Europe pinning hopes on Obama to repair US rift

By Catherine Field

PARIS - Europeans are eyeing United States election day with a passionate longing for victory by Senator Barack Obama after the catastrophic years of the Bush presidency.

If they had the chance to vote, Europeans, depending on their country, would plump for Obama by as much to four to one over Senator John McCain, according to opinion polls.

When Obama did a three-nation European tour in July, he was courted by top politicians as if he were already in office, and a crowd of 200,000 people in Berlin gave him a frenzied welcome.

Obama's many supporters describe him as an ideal candidate for repairing transatlantic ties after President George W. Bush, who destroyed goodwill in Europe like a pyromaniac in a paper mill.

"After eight years of the culturally alien, politically incompetent high-handed George W. Bush, the transatlantic relationship needs a positive figure with which it can identify more urgently than at any time in its history," says Thomas Klau of the European Council on Foreign Relations think-tank.

Obama "is definitely more capable of offering the Europeans a vehicle for their positive projections [of the United States] than the oddball John McCain."

Added to Obama's perceived freshness, humility and curiosity about the world is his advantage of skin colour, say European commentators.

To have a black president would help the US overcome the toxic legacy of racism and reinvent itself at a time of deepening crisis and flagging confidence.

"The Democratic candidate has clearly shown that he offers the better chance of restoring American self-confidence," the Economist of London says. Obama's victory "would salve, if not close, the ugly wound left by America's history."

And, to many in continental Europe's immigrant underclass, Obama's rise from poverty to the White House is a beacon of hope. In the Seine-Saint-Denis, a tough district in the Paris region, locals have set up an "Obama support committee," organising a petition to ask him to come to France, and dispatched 19 people to Washington in the hope of meeting him after his hoped-for election.

"People identify with him and his life story," says Jean-Claude Tchicaya of Devoirs de Memoire, an association that campaigns for French politics to bring in more people of Arab, African and other heritage.

Europe's nightmare experience with Bush dates back to March 2001, when he quit the Kyoto Protocol less than two months after taking office. The walkout by the world's biggest carbon polluter triggered shock and incomprehension among environmentally conscious Europeans that is hard to exaggerate.

Goodwill towards America returned after the September 11 terrorist attacks in 2001 but began to evaporate once more when Bush began the march to war on Iraq.

Factor in Europe's dislike of Guantanamo Bay, America's rejection of the International Criminal Court to try war criminals, Bush's plans to build a missile defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic, as well as a long string of trade squabbles, and European-US relations are at their lowest ebb since World War II.

McCain, compared to Bush, would certainly be a big improvement over Bush, in European eyes. The 72-year-old has long been committed on climate change, even in the face of deep hostility from within his Republican Party, and is a champion of free trade.

- NZ Herald

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