiet North,” Reub said.

Yosemin Congar agrees that the next president will likely wind up grappling with the same set of difficult choices, but the tone, and the atmosphere in Washington will change.

“I personally do not expect an overnight change in foreign policy. But I think the rhetoric will change, the personalities will change in Washington,” she said.

Speaking of rhetoric, some analysts warn that the words coming from the Democratic candidates smack of populism, especially when it comes to international trade. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama want to improve America's international reputation by advocating trade, yet campaign against NAFTA-the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Still, Marcela Sanchez, South American correspondent for the Washington Post, is not worried.

“This is a season when both candidates try to appeal to their base. So the candidates have to say that kind of stuff like they will renegotiate NAFTA," said Sanchez. "At the end of the day, it will probably not happen.”

When asked how she felt about talking to your enemy like Cuba's Raul Castro, as Barack Obama advocates, Marcela Sanchez says that such an approach is long overdue.

“Well, that would be a breath of fresh air after the kind of policy that has been coming out of Washington for almost five decades.” she said.

On the other hand, in the Middle East, and especially in Israel, Nathan Guttman, Washington Bureau Chief of the Jewish daily Forward, says people are more careful about embracing a policy of openly talking to your foes.

”Israeli policy is kind of vague when it comes to talking to Iran," he said. "Israel wants a hard-line against the Islamic Republic and Israel feels that Iranian threats are its most significant threats in the next decade or so.’

What the Russian public likes most about the U.S. elections is their openness and unpredictability.

“In most countries of the world the party candidates for president are decided behind closed doors," said Igor Zevelev, Washington Bureau Chief of RIA Novosti, the Russian News and Information Agency. "In the United States this process is very open, transparent and democratic from the very beginning. Many Russians follow it very, very closely because they are fascinated by the unpredictability of its outcome.”

Whatever the outcome - there is no question that the fascination with the U.S. presidential election will continue. But while the dominating theme of the 2008 election is change, when it comes to foreign policy, the new president -- Democrat or Republican -- may not have as much room to maneuver as he or she would like.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.

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