DENVER — The 2008 U.S. presidential race pitting Democratic Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) against presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) has sparked intense international interest. For instance, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center showed 83 percent of Japanese citizens expressing interest in the campaign, compared to 80 percent of U.S. citizens. Of course, different issues pique the interests of different nations. CFR.org surveyed some representatives of the international press corps at the Democratic National Convention in Denver to find out which countries are interested in which issues.
What concerns the Danes most are the foreign policy issues. Denmark has been an ally of the United States, both in Iraq and Afghanistan, but there are a lot of Danes who are opposed to participating in the war there. That’s one of the key issues in Denmark.
A certain part of the Danish population is very anti-Muslim, and they also see the war against terror as a chance to fight for Western values against what they see as a Muslim uprising.
I’ve seen polls in Denmark that say nine out of ten Danes would prefer a Democratic president—whether Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama—to a Republican. Denmark is in many ways a very liberal country and has a hard time understanding the social conservatism that the Republican candidates represent on women’s issues, on gay issues, and so on. It’s about who the Danes can relate to on a cultural level and the Democratic candidates are more in sync with the Danes on that regard.
Brazilians are very interested in this election. We believe this is a special election for Latin America because it will [end] eight years of the Bush administration. Even if McCain is elected, he will have a different foreign policy than George W. Bush. It’s time to renew the alliance between Latin American countries and the United States.
The image of Obama is very powerful. A black man as a presidential candidate is something that can really change America’s image around the world. On the Republican side, John McCain is a hero of the Vietnam War so this is also very important for us because his policy regarding the Iraq war and Iran will [affect] the whole configuration of the world.
Brazilians are also very interested in trade. The Brazilian economy is growing. We’re in a very good moment, and the United States is a very important [trade] partner. The Republicans and the Democrats both have very protectionist trade policies, so we don’t really see a difference on this issue. But we see the possibility of negotiation with Obama because he’s said he will sit with everyone. This is a new attitude for a president. Maybe John McCain will do the same, but who knows.
One thing that many people in Mexico worry [about] is the economic way each of the candidates wants to face the issues. Barack Obama was talking about renegotiating the NAFTA accords and that is something that worries some part of Mexico. Others wanted them to be renegotiated because they are not comfortable with the accords, but I think that would be terrible for Mexico. Basically, what the candidates, both Barack Obama and John McCain, have been saying about economic issues scares [most Mexicans]. They’ve been very protectionist.
Mexicans are also paying a lot of attention to immigration issues. We know John McCain promoted a very important bill, but after he became the candidate he has not been that enthusiastic about fixing the immigration problem, and that’s something that worries us. With Obama, many people in Mexico think that he doesn’t even know what Mexico is. He went on a tour through Europe and the Middle East, but Mexico was not even on his map. So that’s something that worries us, to have the candidates again look towards other regions and forget Latin America. Whenever we have a State of the Union [speech] in Mexico, the president talks about the United States and the importance of the bilateral relationship. That’s something that usually doesn’t happen with U.S. politicians.
People are generally interested about the election, not really because they have specific issues they want to talk about, but out of curiosity that an African-American has won the nomination of a major party in the United States. It’s something very unusual; they’ve never seen this kind of thing before. They’re just interested and they want to know the outcome, they want to know if Obama will win the election, and they want to know what Americans think, and they want to understand how he was able to win the nomination in the first place.
Nigeria has always been a major U.S. ally in the African continent, so I would think that our president would expect that kind of relationship would continue if Obama wins the election, especially because his father is from Kenya. Under the George Bush administration, the relationship has been cordial, so I would expect that another Republican president would want that to continue as well. I don’t know what John McCain’s foreign policy would be; he appears to be quite aggressive. Nigerians will be looking at what he would do concerning the U.S. Africa Command, which has been a very controversial issue.
Nigeria also supplies 15 percent of U.S. oil needs, and oil will be an issue that will continue to be discussed.
I think it’s fair to say generally there’s a huge interest toward the U.S. election. It’s not so much the policy per se of the particular candidates, I think that has more to do with the lingering nomination process. We don’t have this long process.
The Japanese economy, of course, is a huge concern to the Japanese public, but it’s hard to discern [how] what’s going on in the U.S. presidential election affects the status of the Japanese economy. People are generally more interested in the political process.
If you’re talking about foreign policy there’s a general uneasiness about rising China. What kind of relations the United States has with China has a huge impact on the relations between the United States and Japan as well. That’s one of the biggest foreign policy issues. Another is North Korea, but if I look at the policies of Senator Obama and Senator McCain toward North Korea, there aren’t big differences.
I don’t think Kuwaitis are any different from most of the international community insofar as there’s a heightened interest in this election. Because the United States is still the number one superpower in the world today, it naturally means that the world is interested in what’s happening.
Because Kuwait has the history that it does with Iraq—it shares a border with Iraq—it’s naturally more interested in that. Much of what’s happening in Kuwait now is that they’re focused internally. The rulers of Kuwait are heavily involved in internal politics. In the past they haven’t had that luxury because they’ve had external threats. Probably the most prominent international issue for Kuwaitis is Iran. Iran remains a bigger question for the future and Kuwait is just across the water. There is a fear of Iranian aggression; historically there’s an Arabic-Persian [tension] that goes way back in history. Iran often makes bellicose statements about its neighbors.
This year was the first time, I think, that an American presidential campaign came to Germany. Barack Obama was in Berlin and there were [tens of thousands] of people to hear him talk. [The campaign] is a huge issue; it was before Obama’s visit and it still is. The reason is that most Germans are fed up with the present government and they really want change. I think 90 percent of Germans say in polls that they prefer Obama, so that’s a lot of excitement.
Iraq is an issue, of course. The war in Iraq has been very unpopular in Germany. Afghanistan is another issue. Germany is involved in Afghanistan; its army is there, but it’s not a very popular thing among Germans. Transatlantic relations is another big topic. It’s been kind of difficult, especially with the Bush administration. John McCain is well-known in Germany; he’s at the [security] conference every year in Munich and he’s seen as a pro-transatlantic type. But as for Afghanistan, Iraq, the war against terrorism, I think the choice of Germans would be Obama.