World Popularity vs. Obama: That's Right, It Means NOTHING

A liberal says, “Whether we like it or not, we are part of the whole world, and we have to live with everybody else.” A historian says, “Whether they like it or not, we are part of the whole world, and everybody else has to live with us.”

At first, I saw this post about the potential for the DOW to rise 1,000 points if Barack Obama wins election in November. Then I went on to read the entire article it referenced, and got sick. As if it wasn’t bad enough that the former UN ambassador cannot figure out how Obama’s oil policy would be worse for the economy instead of better (let alone 1,000 DOW points better), Andrew Young apparently has no concept of the relationship between Presidential candidates and world popularity. In his article, Young comes close to arguing that an Obama election would so elate the world that other countries would line up around the block in order to offer their best ideas, technologies, foods, etc. to the United States out of awe.

Um, no.

But, this isn’t to say that new Presidents cannot bring positive effects to the United States as a result of world reaction. In fact, the truth is quite the opposite. The two best-known examples of this are 1) the immediate efforts to end the Korean War upon Eisenhower’s Election, and 2) the freeing of American hostages from Iran upon Reagan’s Oath of Office.1) During the Presidential election campaign of 1952, Dwight Eisenhower promised to find a peaceful end to the Korean War if elected. As he was still immensely popular around the world for his successful command during World War II, his words held a lot of clout. Less than a month after he was elected and before he was President, Ike visited Korea, beginning in November 1952 a process that ended in a case-fire as quickly as July 1953.

2) After the Shah of Iran fell in 1979, the American embassy in Tehran was taken over by militant students, and sixty-six Americans were held hostage. Though a few were granted early release, the Iranians were not willing to discuss the issue seriously with the United States until Ronald Reagan had defeated Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election. Carter had made numerous attempts at diplomacy with Iran and even tried a rescue operation (that went terribly awry), but only in January of 1981 did the Iranians finally sit down at Algiers to end the crisis. The agreement was dated January 19, 1981, and the hostages were freed only twenty minutes after Reagan was inaugurated as President the next day.

My Point: World popularity does not make you a five-star general, nor does it automatically give you an imposing tone capable of scaring enemies into compliance. The ends of the Korean War and the Iranian Hostage Crisis were very real- soldiers stopped fighting in 1953 and civilians came home in 1981. An event like the stock market jumping 1,000 points in a week is great and helpful, but it is not diplomatically predictable, nor is it indicative of any particular war-ending or life-saving policies of a popular President-elect. Moreover, just because a candidate is loved by the rest of the world’s citizenry does not mean his victory will bring other nations’ governments to grovel at our behest; though Eisenhower achieved Korean peace and remained popular, America did not receive great gifts of technological grandeur throughout his two terms from other countries, as Young’s article suggests would happen with Obama. Whether Barack Obama’s world following will do wonders for America (or even the Iraq War) will only be seen if he is elected first; to predict such a fantastic American future when the truth is that the rest of the world reacts to us more than we react to it is naïve and totally unfounded.

Another Presidential candidate who had worldwide fame was Ulysses S. Grant. After he finished his second term in 1877, he toured the world amidst immense pomp and circumstance. But when he returned and tried run for a nonconsecutive third term in 1880, he failed to even achieve the Republican nomination. To this effect, we might say that Obama learned from Grant and secured the nomination before he went overseas; but, then again, the convention is yet to be held, and apparently, he still has an opponent.


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