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Europeans Agog Over Campaign '08 - and Obama

Patrick Goodenough | International Editor | Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Europeans Agog Over Campaign '08 - and Obama

(CNSNews.com) - European interest in the U.S. presidential election campaign may be at unprecedented levels as Super Tuesday arrives, and Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama is the evident favorite among media and political commentators.

Across the continent, major foreign-language newspapers are carrying special sections and Web sites dedicated to the campaign.

"There has never been a presidential race quite like this in the history of the United States," declared Michael Tomasky in Britain's liberal Guardian. "It has genuinely impressive candidates. It has a grand theme. It's really, meaningfully, about something."

In the Netherlands, the NRC Handelsblad said there was more interest in Europe in the 2008 primary race than there had been in previous American elections.

Political panelists in several countries, including Romania and Germany, discussed the importance of the election to Europeans, citing issues ranging from Iraq and Afghanistan to climate change and European integration.

Whoever wields power in Washington will make policy that affects the rest of the world and influence the future political direction of Europe, they agreed.

In an opinion piece, the editor of the Dutch-language paper, Juurd Eijsvoogel, said that for many, the choice was between Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton, as the Netherlands --and Europe -- tends to fall instinctively in the Democratic camp.

But those who wonder about which candidate will be best when it comes to foreign policy cannot ignore Republican Sen. John McCain, he said.

Eijsvoogel noted that, in a recent article in Foreign Affairs magazine, McCain said one of his top foreign policy priorities as president would be "to revitalize the transatlantic partnership."

"When we believe international action -- whether military, economic, or diplomatic -- is necessary, we must work to persuade our friends and allies that we are right," McCain wrote. "And we must also be willing to be persuaded by them."

These words, said Eijsvoogel, were "a more generous gesture to Europe" than those made by Clinton and Obama in separate articles they wrote for Foreign Affairs in recent months.

McCain's Foreign Affairs platform also drew attention in Britain, where some Conservative euroskeptics noted with unease the Arizona senator's assertion that "Americans should welcome the rise of a strong, confident European Union."

Daniel Hannan, a Conservative lawmaker in the European Parliament, said McCain was "the archetypal RINO (Republican In Name Only)." Hannan on a Daily Telegraph Web site wrote of his "growing fondness" for Obama who, unlike McCain, has not "droned on about how wonderful the E.U. is."

The Illinois Democrat, said Hannan, was "a shaft of sunshine in an often gray landscape" -- a lot more inspiring than his Democratic rivals and than some of the Republican candidates.

(Melanie Philips, a leading British conservative columnist, took issue with Hannan's backing for Obama, whom she said was positioned "on the further reaches of the left." "On culture war issues, [Obama's] on the side of social anarchy," she wrote. "On counter-terrorism, he's against all the measures the U.S. needs to take to make itself safer. On Iraq, by saying he'd pull out he has already made the west less safe; if he carried this out the consequences for the region and for the west's defense would be calamitous.")

What Hannan considers a plus -- Obama's hands-off approach to Europe -- others regard as a problem. Last month, the center-right Times of London said Obama had paid little attention to Europe and shown a reluctance to engage.

"As British and European leaders ponder the meaning and consequences of Mr. Obama's sudden rise, perhaps they should be asking instead how much they really matter to him," it said.

Still, Obama continues to enthrall many Europeans, and some German papers have hailed him as "the new Kennedy."

"European elites are infatuated with Obama, who is now a cult figure," said Soeren Kern, a senior fellow in transatlantic relations at the Madrid-based conservative think tank, the Strategic Studies Group.

The young senator from Illinois had "captivated the world," declared Britain's left-leaning The Independent on Monday, above a 4,650-word extract from Obama's autobiography, "The Audacity of Hope."

In the Netherlands, a poll by the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper found that of the 150 members of the country's House of Representatives, 58 would vote for Obama if they could and 40 for Clinton. Only 23 would vote for a Republican, with no further breakdown given.

And in France, an online poll at the Web site of the left-leaning newsweekly Le Nouvel Observateur gave Obama 61 percent of support to Clinton's 30 percent, with 3,300 votes cast.

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