Thursday, November 09, 2006

World Reaction to Tuesday's Election

11/5/08 Update: Yes, Barack Obama won! We can celebrate. But the story below is about the 2006 election though much of it still holds true. I hope to have a post up about world reaction in 2008. Until read this post in Americablog or come by again in a few days.

We sometimes forget the impact that the United States has on the rest of the world. I've noticed ever since the internet allowed me to look at various newspapers and magazines around the world that most days of the week there is at least one story about the US on the front pages. We are a powerful country, some would argue too powerful, but we have an extraordinary impact on the rest of the world across a wide range of issues. The facet that has the most impact is our role as the leader of the free world and that role has been badly undermined by the hubris and incompetence of George W. Bush since he took office nearly six years ago.

The world reaction to Tuesday's elections is worth noting. The most common reaction? A sigh of relief, a murmur of hope that the US is recovering the sensibilities that has always been the real source of its strength.

Here's an article by Simon Jenkins of The Guardian, the British newspaper that has been particularly critical of Bush:
... Overnight six years of glib European identification of "American" with right-wing fundamentalism is over. The gun-toting, pre-Darwinian Bushite, the Tomahawk-wielding, Halliburton-loving, Beltway neo-con, damning abortion as murder and torturing Islamo-fascists has been lain to rest, and by a decision of the American people. Americans should be proud and the world should take note.

Yesterday's result could hardly have been more emphatic. George Bush's election wizard, Karl Rove, said he would make America's midterm elections "a choice not a referendum". He would ask them to choose a congress not vote on his boss. The electorate did both. In a high turnout the majority rejected the tenets of the religious right and of "big government" neo-conservativism. They expressed concern over the corruption and warmongering of Washington and the state of their economy in Bush's hands.

I realize many Americans, including voters who called for change, might argue that Jenkins is overstating what happened. But Jenkins is viewing things through a prism that is common throughout the world. People want something better from the United States; people want to believe the United States really does believe in democracy and fair play whether their vision of the US is accurate or not.

CNN has an AP article on worldwide reaction to the elections; the reactions vary but here's some excerpts that caught my interest:
The seismic shift that midterm elections brought to Washington's political landscape was welcomed by many Wednesday in a world sharply opposed to the war in Iraq and outraged over the harsh methods the Bush administration has employed in fighting terrorism.

From Paris to Pakistan, politicians, analysts and ordinary citizens said they hoped the Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives would force President Bush to adopt a more conciliatory approach to the globe's laundry list of crises, and teach a president many see as a "cowboy" a lesson in humility.


In Paris, expatriates and French citizens alike packed the city's main American haunts to watch results, with some standing to cheer or boo as vote tabulations came in.

One Frenchman, teacher Jean-Pierre Charpemtrat, 53, said it was about time U.S. voters figured out what much of the rest of the world already knew.

"Americans are realizing that you can't found the politics of a country on patriotic passion and reflexes," he said. "You can't fool everybody all the time -- and I think that's what Bush and his administration are learning today."


Bush is deeply unpopular in many countries around the globe, with particularly intense opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, the U.S. terror detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and allegations of Washington sanctioned interrogation methods that some equate with torture.

Many said they thought the big gains by Democrats signaled the beginning of the end of Bush's reign. The next presidential election is in November 2008.


In Sri Lanka, some said they hoped the rebuke would force Bush to abandon a unilateral approach to global issues.

"The Americans have made it clear that current American policy should change in dealing with the world, from a confrontational approach, to a more consensus-based and bridge-building approach," said Jehan Perera, a political analyst. The Democratic win means "there will be more control and restraint" over U.S. foreign policy.

It's worth pointing out, that from the viewpoint of the world, this isn't necessarily about Republicans versus Democrats. After all, the world cheered when Nixon went to Russia and China and the world cheered when the first Bush formed a true multilateral force to undo Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. There's been leadership in both parties from time to time that's worthy of the world stage. One cannot say that about George W. Bush.

In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has done an about face after a rightward tilt that resulted in complete rejection by the voters last year on a series of proposed initiatives he put before the voters; since then, Schwarzenegger has been cooperating with Democrats in the legislature and the result is that he was reelected by an overwhelming margin (hey, I still voted for the other guy but I give credit where due!). Bush should take a page from Schwarzenegger and embark on a much more realistic and common sense approach to both foreign and domestic policies in cooperation with Democrats. Will it happen? I doubt it, but the opportunity is there. Americans would welcome it. And the world would welcome it.


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