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Obama’s Election Win Stirs Worldwide Reactions

November 6, 2008 at 6:40 PM EDT
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The 2008 U.S. presidential election drew strong interest overseas and Barack Obama's victory stirred reactions around the world. Simon Marks offers insight on the global thoughts on, and expectations for, the Obama administration.
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RAY SUAREZ: When NewsHour special correspondent Simon Marks is not reporting and producing for us, he runs a news service that provides stories to broadcast stations all over the world, and their interest in every bit of news on the U.S. election has been intense.

Simon, thanks for joining us.

SIMON MARKS, NewsHour Special Correspondent: You’re welcome, Ray.

RAY SUAREZ: Did you detect all along a greater hunger from your clients for news of this political season and now its aftermath?

SIMON MARKS: I think without question. I mean, we’ve seen that throughout the year. We saw a much greater intensity of interest in the primary process than we’ve witnessed before; that has continued all the way through the election and beyond, into the transition.

You could physically see it around Washington. As you know, there are several technical facilities here in town that specialize in the provision of cameras and satellites to foreign broadcasters. I visited several of them over the last few days.

And some of them have been like refugee camps, with foreign broadcasters camped out in the corridors, sucking down every available piece of Internet bandwidth trying to get their stories out.

India, Pakistan seize on comments

SIMON MARKS: But there's also been an interest not just in the process, but in substance.

And one example: A few days before the election, Barack Obama gave an interview to the cable network MSNBC. And in the course of a very wide-ranging interview on domestic and foreign policy, he happened to mention the disputed territory of Kashmir, which, as you know, lies between India and Pakistan, has been a disputed region going back to 1947.

And Obama suggested that perhaps as president he might be able to bring the Indians and the Pakistanis together, get them to focus on resolving this conflict so that the Pakistanis would not have to devote military resources in Kashmir, military resources that could then be used to battle al-Qaida and the Taliban in the border region with Afghanistan.

Indian broadcasters and newspapers seized on this. One Indian television station that I provide material to immediately threw up an instant 30-minute news special. "What does this mean about Obama's plans for Kashmir?"

You look at the Indian newspapers today. There's an editorial in the Times of India directed to the president-elect. "Lay Off Kashmir" reads the headline.

The Indian Express has a piece with a headline, "Barack Obama's Kashmir Thesis." It's gone from being one sentence in an interview to an entire thesis and is a real indication of just how closely the foreign media and, I think, foreign communities have watched this process.

Country-specific concerns common

RAY SUAREZ: Well, you could see it earlier this week in Phoenix when I was covering the end of the McCain campaign, an enormous international press corps hanging on every tiny bit of news coming out of the campaign.

But are they interested in this just for parochial reasons? Or was there an attempt to understand America? Or is it just an unapologetic use of an Indonesian lens, an African lens to look at this new president?

SIMON MARKS: Look, there's always a fascination with the American political process. We always see that every four years. This was my fourth presidential election cycle in Washington, D.C. And there's also always a big uptick of interest when the election comes around.

But the stakes internationally are perceived as being so high now because of the reputation of George W. Bush internationally, because of the desire globally to see alliances repaired, as Barack Obama suggested in Chicago that he plans to do.

And there is a parochial lens that is brought to this. I was on a pan-Asian news network this morning, seen all over Southeast Asia. And one of the questions I was asked was, which Asian-Americans will Barack Obama appoint to his cabinet?

The assumption being that, after Norm Mineta was secretary of transportation, Elaine Chao at the Energy Department, well, surely President-elect Obama is going to turn to the Asian-American community.

The South Africans -- we do some work for South African radio -- were asking me whether Kenya, because of Barack Obama's Kenyan father, is now going to be the favored African power in Washington, D.C. Is that going to create issues for South Africa and Nigeria trying to get their voices heard here?

So the issues go from big-picture geopolitical issues to, in some cases, quite parochial ones.

World anticipates first moves

RAY SUAREZ: Earlier in tonight's program, we discussed the presidential transition. Are your overseas clients already sort of dispensing with the transition and looking past President Bush to the next administration?

SIMON MARKS: They're not entirely dispensing with the transition. I've had to provide a lot of detail in the last 24 hours about Rahm Emanuel, perhaps the next White House chief of staff.

But they are also unquestionably now looking at Barack Obama as the man who they almost think already makes policy. So that same South African radio interview I was asked, "What is Barack Obama's response to the Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli territory? Is Barack Obama really the man who's going to be able to heal America's racial divide? And how quickly will he be able to get on with that?"

It's a real reminder, not just to me, but I suspect also to the soon-to-be Obama administration, that whenever issues occur internationally now, the world will be looking not to George W. Bush and his State Department for a response, but to Barack Obama and his foreign policy team.

RAY SUAREZ: So you expect this heightened curiosity to last for a while?

SIMON MARKS: I think without question. I mean, we saw 200,000 people show up in Berlin for Barack Obama before he was president. Imagine the size of the crowds that will likely follow him wherever he goes.

One question being asked internationally is: Where will his first foreign trip be, Europe, Asia, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, Pakistan? Where will he go? Big interest in that.

And I think that there is ongoing interest because of the heightened global expectations of what he's going to do.

RAY SUAREZ: Simon, thanks a lot.

SIMON MARKS: Thanks, Ray.