Ambinder notes:

In private, Obama likens himself to Reagan, according to some of his friends. He believes that the very act of Americans choosing to elect him would amount to the biggest foreign policy advance of the past 20 years, would immediately change the way, say, a young boy in Lahore views this country, would crush the propaganda gains of radical Islam since the end of the first Gulf War, would heal the scar that serves as a reminder of America’s original sin (slavery), would directly engage the mass Muslim world in a way that no one who voted for oil or empire could, and … you get the idea.

Now that you’ve finished groaning and smashing your head against a wall now that another presidential candidate has started with the Reagan comparisons, I will continue. 

So a young boy in Lahore will have his views changed about America by the election of Obama, will he?  As Ross suggests, this is a strange thing for someone who has advocated taking military action inside Pakistan without its government’s permission to say.  At the present time, most Pakistanis see America as the major threat to their country.  Given Obama’s past remarks about Pakistan and foreign policy generally, the young boy in Lahore will probably go from fearing and loathing America to actively preparing for the impending assault.  It seems to me that the “propaganda gains” of radical Islam are to be found in their exploiting of U.S. occupation of Muslim countries.  Obama’s election would not “crush” these.  Whatever his later policies might do to weaken those claims, his election would obviously not change them in the least. 

Given how some in the Near East portrayed Secretary Rice after her truly awful “birth pangs of a new Middle East” remark, it occurs to me that a President Obama may have more difficulty in changing how people across the world see America.  This seems to be the case, since he quite happily endorsed deeply unpopular moves by the U.S. and our allies, including the Lebanon war of last year.  On 22 August 2006 (when the war was in its closing phase), he said:

I don’t think there is any nation that would not have reacted the way Israel did after two soldiers had been snatched. I support Israel’s response to take some action in protecting themselves.

What did he have to say about the results of “some action”?  The ruined infrastructure, the hundreds of thousands of refugees, the 1,000 dead civilians?  One looks in vain for any remarks that might be seen as critical of the methods used in the Lebanon war or the indiscriminate nature of the bombing.  However, there is this:

During the fighting between Israel and Lebanon earlier this year, Mr. Obama co-sponsored a resolution endorsing Israel’s right to self-defense and condemning Hamas and Hezbollah.

And this:

There was absolutely nothing in Obama’s speech that deviated from the hardline consensus underpinning US policy in the region. Echoing the sort of exaggeration and alarmism that got the United States into the Iraq war, he called Iran “one of the greatest threats to the United States, to Israel, and world peace.”

I’d be interested to see how he “directly engages with the Muslim world” after unequivocally supporting a bombing campaign that met with widespread condemnation from Muslims around the world.  Obama would like to tell a story about how his election will change the image of America in the world.  Because his election would be a milestone in domestic politics, I think there are a great many people here who automatically assume that the rest of the world would see his election in this same way.  These Americans might find, if he were somehow elected, that other nations would see through his hope and unity rhetoric to the substance of his worryingly over-ambitious foreign policy views.  It is, of course, a certain kind of meddling foreign policy that has harmed our national reputation, and the real test for Obama’s “change” candidacy is whether he has given any indication that he departs significantly from it.  It seems to me that he doesn’t, and that will mean that any superficial good feeling that might follow his election would be sunk in a sea of disappointment and bitterness when people around the world discover that he is not very different from the alternatives.  If the next President wants to repair America’s reputation, he will have to start changing what the U.S. government does in her name.  Putting a different face on what is basically more of the same will not make a dent.