Barack Obama's
Toughest Opponent


© 2009 - Ben Heine
Watercolor on paper...
Obama Works to Repair America's Image in the
World. Smiles and handshakes are a start, but
Obama's real challenge will be to show results

By Thomas Omestad

The few "Yankee Go Home" signs that greet him abroad seem almost an afterthought, and when he enters a room of world leaders, he is the most sought-after man for a photo op and a handshake. Such is the star power that has swirled around Barack Obama on his initial foreign travels as the U.S. president.

This comes as little surprise, yet it will present a challenge of sorts for the president. Obama's relative youth and vigor, his calls for reaching out to adversaries and friends overseas, his breaks from past policy, and his triumphant personal story as the nation's first African-American president all seem to make the 47-year-old leader the best single antidote to anti-Americanism in years, maybe decades. White House officials say Obama's appeal extends beyond just the leaders of the world. "What has happened is that anti-Americanism isn't cool anymore," says top Obama adviser David Axelrod.

But this initial repositioning of the American leadership brand onto more popular terrain internationally will be the easier part of Obama's task. For all the sense of fresh starts and of goodwill, the seeds of perhaps inevitable disappointments are present as well. Visiting the Czech Republic in April, Obama got a friendly warning from Vaclav Havel, the once dissident playwright and former president who led his country's Velvet Revolution. Havel cautioned that the accumulation of exaggerated expectations could turn against the new American leader. "People may end up thinking that he has betrayed them, that he has raised their hopes too far," Havel said. A smiling Obama is said to have replied that he is aware of the danger.

Still, Obama has deftly gone about trying to reset the global image of America. The guiding impulse seems to be to start reviving U.S. standing in the world quickly in the hope that policy gains will accrue later. He has ordered the future closure of the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, barred torture of terrorist suspects, and made public the Bush administration's internal memos authorizing harsh interrogation methods.