Since Barack Obama was elected, I’ve observed a phenomenon that appears maybe once every 25 years, and even less frequently in certain parts of the world. No, not Halley’s Comet – I’m talking about an equally stupendous event: foreigners, Europeans in particular, praising an elected American official. I find myself agreeing with much of what many friends of mine here in the United Kingdom are saying about the newly inaugurated president, but at the same time I struggle to resist that wonderful urge to play devil’s advocate – I’ve become so accustomed to the discomfort of political conversation with Europeans. Maybe Obama was right: Change came quickly.

Though I may be studying in Europe, sometimes I feel like I never quite left Georgetown. In November, it was the British students, not my exhausted self, who stayed up all night to watch the returns from the presidential election. The face of our new president is ubiquitous this side of the Atlantic, as if the Western world now looks to Obama more than they ever looked to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown or French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Indeed, Obama is probably the first American leader in history whose face was so omnipresent, plastered on T-shirts and assorted merchandise across the globe, before he ever assumed office. (The kebab vendor on High Street, too, had his copy of Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope.”) Few American leaders since Benjamin Franklin or Woodrow Wilson have more completely captured the hearts and minds of this hard-to-sell continent. The 200,000 Berliners who crowded the Tiergarten all day simply to get a glimpse of the candidate Obama are proof of that.

This is precisely the attitude among foreigners that most inspires me and fills me with national pride – and that concerns me. Every European Obama fan seems to have latched onto something of the young president’s electric personality. There’s the Frenchman who happily notes that “he will finally listen to Europe and make American policy sane.” A British Muslim believes “Obama will finally treat Palestine with dignity and stop so blindly supporting Israel.”

And while the less Gladstonian, cynical Britons are just happy he’s not Bush, one almost gets the sense that the world feels like it too voted for Barack Obama; the planet’s stake in American electoral politics has perhaps never been greater. It’s inspiring stuff. The problem is, Europe didn’t vote for Obama, and he is America’s president. Being the president of the United States and maintaining good will around the world are sometimes irreconcilable goals. An updated version of Machiavelli’s warning seems apt: He who is beloved by everybody will, on some level, anger and disappoint everybody.

ake no mistake: Obama’s election was the greatest message that the United States could have sent to the rest of the world after eight years of failed policies. But Obama is still an American president, one who faces enormous and urgent challenges. Those expecting Obama to pull out of Iraq, save Afghanistan, solve the problems in the Middle East, make American foreign policy more multilateral, fix the economy, save the planet and preserve humanity in the darkest parts of our world are in for a rude, disappointing awakening. And as for these grave and present challenges – the rest of the world can help, too.

Adam Kemal is a junior in the College currently studying abroad at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, England. He can be reached at kemalthehoya.com. It’s a Long Way to Tipperary appears every other Friday.

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