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Foreign editorials ask: After the U.S. elections, what's next?

COMMENTARY | November 13, 2006

Some see defeat for Bush as overdue and the Democratic victory as a victory for all nations; some see little difference between the two parties when it comes to the Iraq war.

By John Burke

PARIS--“Finally. Some domestic opposition to the Bush administration.” This was the general sentiment shared by the rest of the world concerning the “thumpin’” of the Republicans in the midterm elections.

Papers in Europe and the Middle East expressed their gratitude to the American people for supposedly waking up to the perceived injustices of the Bushies’ foreign policy about which their columnists have been ranting for years.

But many foreign editorials also warned their readers not to be too optimistic. Although they may consider a Democratic victory to be a victory for all nations, Bush is still at the helm of an army stuck in a quagmire for which the Democrats have no solution. In fact, foreign editorialists recognized few differences between the two American parties when it comes to Iraq.

This insight rang especially true in Middle Eastern columns. Blaming Bush for making an already volatile region even more so, they were happy to see his nose bloodied by American voters. But when it comes to the conflict that has defined international relations for the past three-and-a-half years, by and large, they don’t consider the new Congressional majority as one that will effectively improve the war-torn nation, or their own:

On Comment is Free, the Guardian’s collaborative opinion blog, one columnist sums up the rest of the world’s sigh of relief by entitling the column simply, “Thank you, America:”

“(The election results) also reassert a different and better United States that can again offer hope instead of despair to the world. Donald Rumsfeld's resignation last night was a fitting climax to the voters' verdict. Thank you, America…

“The big questions under the new Congress will be the way that Mr Bush responds to this unfamiliar reduction in his authority and whether the Democratic win will push the president into a new Iraq policy. At his White House press conference yesterday, Mr Bush inevitably made plenty of suitably bipartisan and common-ground noises. He had little alternative. But they rang hollow from such a tarnished and partisan leader. It will take more than warm words in the immediate aftermath of an election reverse to prove that Mr Bush is now capable of working in a new way.

“The departure of the disastrous Mr Rumsfeld has come at least three years too late. But it shows that Mr Bush has finally been forced to face the reality of the Iraq disaster for which his defence secretary bears so much responsibility…He more than anyone else is the architect of America's humiliations in Iraq. It was truly an outrage that he remained in office for so long.

“But at least the passing of Mr Rumsfeld shows that someone in the White House now recognises that things cannot go on as before. Business as usual will not do, either in general or over Iraq… Maybe the more pragmatic Republican old guard (James Baker, Robert Gates) can come to the rescue of this disastrous presidency in its most catastrophic adventure. But it has been the American voters who have at last made this possible. For that alone the entire world owes them its deep gratitude today.”

In “Bad at war, good at democracy,” the Guardian takes an envious look at American democracy, comparing it to that of Europe which the writer considers to be stale and boring: 

“Nobody does elections like the Americans: the negativity and abuse is gloriously refreshing.

“America thinks itself good at war and is bad at it. America thinks itself bad at democracy and is good at it, very good…

“Above all the negativity is good. The Karl Rove strategy of identifying electoral difference rather than consensus inflames democratic choice as it should be inflamed. Voters cannot make that choice if, as increasingly in Europe, candidates are bland mirrors of each other. Only at an American election am I told what candidates stand for, because their opponents tell me so, in vivid technicolour. Voters are merely the residuum of democratic scrutiny of power. It is those out of power and craving it that are the real scrutineers. By hook and by crook, American elections deliver that requirement…

“Everything I see, the knocking ads, the robo-calls, the push polls, the face-to-face contact, the grip-and-grin, is directed at one objective, closing the ever-dangerous gulf that divides the individual voter from the character and views of those who purport to exert power of them. I love it.”

In the UK, The Times of London called the Republican defeat a “paradigm shift result that changes Capitol Hill,” but warns the Democrats of the significant weight it puts on them:

“In the (election the Democrats) pushed the Republican Party back into its southern redoubt, turning on its head the recent conventional wisdom about American politics, that the Republicans are a national party who can win everywhere, while the Democrats are largely a party of bicoastal elites and a few urban areas in the middle of the country.

“Republicans will now have to think hard not only about Iraq but about how they position themselves for 2008.

“This repudiation of the President is likely to further embolden potential candidates for the Republican presidential nomination who have urged the party to reach out to the centre ground of politics, rather than rely on its conservative base. These will include John McCain, the Arizona senator, and Mitt Romney, the governor of Massachusetts.

“But there are pitfalls for Democrats too. The party now has to actually run part of the US Government – and accept responsibility when things go wrong. This remarkable election will be the last time for a while when the American people will have only one party to blame for their ills.”

Quoted in Iran News Daily, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei didn’t so much refer to the results of the midterm elections as a loss for the Republican party, but one for Bush, and conversely, a victory for the Persian state:

"(The election results are) not a purely domestic issue for America, but it is the defeat of Bush's hawkish policies in the world…

"Since Washington's hostile and hawkish policies have always been against the Iranian nation, this defeat is actually an obvious victory for the Iranian nation…

“The US threats are now considered empty internationally after humiliating defeat of its policies in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq.”

Pakistan’s The Nation calls the election results a “grand old slap in the face” for the Grand Old Party but is unsure as to what the effects of a Democratic Congress will be on its own nation, right next to “the other war:”

“The impact of the election on Pakistan is not exactly clear. The primary issue in the debate was the Iraq war; in fact, it had been dubbed by the media as the referendum on the Iraq war. Since the cycloptic American voting public didn’t factor in that other snafu, Afghanistan, into their calculations, the impact on Pakistan won’t be immediate. It is, however, expected that the Democrats will be slightly colder in their attitude towards Pakistan. 

“It would be wrong, however, to assume much more from this change of guard. The Executive Branch still lies where it lies. All that could be interpreted from the Democrat tide is that Americans may cease to be as belligerent as they have been during at least the past six years. It would do America good if the Republicans, humbled and kicked where it hurts, let the Democrats do just a little bit of damage control.”

The Beirut-based Daily Star also thinks that a “Democratic resurgence in Washington is no cause for celebration,” citing three main reasons: 

“It took six years, but American voters have demonstrated a belated understanding of what people virtually everywhere else have known for years: George W. Bush is a dangerous cowboy who needs to be restrained. It is only natural that Arabs and Muslims were the first to sound the alarm about the threat posed to international peace and stability by Bush's post-9/11 conversion to unilateral interventionism: The peoples of the Middle East have been paying the price for official US duplicity and ignorance for decades, and Bush's reign has only exacerbated the situation by adding equal doses of unrealistic dogma and invincible roguishness. What remains to be seen is whether the rebuke delivered by American voters will be reflected in US policies overseas, and there is little reason for optimism…

“Democrats are even more dependent, financially and politically, on the pro-Israel lobby than Republicans. This means that Washington's mindless support for the Jewish state's intransigent approach to the Middle East's core problem - the Palestinian-Israeli conflict - is likely to remain intact.

“Another reason for pessimism is the shamelessness with which the same Democratic Party has rolled over in the face of Bush's expansive vision of his ‘war on terrorism.’ There has been some sniping over the past couple of years, especially over Iraq, but by and large Democrats have looked the other way as the Bush administration has unabashedly demonstrated its disregard for both international and American law.

“This leads to a third probability that bodes ill for stability in this and other parts of the world: Historically, US presidents who have abused the office in a bid to expand the power of the presidency (Richard Nixon and the impotent administrations of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter that followed come inevitably to mind) have triggered backlashes of unwieldy oversight conditions that undermine the executive branch's ability to act forcefully and quickly. As Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen noted on Wednesday, ‘the world needs a vigorous USA’ - and thanks to Bush, it is unlikely to have one again for quite some time.”

Israel’s YNet News isn’t at all surprised by the outcome, with a headline saying, “Tradition of punishing US president in second term continues.” It is confident that the Democrats understand well the pressures on Israel in the Middle East and is also reassured that America’s support for the Jewish state will not founder with a Democratic Congress:

“For those familiar with American political history, the Democrats' achievements in the elections for Congress in George W. Bush's sixth year in office came as no surprise…

“Still, a measure of caution is required. The two women who as of today lead the Democratic party ahead of the 2008 elections, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, made it clear in their victory speeches that a new policy is required in Iraq, but it should be a unifying policy; that is, a policy that the Republicans can also support, and mostly one that offers encouragement to US troops instead of undermining them, as the Democrats did in Vietnam…

“There's also reason to believe, even though this has not yet faced a genuine political test, that on the question of the Iranian threat, the Democrats understand what's at stake no less so than their colleagues on the other side of the spectrum.

“In the next Senate, Jews will again comprise one fifth of the Democratic faction, including Maryland Senator Ben Cardin, whose attachment to Zionism is known to all. The Democratic party was always the political home of most American Jews, and it is no wonder its leaders and candidates were quick to disassociate themselves from former President Jimmy Carter's new book, while demonstrating as much as possible that their commitment to Israel was and will remain a solid bipartisan position in both houses of Congress.

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