How the world saw the inauguration

More than 800,000 Americans packed the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Monday to listen to President Obama deliver his second inaugural address, but many more were listening around the world. Here are a few interesting global reactions:


In the Chinese media, Obama's promise to "try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully" and argument that "engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear" than military force was taken as a sign that the U.S.-China relationship will be at the top of his foreign policy agenda for the next four years. Of course, as the state-run Global Times notes, there's a bit of skepticism that the president will live up to his words:

"If the president really lives his words, he would agree that for the sake of the world's peace and prosperity, it is important for the United States and China to foster mutual trust, for trust is the cornerstone for every relationship, no matter between people or between nations...The words also show that he agrees that the two nations should properly solve their disputes, either economic or political."

News agency Xinhua was a little more positive, describing the overall approach Obama outlined in his Monday address as "balanced" and "decidedly progressive."


One Guardian writer described Obama's speech as "urg[ing] Americans to reclaim from conservatives the spirit of the founding fathers" and as "more inspirational than 2009," praising Obama's strong support of climate change and gay rights. Another was more cautious in hispraise, maintaining that Obama's speech was less of a populist manifesto and more of a "to-do list [covering] what he has still to do to make good on the economic promises of his first term."

While Peter Foster of the more conservative Telegraph granted that Obama's speech was well-received by the spectators on the Mall, he reminded readers just how deeply divided the United States still is: "It was apparent," writes Foster, "that only half of the nation had showed up to listen to [Obama's] call...Overwhelmingly, the crowd of 800,000 people was filled with the faces of the young, female, urban, African-American coalition that ensured Mr. Obama's re-election for a second term last November. They were Obama's people, and they were there to celebrate their victory."


In his article for the Australian, Troy Bramston praised Obama's rhetoric, but argued that Obama cannot rank amongst the truly great American presidents until he "translate[s] a presidency of promise into a presidency of action."

That may be hard to do, claims Janet Hook in another article for the Australian, in which she points out that Obama's speech made little effort to readch out to the GOP.


After the inaugural address, the headline of Saudi-owned, pan-Arab daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat read "The decade of war is over," referencing a line from Obama's speech. Yet in an op-ed for the same paper, Abdul Rahman Rashed, though praising Obama's experience in Middle Eastern affairs, was not so sure about peace in the coming decade. "Obama's second term will possibly be reconciliatory, particularly after John Kerry and Chuck Hagel join his administration...but who can tell if the region will be in a reconciliatory mood?"


In his article for Palestinian-run, London based newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi (translated into English by the Times of Israel), Abdel Al-Bari Atwan writes that Obama "completely shut the door on any military intervention, stressing that a decade of wars has ended and that the only way to peace is dialogue." "President Obama's message is very clear," the article continued. "In short, he said that he does not intend to militarily intervene in Syria; will not wage a war on Iran, succumbing to Israeli pressure; and will focus on rescuing his country from its crippling economic crisis."

Atwan continues: "Obama disappointed many of his allies in the Middle East by neglecting to mention any of them in his speech." (Obama didn't mention any foreign countries by name in his address.)


Obama's equal opportunity rhetoric made news in Mexico. In its coverage of the inaugural address, El Universal highlighted Obama's commitment to immigrants, women, and gays. The article quoted Obama's statement promising immigration reform:

"Our trip (as a nation) will not be complete until we find a better way to welcome the hopeful, striving immigrants in the U.S. are still the land of opportunity, until the brightest students and engineers are listed on our strengths work instead of being expelled from our country."

The headline of the article read, in Spanish, "Obama calls for welcoming immigrants."


The president's inaugural address was a chance for Canadians to pat themselves on the back, the Ottowa Citizen snarkily reports:

"On the key issues that President Barack Obama pledged to dedicate his second term to in his inaugural address, Canada has already made substantive progress: on supporting democracy around the world; on providing equal rights to gays and lesbians; on creating an aspirational immigration system."

It doesn't stop there either. The column went to on say that Canada has also beat Obama to the punch in securing a budget deal and repairing its economy.

When Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird hosted a largely American gathering at the Canadian embassy on Monday, he was more tactful. "This is not a time for long speeches," he said. "We have very different systems, so we don't exactly want to be bragging," a Canadian embassy spokesman said.

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Why is it so hard to predict Israeli elections?

After weeks of polling showing him with a comfortable lead, it appears that Benjamin Netanyahu will sneak back into office with his Likud/Yisrael Beiteinu alliance taking just 31 seats. (The two parties had more than 40 between them before the vote.) Overall, exit polls suggest right-wing parties will take 61-62 seats with 58-59 for the center-left.

The big surprise of the day will probably be the rise of the centrist Yesh Atid party, which came in second with 18-19 seats. Yesh Atid had gotten relatively little covereage in the Israeli andinternational media (certainly compared to Naftali Bennet's annexationist "Jewish Home" party) until it began to rise in the polls just days before the vote. Yesh Atid is led by journalist-turned-politican Yair Lapid, son of the legendary secularist crusader Tommy Lapid.  Yair may not go as far as his dad in expressing stridently anti-religious views, but his apparent success should lead to some questioning of the popular "death of Israeli secularism" narrative.

There's likely to be quite a bit of discussion in the coming days about why no one saw Lapid coming. Though of course, as Netanyahu well knows, even the exit polls in Israel are not always that reliable. On May 30, 1996, most Israelis went to sleep believing that the heavily favored Shimon Peres, who had served as caretaker Prime Minister since the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, six months earlier, would remain in power. They awoke to find that Likud's then young and inexperienced leader, Netanyahu, had pulled off a historic upset. 

As the Times of Israel's Raphael Ahren notes, it wasn't the last time Israeli pollsters would get it wrong: 

In 2006, most pre-election polls shortly before election day predicted two seats for the Pensioners' party; four polls said the party wouldn't get any seats at all. It won seven - a substantial showing given that the Knesset has only 120 members.

The final polls ahead of the 2009 elections - published four days before the voting day opened - were all wrong to a greater or lesser degree. Four out of six polls predicted 23 seats for Likud, which ended up winning 27. Four surveys forecast Yisrael Beytenu winning 19 mandates, four more than it actually received.

According to Haaretz, the final polls before of the 2006 and 2009 elections erred by an average of 18 and 19 Knesset mandates, respectively. Nate Silvers, they were not.

So what makes predicting Israeli elections so tough? Ahren's very thorough article blames small sample sizes -- Israeli pollsters often survey as few as 400-500 people -- as well as poor methodology: In a year when voter apathy was high, most pollsters surveyed "eligible" voters rather than "likely" voters, for instance. 

The blogger "Carl in Jerusalem" says Israelis are poor poll-takers by character:

This is a country in which polling is not always accurate. Respondents often deceive the pollsters. Some respondents - like me - slam down the phone (otherwise you get called nearly every day because Israel is very politically active and there's a relatively small population).

But I suspect it's not that Israeli polls are particularly bad or Israelis are particularly uncooperative than the fact that Israel is simply a very small country with very complicated politics. Before this election, there were 17 parties in a Knesset with only 120 seats. A party going from 3 to 12 seats, as Jewish Home appears to have, counts as an earth-shattering development. In short, pollsters have a lot less margin for error in a country with fewer people than New Jersey.

There's also the fact that political alliances in Israel have a habit of shifting quickly and -- particularly this year -- it's much harder to define any given party's natural base. As Noah Efron recently wrote:

Unsurprisingly, this growing diversity within parties has come at a time when old voting blocs have begun to disintegrate. Although the million or so immigrants from the former Soviet Union still tend to oppose territorial compromise with the Palestinians and reject welfare-state economic policies that recall the brutal socialism of their birthplace, their political affiliations are increasingly spread across the political spectrum. Israeli Palestinians, though they are largely ignored by Jewish media and politicians during elections, will vote in larger numbers than ever for majority-Jewish parties, chiefly Labor. Settlers' votes are also spread among more political parties than in the past (though almost exclusively on the right). The same is true of Mizrahim, Haredim, and, no less, secular cosmopolitans.

The decline of the old voting blocs has come with a decline of old ideologies as well, on the right and on the left. Among the most notable losers in the Likud primaries was Benny Begin, son of Menachem Begin, the legendary founder of Likud and its first prime minister. The younger Begin represented perhaps the last of the old Likud ideologues, whose commitment to retaining the West Bank was matched, perhaps incongruously, by a commitment to liberal democracy blind to religious and ethnic background. Most politicians today, on the right and left, insist that they maintain consistent political opinions; few, however, will cop to having an ideology. In the past, ideology was de rigueur; now it is vaguely déclassé.

Taken together, these trends suggest that Israeli politics have recently lost definition and grown shaggier. They have changed from a French garden, sharp of line and in fine trim, into an English garden in which the shrubs and the trees have expanded into one another, and a skein of ivy stretches from this plant to that.

Efron's primary argument is that there are dramatic developments happening just below the surface in Israeli politics that are a lot more complicated than they look from they outside. Today's results would seem to bear that out. 

(Plus, to be fair to Israeli pollsters, even Nate Silver hasn't fared so well when trying to apply his model outside the two-party, data-rich environment of American politics.)

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