Mid-term U.S. congressional elections don’t typically excite strong interest outside the United States, but this year was different, with the outcome seen as a referendum on the presidency of George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. Tuesday’s elections resulted in a major political upset with Democrats taking control of both houses of Congress and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld resigning on Thursday.
The name of George W. Bush appeared nowhere on the ballot in any of the 50 states. But as American voters chose all 435 lawmakers in the House of Representatives, one-third of the 100 senators, and governors in 36 states, many analysts suggested that the outcome would influence both domestic and foreign policy during the final two years of President Bush’s second term. Matthias Rueb, Washington bureau chief of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, says that, based on “lop-sided reporting” in the German media, the overwhelming majority of Germans expected a “sweeping victory” by the Democrats in both houses of Congress.
Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Mr. Rueb says he thinks there is a “misconception” about how much of a difference the congressional elections will make. He says most Germans feel “vindicated” that the American people have finally come to grips with what a “big mistake it was to invade Iraq.” Matthias Rueb says he hopes that Americans will take the Europeans “more seriously as partners in the trans-Atlantic alliance,” which is important in winning the war in Afghanistan.
British journalist Ian Williams says there was a lot more interest than usual in this week’s U.S. mid-term congressional elections, partly because the British public sees the referendum on George Bush and the war on Iraq in the context of a referendum on Prime Minister Tony Blair. He notes that many Europeans who are accustomed to the workings of parliamentary democracies, in which the majority party chooses the Prime Minister, don’t understand the separation of powers between the U.S. President and the legislature, and therefore have unrealistic expectations about what Congress can accomplish.
In the Arab world, senior correspondent for Al Arabiya television Nadia Bilbassy says, the mood today corresponds to that in the U.S. electorate – that is, it is time for change. Iraq is a major issue, she notes, but Arabs are also concerned about how the administration will deal with Iran and Syria, and they realize that little will happen “on the Israeli-Palestinian track.” But what is important, she suggests, is that the new House of Representatives will probably look into “what happened in Iraq” and where all the money went that was intended for rebuilding Iraq. In addition, Ms. Bilbassy says, the Arab world is “fascinated” by the victory of the new Democratic congressman from Minnesota, Keith Ellison, who is to become the first Muslim in Congress. She says he told her that being a Muslim is a “plus in trying to reverse the negative image that Muslims suffered after 9/11,” and he hopes he can pave the way for greater representation for congressmen of “different ethnic and religious backgrounds.”
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