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Sunday, April 27, 2008

It doesn't take much imagination to guess the winner of an imaginary 'world primary'

LOS ANGELES — OK, so he did lose the Pennsylvania primary — but might Sen. Barack Obama be otherwise elected king of the world?

Let's imagine that there was one additional presidential primary added to the endless mix that helps determine who will next occupy the White House. It would be an imaginary primary for all those people in the world who cannot vote in American elections because, well — right — they are foreigners.

Let's call it the world primary.

We're not just talking Canada and Mexico here. Sure, they have to live right next to us, so perhaps a few of them should be designated as honorary super delegates, in respect of their gallant, if sometimes pained, propinquity. But people from Pakistan to Venezuela to Iraq are immensely affected by the economic, as well as political, decisions of the president of the United States. Even — indeed — North Korea, which tends to pride itself on being isolated from the rest of the world, can hardly hope to escape the long reach of an American president's policies.

So what if a world primary were held now? Who would be the world's choice?

No formal statistics exist, of course. The world isn't being polled on this question — precisely because it doesn't get to vote. But a recent trip abroad convinced me that, as of this moment, Obama would win a world primary, hands-down.

Sure, a good measure of genuine respect exists almost everywhere for Sen. John McCain, especially from older citizens around the globe. A war hero is a hero, period, even if the war in question was ill-conceived. And of course Sen. Hillary Clinton's husband remains a popular figure in many parts of the world — his eight years of personal flaws and policy indecision notwithstanding. And many women respect Hillary's record of public service.

But the imagined fact of the matter is, the junior senator from Illinois would win the world primary. He projects to the rest of the world as the new frontier candidate of the 21st century. Much of the world imagines that an Obama presidency would offer the idealism of a Woodrow Wilson and the youthful vigor of a John Kennedy — absent the peevish arrogance of George W. Bush or the embarrassing personal peccadilloes of an all-too-human Bill Clinton.

Imagination is not reality, of course. Obama might well be nominated and prove the second coming of abject Democratic campaign-failures George McGovern, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis. Or the relatively young politician could be elected and prove the second coming of abject White House failure Jimmy Carter. But there's no denying that an Obama presidency would present to the world a striking departure from the usual. Many Africans would of course toast the development to the heavens; many Muslims would find considerable comfort in the election of a Christian who nonetheless has the middle name of Hussein.

In Asia — the now-surging continent of ever-increasing optimism — Obama would be hailed as opening a new chapter in a more nuanced, sensitive and cosmopolitan U.S. foreign policy.

An astute temperature-taker of Asian opinion is Kishore Mahbubani, dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, author of the grandly provocative new book "The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresistible Shift of Global Power to the East," and a globe-trotting, world-class diplomat. The dean believes Obama's election would prove so enormously electric that perhaps as much as 50 percent of global anti-Americanism could dissipate virtually overnight.

People respond to the senator's optimism, eloquence and evident vision. Anti-American or not, most are eager for the U.S. to elect a politician who brings out the best in everyone. This column is not an endorsement, but simply a report. There are many months to go before the direct two-man (or man-woman) face-off is a fact. But the Democrats in general (and the Clinton campaign in particular) would do everyone a favor if they were to unite around the man who lived briefly in Indonesia, much longer than in Hawaii, and who continually gives the world the impression of the U.S. no longer as the same-old, same-old tired old self.

Or so our imaginary world primary would suggest.

Professor Tom Plate, a member of the UCLA Burkle Center for International Relations and the USC Pacific Council on International Policy, is a veteran journalist and author of "Confessions of an American Media Man." © 2008 Tom Plate

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