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Voting for Change

November 4, 2008

As Americans vote for their next president, DW's Peter Philipp comments that this election is not just about the future of the United States, but the future of people everywhere in the world.


When US citizens elect their new president on Tuesday, they'll hardly allow themselves to be influenced by considerations about Europe, let alone Germany. If they think of countries outside the United States, then it will be those countries we, unfortunately, tend to lump together: Iraq in first position, of course, then, maybe, Afghanistan, Iran, and Israel and the Palestinian territories. In contrast, the world, and Europe in particular, is showing such enormous interest in the US election that you'd almost think our own future is in the balance.

That's not such a misleading impression. After all, globalization and the latest financial crisis have taught us how dependent we are on each other, and how quickly we begin to sneeze once the flu's broken out on the other side of the Atlantic. That's why it's in our most basic interest that appropriate security measures are taken in the US: in the financial sector, the economy, in environmental questions and, of course, in the area of military and foreign policy. The current occupant of the White House did not perform well on any of these fronts. At the end of his term in office, the world is not a better place. It's actually in an even more desolate condition than before.

First and foremost, the reputation of the United States has suffered -- not just in Europe, but the world over. It was unfair to project criticism of George W. Bush onto all Americans -- those people that we actually like and who, in so many ways, have served as role models and idols for us. That also goes for many Arabs and Iranians, who currently view Bush's America as the enemy, but who secretly continue to dream of the American way of life. While they have no desire to be kicked around and disparaged by Washington, what Europeans want is to once again have a partner in the US with whom they can discuss and jointly solve -- or at least attempt to solve -- problems.

Under George W. Bush, this became less and less possible. Washington went its own path, without worrying about its allies, and with no consideration for the United Nations or international conventions.

This largely explains the yearning for change in the US -- and the intense interest in whether or not this election day will deliver that change. Numerous polls have shown the protagonist of change to be Barack Obama, the darling of most Europeans. Many in the Islamic world are also hoping for an Obama victory, as he represents a new beginning -- a fresh start that would make it possible for us to look each other in the eye with mutual respect, and perhaps, one day, with friendship. He represents the hope that the next time the president comes to visit, we won't have to weld manhole covers shut and clear entire streets, but can instead watch as the president mingles with the crowds, like Obama did this summer in Berlin.

These hopes might come off as a bit naive, perhaps because Obama may not be able to fulfill them all. But they are an expression of the weariness people feel about the current state of relations with the US. They're also an expression of the deep hope that a new, better day will break with this election. The election might "just" be about choosing the next US president, but Europe -- and other regions around the globe -- is only too aware that they're also about its own future.

Peter Philipp is Deutsche Welle's chief correspondent (dc)

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