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After Political Upset in US, Many Wonder What Next?


Tuesday's elections in the United States resulted in a major political upset. Democrats appear to have taken control of both houses of Congress and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resigned on Wednesday. These changes that are widely viewed as a result of voter discontent with the Bush Administration's policy in Iraq. Many are now wondering how policies might change.

"The cost of war" is how Britain's Guardian newspaper describes the Republican election defeat and the departure of Donald Rumsfeld. The newspaper goes on to say that Rumsfeld, one of the principal architects of the Iraq war had to be "sacrificed," after the election upset.

Tuesday's vote was widely seen as a referendum on President Bush and his Iraq policy. Democrats are talking about a change in policy, but many in the U.S. and around the world are wondering what that means.

President Bush has acknowledged voter discontent with what he termed the "lack of progress" in Iraq, and the president says he is open to different views, but he has also ruled out any immediate troop withdrawal.

Some of Washington's close allies have already said their policy toward Iraq will not change. Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first to confirm that and Australia's Prime Minister John Howard said his government will keep its troops in Iraq.

In London, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett did not directly mention the U.S. election outcome in an address to a foreign policy organization Thursday. But she did say Britain's policy remains unchanged.

"We will do what we told the democratically elected government [of Iraq] that we would do, stay there as long as that government asks us to do so," she said. "We will leave when they're confident that they can take the role of security on their own shoulders."

Beckett did warn of even greater instability and bloodshed in Iraq in the near future, but she said a precipitous withdrawal would be potentially disastrous.

A former British ambassador to Washington, Christopher Meyer, says he sees no good options in Iraq. In an interview with British radio, Meyer said he believes the White House and the Democrats will look for some new bipartisan consensus. Meyer believes one likely change will be to lower expectations for victory in Iraq. Instead of trying to democratize the country, the focus now will be on simply stabilizing it. But he says whatever changes emerge, Britain remains closely aligned with American policy.

"We are there. We are fully integrated in what is going on and the consequence of that must be that we are being fully consulted and our views taken into full account as things start to change in Washington," said Meyer.

Meyer also said Washington should consider engaging neighboring countries Iran and Syria - something the Bush Administration has rejected because it accuses Damascus and Tehran of unhelpful meddling.

But, says Meyer, the real question is whether Syria and Iran have some influence in Iraq.

"If the answer is yes, they do influence it, somehow you engage with them," he added. "Sticks and carrots - it may work, it may not. But just to turn your back on them, is rank silliness."

Engaging Iran and Syria would be a good idea, says Hassan Nafae, head of the Political Science Department at Cairo University. But, he says, there is a need to deal with broader regional issues as well.

"If there is an opening toward Iran and Syria, to agree on a sort of international conference to reactivate the peace process because I think the question of Iraq is very much linked to Iran and both are very much linked to the Arab-Israeli conflict," he noted.

There has so far been a noticeable lack of official reaction from leaders in the Middle East to the U.S. election outcome.

However, Jordan's semi-official English language daily, the Jordan Times, did hail the vote as possibly bringing to an end what it termed a "very unfortunate era of American unilateralism and disregard for international law and norms."