Israel and the Palestinians
Two weeks ago, Randi Mellman Oze, 54, printed off her absentee ballot paper, marked a cross next to Mitt Romney‘s name, sealed the envelope and took it to the post office to send it back to the US.
A lifelong Democrat voter until she came to live in Israel five years ago, changing her political stance had been “a very big deal” to her.
“I was always a Democrat, and my family are all Democrats. But I don’t feel Obama has Israel’s best interests at heart,” she said. “Instead of concentrating on sanctions against Iran in the first two years of his presidency, he made nice to them and he put pressure on Israel. If he hadn’t followed this policy, we would not now be on the brink of war with Iran.”
She is among up to 250,000 American-Israelis entitled to vote in Tuesday’s US presidential election, the majority of whom are believed to be backing the Republican candidate.
Polls of all Israelis, not just immigrants from the US, have shown a majority in favour of ousting Obama and installing Romney in the White House.
The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is widely perceived to be rooting for a Romney victory, against all protocol. Many commentators have accused him of interfering in internal US politics in his eagerness to see an ideological soulmate in the White House.
Relations between Obama and Netanyahu have been severely strained by the Israeli leader’s insistence on a tougher US stance on the Iranian nuclear programme, which the US has resisted. Romney is seen as more hawkish on this issue. But he is also even less inclined to push Israel towards allowing the Palestinians an independent state – another factor endearing him to Netanyahu.
The opposition leader, Shaul Mofaz, publicly accused the prime minister of trying to influence the outcome of the election. “Israeli meddling in internal US affairs and turning the US administration from an ally to an enemy has caused us severe damage,” he told the Israeli parliament.
Some commentators have warned that a re-elected Obama could seek a payback for what is regarded as Netanyahu’s transparent support for his opponent. Netanyahu rejected accusations of interference, saying they were “completely groundless”.
Israel has figured strongly in the candidates’ own campaigns. According to Eytan Gilboa, a specialist in US-Israel elections at Bar-Ilan University, “never in the history of US presidential elections has Israel occupied such a prominent place”.
This, he said, had been largely driven by Republicans, who “thought if they can move a few percent [of Jewish voters] into their camp it could have a positive result in a very close election”.
He added: “Some in Israel are happy that the candidates are competing over who is the biggest supporter of Israel. But this is a negative development. It would be much better for Israel to enjoy bi-partisan high level support.”
Palestinians are watching the election campaign with cynicism. Many feel badly let down by Obama’s failure to force progress towards a Palestinian state, but they also know that Romney is unlikely to be a friend to their cause.
“Obama is not a saviour, and Romney will not be a devil,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation executive committee. “Neither one is a free agent; there is a US policy of bias and support for Israel.” said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation executive committee.
Those who expected a re-elected Obama to “suddenly develop a backbone and stand up to pressure” were likely to be disappointed, she said.
Harriet Sherwood, Jerusalem
Obama’s election provoked euphoria in his ancestral village in Kenya, as well as among African governments who scented a chance to move up the US’s list of priorities.
Four years later, there is largely a sense of deflation and, judging by column inches in the press, somewhat less enthusiasm for this year’s presidential race. Sub-Saharan Africa has barely been mentioned in the campaign and the feeling of apathy is mostly mutual.
Yet residual loyalty to Obama remains deep and, if Africa’s billion citizens got to vote, it seems likely he would win by a landslide.
“Four years ago there was so much hope in this country,” said Boniface Mwangi, a photographer and political activist whose office in Nairobi, Kenya, is decorated with Obama’s image in life-size cardboard replica. “Now we’re no longer that hopeful and asking where did we go wrong. I thought Barack Obama would do well for Africa but I’m ashamed to say that George Bush did more. Obama has done nothing for us. People are very mad, especially in Kogelo, his family village: they’re still expecting some kind of handout from [him]. I hope his second term plans will include Africa; otherwise he’s a scumbag and a hoax.”
Kenya is preoccupied with its own elections. Yet despite everything, Mwangi, who took out a bank loan to be in America for Obama’s historic 2008 win, hopes that he will repeat the feat. “He’s more progressive than Romney in every way. Romney will be bad for America and the world. He’s shallow and slimy, like a car salesman selling junk.”
Obama, who once hailed the “blood of Africa within me”, has spent only 20 hours on sub-Saharan African soil since becoming president (it was a stopover in Ghana in between summits elsewhere).
By contrast, the president of China, Hu Jintao, has made seven trips to Africa, five as head of state, and visited at least 17 countries, according to the Brookings Institution.
But the Democrat remains way ahead of Romney in terms of brand recognition. Shehu Sani, an author and human rights activist in Nigeria, said: “Not many people in Africa know who Romney is and what he stands for and what he is capable of doing.
“Almost everyone knows who Obama is for the very fact that he is partly an African and there is still hope he will do something for Africa as far as peace, stability and economic development is concerned. There is a saying, ‘better the devil you know’. If we haven’t seen the actions, we have seen the intentions, so we give him the benefit of the doubt. We hope the second term will be better.”
Commentators note that Obama’s principal African focus has been security, for example in combating Islamist militancy in Somalia, with pragmatism based on American self interest.
Ousseynou Bissichi, a guide at the African Renaissance Monument, in Dakar, Senegal, who points out to tourists that his workplace is taller than the Statue of Liberty, said: “A lot of people in Africa thought Obama would be the president of Africa. Go to any centre in Africa four years ago and people were celebrating.
“Later we realised he’s an American president, not an African president. Even George Bush did more for Africa and he’s a white man. Bill Clinton did, too.”
Yet Bissichi also remains loyal to Obama. “In Africa, we like the Democrats more than the Republicans. We think they have more humanity than the Republicans. Mitt Romney is a very rich guy. Even in America, people think he knows nothing about poverty and misery.”
Some admit that Africa’s hopes for the president were impossibly high. Asked if he had lived up to expectations, Michael Amankwa, an entrepreneur in Accra, Ghana, said: “I think he has to a large extent, even though some might have been a bit disappointed. He came in with too much star power, which raised the bar very high for him. Some also understand that he inherited a bad situation with the economy and so on.”
South Africa, the continent’s “superpower”, has hosted the US’s first lady, Michelle Obama, but still awaits the photo opportunity of America’s first black president meeting Nelson Mandela.
Karabo Kgoleng, a radio presenter in Johannesburg, said: “I think it is disingenuous for Africans to expect anything from any American president. He is not African. He is American and his most important priority is the American people not the Africans.
“I think Africans rejoicing at his making it to office came from the need for a psychological boost as well as an indication of Africans buying into the American dream – that one’s roots can be African and one can succeed in life, with those roots. Africans need to hold their own leaders to account before pinning their hopes on anyone else. Obama owes Africa nothing.”
David Smith, Africa correspondent
The Obama-mania that swept Europe four years ago has faded fast amid transatlantic rows over the euro crisis, the administration’s failure to deliver on its promise to close down Guantánamo Bay, and the waning attention paid to Europe by the US.
But despite the fact that the centre-right remains in the ascendancy across most of Europe, disaffection with Barack Obama is not translating into support for Mitt Romney.
Quite the opposite. There is strikingly little support for the Republican contender whose gaffe-prone visit to Europe in July won him few friends and who regularly turns European welfarism and “entitlement societies” into points of mockery in his campaign speeches.
According to the New York Times, European diplomats in Washington have been discreetly lodging complaints with the Romney camp about the candidate’s criticism.
An opinion poll last month showed widespread dislike of Romney, and residual, if no longer starry-eyed, support for Obama among Europeans.
Just 5% of those polled in France, Germany, and Britain had a good opinion of Romney. Only 4% of Germans polled said a President Romney would make them better-disposed towards the US, while 12 times that figure took the opposite view. Two in five French people said a Romney victory would turn them more against the US, while only 5% said they would be happier with him in the White House.
By contrast 87% of Germans said they would vote for Obama, while in France 67% described him as their president of choice.
The ongoing German love affair with Obama started in July 2008 when the would-be president was famously denied the chance to speak at Berlin’s Brandenburg gate by the chancellor, Angela Merkel, and opted instead for the roundabout at the Victory column where thousands gathered to hear him speak, cementing his celebrity status in Berlin at least.
Exploring why Obama’s popularity had endured despite certain disappointments, Friedrich Mielke, said the president was viewed by Germans as a “dove of peace”.
The publicist and American expert said: “We love him because we can project our own hopes and desires on to him,” he said. Most people here see him as a leader of the free world, who combines intelligence and strength of character with charm and rhetorical lustre.”
Romney, by contrast, was viewed as a “locust capitalist”, he said, who “spreads social frigidity and egoism”.
It appears that Europeans see Romney as a return to the days of George W Bush who was hugely unpopular on this side of the Atlantic.
Romney has hardly sought to endear himself with Europeans, holding the EU up as a failed model and implicitly accusing Obama of being a closet “European” – big government, social welfare, and “entitlement” culture.
Ian Traynor, Europe editor, and Kate Connolly in Berlin
China’s elite would normally be watching the election more closely. But with its own once-a-decade leadership transition beginning days after the US votes, it has other matters on its mind.
For many in China, the election is of relatively limited interest. Some will follow results avidly, but others are only concerned about the impact on China.
“I like Obama’s style. He is a very charming guy … Romney seems quite aggressive,” said Beijing-based marketing researcher Ming Ming, adding: “I’m more concerned about who will have better policy towards China.”
Zheng Jihua, an entrepreneur, said: “I don’t think it makes much difference whether it’s Obama or Romney.”
Despite the tough-talking on tackling China during debates, he said: “The economic connections [between the countries] matters more than political things. If they become president they will be more realistic.”
China is used to playing its part in US presidential races. “It’s an old story, China becoming a political card to play in US elections. This year, Romney and Obama seem to be playing it more heavily,” an editorial in the populist state-run Global Times said last month.
But Shi Yinhong, an expert on Sino-US relations at Renmin University, said most people were more concerned by issues such as tensions with Japan over disputed islands.
“For those who are paying attention, I guess they may feel both sides are not so nice towards China,” he said. “I think maybe in government and the foreign policy elites they feel the lesser evil is still Barack Obama because they’re familiar with him.
“If you look at the campaign statements, Romney has been much more combative in terms of US economic rivalry.”
Shen Dingli, director of the Centre for American Studies at Fudan University, disagreed. He argued that while China did not officially have a preference – due to the country’s doctrine of non-interference in other nations’ domestic affairs – in reality it leant to Republicans.
“The Republicans are pro-development, pro-foreign trade, pro-efficiency, pro-capitalism,” he said, and were unlikely to push hard for cuts to China’s carbon emissions, while Democrats “are pro-American poor people and want to protect jobs”.
Shen added: “People claim if Romney is in power, the next day he will tackle China for manipulating the currency. It’s a joke. Romney will be China’s best friend because he will not honour his threats.”
Experts say tough talk from US candidates is rarely matched by their action once in office. Even so, Shi warned that in general “Sino-American rivalries have become more profound and sometimes more tense.”
Tania Branigan, Beijing
“Which one is better for Iran, Obama or Romney?” asked Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, a political activist and leader behind the US embassy hostage-taking after the 1979 Islamic revolution.
“The answer is not very difficult,” he said, during the television debate. He was insinuating that Iran should be worried about the prospect of Romney winning.
Asgharzadeh, who is now sympathetic to reformists, suggested Iran should play a role in helping Obama stay in office. “We influenced American elections back at the time of Reagan [with negotiations over hostage crisis] and we can do it now. Iran can influence with a surprise.”
Iranians are closely following the election. There is concern that a Romney victory will significantly increase the possibility of an Israeli military strike against the regime’s nuclear facilities, and weaken the prospect of a possible breakthrough in negotiations between Tehran and the west. The Obama administration, by contrast, is keen to give sanctions more time to bite.
“The US election results can potentially change the fate of my country,” said an Iranian journalist based in Tehran. “Many activists and those with access to internet or [illegal] satellite dishes are watching it closely.”
Iranian state agencies are reporting the developments of Obama-Romney campaigns but with little commentary. Iranian officials, however, say that the outcome is immaterial to Iran.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s president, while speaking among to reporters in New York during a visit to the UN general assembly last month, refused to show support to either candidate.
Ali Larijani, Iran’s speaker in parliament, said a Romney win would not be a threat. In his view, the governor’s support for Israel’s possible attack amounted to little more than campaign rhetoric.
Saeed Kamali Dehghan
With anti-Americanism creeping back to the forefront of political rhetoric in Moscow, many in Russia slyly smiled when Romney this year called Russia “our No 1 geopolitical foe”.
Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, said the remark showed Romney was “open and sincere”. He added: “That Romney considers us enemy No 1 and apparently has bad feelings about Russia is a minus, but, considering that he expresses himself bluntly, openly and clearly, [this] means he is an open and sincere man, which is a plus
“We will be oriented toward pluses, not minuses. And I am actually very grateful to him for formulating his position in a straightforward manner.”
The statement harked back to Soviet times, when Russia’s leaders preferred dealing with Republicans – who were seen as straight-talking, if tough – to Democrats, seen here as masking their anti-Russian stance behind talk of human and civil rights, viewed with suspicion inside Russia.
Maria Lipman, an expert at the Moscow Carnegie Centre, said: “Particularly after the expulsion of the USAid, Washington’s international aid agency, the Kremlin is now too committed to a path of using its old cold war foe as a bogeyman to consolidate wavering domestic support. Anti-American rhetoric in Russia has gone too far to shift easily now.”
Nor has there been much effort from the US presidential candidates to address policy towards Russia except for cheap point scoring, she added, and the next occupant of the White House was unlikely to seek to introduce any significant changes.
Romney even appears in private to be backpedalling on his “number one geopolitical foe” comment. He used his son, Matt Romney, to pass a placatory message to Putin last month during a business trip to Moscow, according to a recent report in the New York Times.
Many Russians have little interest in the race going on in the US, remaining sceptical that it can influence their lives.
In a suburban train heading into Moscow on Friday evening, there was widespread indifference. “Honestly, I don’t care,” said Sergei Chernenko, a 23-year old barman, adding that the election’s outcome was irrelevant.
Irina Kaidina, an accountant, concurred. Her son lived in New York, she said, but she couldn’t remember the name of Barack Obama’s challenger.
Assistant engineer Nikolai Kuprianov, 32, however, said he had been following the presidential campaign. “Obama would, of course, be a better choice in terms of attitudes towards Russia but Americans have never loved Russia and they only want us for our natural resources,” he said.
Obama had made the “reset” in relations with Russia an early foreign policy priority, but with recent disagreements over Syria, plus Moscow’s accusation that the US stands behind opposition protests against Putin, what was once hailed as a success is now seen as dead.
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said as much in an interview published this week: “If we talk about the ‘reset’, it is clear that, using computer terminology, it cannot last forever. Otherwise it would not be a ‘reset’ but a program failure”.
Among Russia’s chief concerns are energy policy – Putin’s ability to govern rests on a high oil price, analysts say – and US plans for missile defence in Europe, which it opposes but both candidates support.
Miriam Elder and Howard Amos
The US elections have serious implications for Pakistan and policy making, but that is not reflected in popular debate or discussion.
While government officials complain that there is little chance of key issues, such as efforts to draw the Taliban into a political process, being dealt with before the the election, public interest in the contest is virtually nil.
Perhaps that is not surprising with anti-Americanism appearing to be at an all-time high in Pakistan.
There has been little media interest in the campaign, with some of the most recent reports about the US president concerning the burning of effigies of him to protest against a blasphemous anti-Islam film posted on YouTube.
There is certainly none of the enthusiasm Obama mustered in the Muslim world in 2008, said Munawar Hasan, president of the conservative Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami.
“After the last four years people now know that Americans are Americans and George Bush and Barack Obama are two sides of the same coin,” he said, damning US policy on the region, including the sharp increase in drone strikes and the troop surge in Afghanistan. No one is interested in this election because, whoever wins, US foreign policy is not going to change.”
Some suspect the country’s military establishment may harbour a stronger desire to see the back of Obama as his administration, in sharp contrast to that of George Bush (and Republican governments in general), was not afraid of playing rough with Pakistan, even at the expense of humiliating its armed forces.
The May 2011 raid to kill Osama bin Laden within Pakistani territory still haunts the army and the country has struggled to cope with the massive increase in US drone attacks on its tribal areas.
Even worse was the accidental US airstrike on the Afghan border last year which killed 24 troops and prompted months of acrimony between Islamabad and Washington.
Jon Boone, Islamabad
The US election has been watched with no little self-interest in Latin America, where many politicians and commentators partly define themselves by their admiration or rejection of US values.
While most national leaders have remained diplomatically quiet about their preferences, the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, who is also fighting for re-election, has bucked the trend by stating his preference for Obama.
“I hope this doesn’t harm Obama, but if I was from the US, I’d vote for Obama,” Chavez said on state TV and indicated that he felt the admiration was mutual. “Obama is a good guy … I think that if Obama was from Barlovento or some Caracas neighborhood, he’d vote for Chavez.”
The US president is likely to pick up more Hispanic votes from the endorsement of the Mexican band Maná, who played a set at an Obama rally in Las Vegas this month. “We have the conviction that Obama is the best candidate for all Latinos,” said Maná frontman Fher Olvera. “Vote for the president who has cared most for Latinos and minorities.”
In Brazil, which is in the midst of a municipal election campaign, the president, Dilma Rousseff, does not appear to see any political advantage in allying herself to either US candidate, partly because of differences in foreign policy.
Regarding Obama’s speech on the handling of the crisis in Syria at the UN late last month, Rousseff said: “He has his position, I have mine.”
Brazilian media commentators have been underwhelmed by the performance of the two US candidates.
“The speech in which US president Barack Obama, formally accepted the nomination of the Democratic Party to run for a new mandate caused an anticlimax, even for his most excited voters,” noted Folha de S. Paulo in one of the few Brazilian editorials on the US election.
Jonathan Watts, Rio de Janeiro
Arabs watching the US presidential race are mainly interested in how the next administration will deal with the Arab spring – as well as the perennial question of the unresolved Palestinian issue.
Barack Obama has, in significant ways, failed to live up to the expectations he created in his long-awaited Cairo speech in June 2009. Many in the region say they see little difference between him and Romney, but Obama is probably still the preferred candidate.
Obama was criticised initially for reacting slowly to the revolution in Egypt but has been measured since the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi became president and hopes to encourage a shift toward pragmatism and moderation.
Following the murder of the US ambassador to Libya, Washington also signalled continued support for the new government in Tripoli.
Syrian and Arab opponents of Bashar al-Assad hope that in a second term Obama would be more openly supportive than he has been so far.
Romney’s policies reflect a more conservative world view that appeals to Saudis and their Gulf allies, who believe Obama has been too soft on Iran. Saudis hope that a Romney administration, with a neoconservative element, might be more aggressive on Syria. The Republican has expressed “disappointment” at the rise of Islamists.
He is also likely to give greater weight to Israel’s regional views, for example as they pertain to policy towards Egypt. Both candidates would likely remain muted in response to the ongoing protests and crackdown in Bahrain, a key US ally in the Gulf.
The novelty for the next president will be that public opinion is now a more significant factor in the Arab world than it was when Obama entered the White House. It did not inspire confidence when Romney referred to the shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin as taking place at a “sheikh” temple.
Ian Black, Middle East editor
For a place where US troops are still dying in their hundreds and for which billions of dollars are spent each year, Afghanistan has garnered very little attention over the election.
With a strange kind of symmetry Afghanistan might be dependent on US cash to keep its government afloat, and the US military to keep the Taliban at bay, but there is very little focus on the presidential race on the streets or in the TV studios of Kabul.
This lack of interest is in large part because most people in Kabul feel the broad outlines of US policy have already been set. The timeline for the departure of US and other foreign forces will not alter, regardless of who wins.
“The Afghan people are not paying a lot of attention to the US election, because as we heard during the campaign, both candidates are agreed about taking their troops home from Afghanistan,” said Najibullah Hosseini, a 32-year-old 32, a professor at a private university.
Newspapers and television channels are running stories about the election, but there is little debate on popular chat shows or in the opinion pages.
In one report, the popular newspaper 8am underlined that the US had already made a long-term commitment to supporting Afghanistan.
“Both candidates said there should be no worries about US and international aid to the country,” the report said, before adding that it was in Washington’s interest to ensure the country did not become a haven for terrorists, regardless of who was in the White House.
Diplomats are similarly sanguine about the election results. The winner will have to decide exactly how fast they want to bring the rest of US forces home, but neither Romney nor Obama is likely to deviate from a 2014 deadline agreed with Nato allies and the Afghan government.
“A review of policy will take place any way, irrespective of who wins, and the overall mood in the US is very much focused on the honourable exit,” said one senior diplomat in Kabul. “If Romney wins, there may be more of a deep dive. He may be more critical in assessing what is under the surface of the positive narrative … but overall I don’t think the election result will have a major impact here.”
Some Afghans, however, are still hopeful the election will bring change, with aspirations not far different from those of US voters weary with the steady flow of young men and women returning home in coffins, and the steep cost of a war amid a struggling economy.
“I want to ask the US voters to select a man who will talk with the Taliban to end the war. We don’t want any more people to be killed, we want the economy to be fixed,” said 50-year-old Shah Agha Nazari, head of a local council in Kabul’s Neka Khana area.
Emma Graham-Harrison and Mokhtar Amiri