It is impossible to overstate the amount of goodwill Barack Obama has around the world. Seriously, he could invade Wales and the rest of the world would join in, figuring it was a righteous crusade. Poor Wales would be toast. (Or at least Rarebit.*)
In the tourist information center in Brussels, I picked up a local English-language guide, The Bulletin. On the cover was a picture of Barack Obama, getting off an airplane in Belgium. Wishful thinking and artful Photoshopping—he hasn't been to Belgium yet, but they're hoping he'll make it one of his first overseas stops, as is the rest of the world.
But with that goodwill comes enormous expectations. Today on the radio I heard a couple of economic experts discussing the financial crisis, which is as bad if not worse here than in America. When asked about the British government's announcement yesterday of an economic recovery plan, which includes reducing VAT by 2%, one economist moaned it wasn't enough. "We'll have to wait for Barack Obama to rescue us," he said, or words to that effect. He wasn't joking, either. The rest of the world is hoping against hope (yes, that pesky hope again) that Barack Obama will magically pull the economic equivalent of a rabbit out of his hat. Or at least appoint some very, very smart people to solve this crisis.
This world-wide love-in is a good thing. While Obama won't invade Wales, or hopefully any other country, this goodwill does give him a great deal of leverage that no other American president in memory has had. It's a very real possibility that Middle East peace could be achieved in this decade.
It's a 180-degree reversal from the George Bush era—enough to make an expat's head spin. Many of my friends have reported they're getting gushing praise from their British associates, who are suddenly ready to love Americans again. On CNN International, emailers suggested the Bush administration quit now and let the Obama administration have the reins of government immediately. They were serious, too. One even suggested we amend the constitution to make such a thing possible.
I don't remember how the world greeted the election of John Kennedy. Perhaps it was the same. But Kennedy didn't have the weight of the entire world and on his slender shoulders, unlike Barack Obama, who the world seems utterly confident will solve the financial crisis.
Perhaps the honeymoon won't last. Perhaps Santa Claus isn't real either. But it sure is nice to have the respect of the world again. Seriously.