London For the past four years, many people around the world have been able to convince themselves that George W. Bush was a fleeting spectre who did not really represent his country or its people.
Yesterday, national leaders and ordinary citizens in dozens of countries were forced to change that assessment.
For some, it meant downgrading their view of the American people. By giving Mr. Bush a strong majority in a fair and well-attended election, Americans convinced the world that they really meant it and the world wasn't always happy to hear that.
"I had previously told my friends that I support the American people but that I do not support their leader, who they did not truly choose and who did not represent their beliefs," a Parisian student said on Radio France last night.
"Now I understand that there is truly unity in their beliefs, and I am not so confident about America."
Others chose the opposite response: Realizing that Mr. Bush is now a permanent fixture and a genuine reflection of political views in the world's most important economy, leaders scrambled to mend fences.
Leaders in France, Germany and Spain, who had been hostile to Mr. Bush over the Iraq war, were unusually lavish in their efforts to talk of a new relationship with the United States.
While much of this was perfunctory diplomatic praise, senior journalists in France and Germany reported that the re-election had taken their leaders by surprise and forced a reassessment of the frayed transatlantic relationship.
"Because the Americans cannot imaginably build, direct and inspire the world all by themselves, it is necessary to try to restore American confidence in the European project," French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier said yesterday.
For the most part, the world seemed shocked that Mr. Bush could be re-elected. Polls taken last month showed that if the world's citizens were given a vote in the U.S. election, only Russians and Israelis would have chosen Mr. Bush. Most nations strongly opposed him.
"American voters seemed to be rallying strongly around Bush over the issue of national security, while many in the Third World countries expected Kerry to win," said C..M. Safi Sami, a former Bangladeshi foreign secretary. "They will be disappointed."
Some traditional opponents of Mr. Bush found surprising reasons for optimism. For one thing, he is a stronger supporter of free trade than is Mr. Kerry, a cause for optimism in the developing world, where some people feared that Mr. Kerry would close U.S. markets to foreign exports, limit international investment and put a stop to the outsourcing of jobs.
"It is more than ironic that the state that gave Bush the election, Ohio, was also the site of Kerry's most vicious attacks against outsourcing," the Hindustan Times of India editorialized yesterday.
"By losing that state against a candidate who refused to say a bad word against outsourcing, it is hoped this election has put the job-export bogey to rest once and for all. As many as 100,000 jobs in India are now safe, and several hundred thousand potential jobs in the future are more likely."
A Kuwaiti official argued that the Arab world is lucky to have Mr. Bush in place because Mr. Kerry is a supporter of alternative-energy sources, which would threaten the region's oil industry.
But those views were the exceptions. In Arab countries, Mr. Bush's re-election was greeted with fear by leaders, journalists and many citizens. There was a sense in much of the commentary that the second term of Mr. Bush would be less conciliatory toward Arabs.
"Bush could take this as a sign that his foreign policy in the region is a success, and he may harden his positions," Jasim Ali, a political analyst in Bahrain, told Reuters. "There will be more killing and bloodshed."
Indeed, many of Mr. Bush's supporters expressed a similar view, though in optimistic terms: A victory for Mr. Kerry, they argued, would have been a victory for the terrorists.
As Russian President Vladimir Putin said yesterday, "We should be glad that Americans haven't been intimidated into making the wrong decision."