Blake Hounshell writes for Foreign Policy on a question America in the World has explored in our launch poll and a web briefing: will Barack Obama end anti-Americanism and bridge the transatlantic divide?
"The foreign-policy pundits’ usual stern reminder is that Obama will inevitably disappoint. And indeed he might: No politician could possibly live up to the lofty expectations the Democratic candidate set for himself in Berlin. Defeating terrorism, eliminating nuclear weapons, saving the planet from climate change—these are just a few of the ambitious goals Obama laid out in Berlin."
America in the World's launch poll of 2,000 Britons supported this 'stern reminder' - it suggested that high expectations of Obama on issues such as Iran and climate change would, if dashed, significantly impact his global popularity. But Houshell argues that European expectations are shallower and less grounded in the hope of objective policy outcomes:
"Where the pundits go wrong, however, is in assuming that Europeans will become disillusioned when President Obama doesn’t meet their expectations. Take the issue of climate change, where, as far as Europe is concerned, the major substantive policy difference between Obama and Bush lies. Obama’s plan calls for an 80 percent reduction in U.S. emissions from 1990 levels by 2050. It sounds great in theory, and scientists say drastic measures are exactly what is needed.
"Now count the votes in the U.S. Senate for such a radical proposal. The latest version of the Lieberman-Warner climate change bill died a painful death, and it was far less ambitious, positing a 65 percent reduction from current levels—which are already far higher than they were in 1990. But NASA climate scientist James Hansen, who has been uniquely prescient on the global warming issue, argues that the current consensus target for stabilizing carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere, 450 parts per million (ppm), is already too high, and we must bring that number down to 350 ppm. The measures needed, according to Hansen, are extraordinary. But Europeans—who have generally reduced their emissions under the Kyoto Protocol but not by the daunting amount needed—seem satisfied with Obama’s good intentions, just as they were with Bill Clinton and Al Gore’s wildly unsuccessful, halfhearted attempts to get the United States to adopt Kyoto.
"The evidence, in short, suggests that European publics will be happy to again have a U.S. president who makes all the right noises. After all, how much do ordinary French, Germans, Italians, and others really know about Obama’s policies or how American politics works?"
See also our web briefing: Will anti-Americanism end if Barack Obama becomes President?