World Reaction to Super Tuesday

Until now, as far as most of the world was concerned, the central fact of the U.S. presidential race has been the imminent departure of George W. Bush. With Super Tuesday come and gone, the attention shifts now to the men—and woman—who are vying to replace him. Many of the world's newspapers were in the wrong place at the wrong time to get the results on their front pages. Some of those that did nearly bought into the hype surrounding Barack Obama, who in the end came to a virtual draw with Hillary Clinton: "Obama Celebrates … But Is It Too Soon?" asked the London Times. Or their editors' minds were on something else entirely: "Happy New Year" toasted the Shanghai Daily.

But the timing didn't stop the commentators, online and in print, from weighing in on the most-watched race in decades. Here's Gabor Steingart in his "West Wing" column on Spiegel Online: "The duel between Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama may be fascinating for the party's supporters, but it's jeopardizing a Democratic election victory in November. When two people quarrel, the third often wins—which is why John McCain could end up as president."

In London's Guardian newspaper, columnist Jonathan Freedland warned that, despite fairly widespread impressions the three front-runners are like-minded moderates, they differ importantly on major issues. "The battle so far may seem to have been about identity politics, résumés and political style," writes Freedland. "But don't be misled: the ultimate battle will be about two entirely different conceptions of the U.S. and its place in the world." On Iraq, for example, Obama was against the invasion—"a dumb war, a rash war"—from the beginning. Clinton voted to go to war, but turned strongly against its mismanagement in the aftermath and now calls for a phased withdrawal. McCain, who within months of the war's inception was saying America needed more troops on the ground, remains a hawk, and proud of it. On climate change, the three candidates are closer together but McCain, says Freedland, "would have little support in his party for taking any action."

In France, Patrick Jarreau cautioned on the Le Monde Web site that "Super Mardi" has settled little. The Clinton-Obama race remains tight. As for McCain, his victory was impressive, but not resounding enough to "décourager" Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee. In Russia—where when it comes to elections, Vladimir Putin sometimes seems to be the only candidate who matters—Super Tuesday was a minor news story. Vedomosti, a business paper, ran a wire story inside its pages. In Kommersant, the big U.S. election news was deemed to be the actor Robert De Niro's endorsement of Obama.

Russia's nonchalance is atypical. Even the Cuban newspaper Granma, which has studiously ignored the American race in recent days, found time to write about McCain's hard-line stance on Cuba. The Chinese may be celebrating the Year of the Rat, but they don't play down the significance of the U.S. elections either. If forced to choose between Clinton and Obama, Chinese officials, who prize familiarity and the status quo, would marginally prefer Clinton: they have a sense for her and her politics and a fondness for Bill Clinton, who didn't give Beijing a hard time on the only seriously neuralgic Sino-U.S. issue—Taiwan. Still, the Beijing regime is well aware that any new U.S. administration can be expected to have a bit of a learning curve on China once it takes office, and that campaign-trail rhetoric does not always translate into policy once a contender becomes the commander-in-chief.

Physical distance is no obstacle when it comes to fascination with this year's American spectacle. In Johannesburg, the Mail & Guardian looked ahead to "the battle of the airwaves … already underway in the next round of primary states." On the Sydney Morning Herald Web site, which features a glitzy multi-media "Super Tuesday Showdown," "Clinton polls strongly on Super Tuesday" was the most-viewed article on Wednesday—topping even a story about the model "Elle McPherson and her 21-year-old toyboy."

Wednesday's edition of O Globo, the Rio de Janeiro daily, carries a commentary by political analyst Merval Pereira, titled "What Change?", which is a thinly disguised tout for Obama, arguing that because Clinton is the Democrat's "establishment" candidate, she is unlikely to represent significant change. On the other hand, "Barack Obama would be the real [candidate of] change. Even if this is just a dream version of reality."

As disrespected as President Bush is around the world, he remains a popular figure in Israel, where he's seen as a stalwart guardian of Israeli interests. Unsurprisingly, interest in those seeking to succeed him runs high. For several months now, the Haaretz newspaper has been running a feature called "The Israel Factor: Ranking the Presidential Candidates." A panel ranks contenders on a scale of 1 to 9, with 9 being the most pro-Israel. McCain is currently ranked highest, at 7.75; Clinton comes in at 7.5, with Obama trailing at 5.12.

Americans are often accused of ignoring events that occur beyond their borders even in a world transformed by globalization. In an era of U.S. hegemony, the rest of the world doesn't have that option—as the rapt attention to Campaign 2008 demonstrates in spades.