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US Election Results - A Foreign Policy Mandate? - 2002-11-06

The White House is interpreting the Republican gains in Tuesday's congressional elections as an endorsement of President Bush's agenda, including his strong stand on Iraq and national security.

Tuesday's congressional elections took place against the backdrop of last year's terrorist attacks, repeated warnings that the nation is likely to be attacked again, and the looming possibility of a war with Iraq. President Bush made all these issues central to his successful campaign to help Republicans regain control of the Senate.

"It was a vote in general for the president's serious, tough minded war on terrorism," said Tom Friedman, foreign affairs columnist for The New York Times. He has just published a book about the world in the aftermath of last year's terrorist attacks.

"I'm sure there will be a concern among allies that the more aggressive isolationists within the administration over-read this election," Mr. Friedman went on to say. "It would be a great over-reading of where the American public is to treat this as some kind of blanket endorsement for the more aggressive, pugnacious attitudes and policies of some of those at the Pentagon. Did the fact that 40,000 more people in Minnesota vote for Norm Coleman over Walter Mondale give the administration a mandate to fight a war in Iraq alone irrespective of the United Nations? I don't think so."

American allies in Europe are withholding comment on the foreign policy implications of Tuesday's elections. Stephen Fidler, who just completed a four-year assignment in the United States for London's Financial Times newspaper, believes European capitals are viewing Tuesday's republican gains with a bit of caution.

"Europeans on the whole prefer, I think, gridlock in Washington," he pointed out. "They prefer to see different parties in the Congress to those in the White House. And the fact that this is an administration with whom they've had no little difficulty I think will probably increase the concern that they have about a Republican sweep."

An exception is Israel, which has likened its battle against suicide bombers to the U.S. war on terrorism. In Washington, Israeli embassy spokesman Mark Regev said: "President Bush has put the war against terrorism at the top of the international agenda and that's something that we very much support. Israelis have over the years unfortunately have to deal with an on going terrorist threat. The vote in the Senate showed very clearly that on foreign policy, on the issue of Iraq, America speaks with one voice."

The United States could be on the verge of going to war with Iraq when the new Republican Congress convenes in January. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott is interpreting Tuesday's election as a mandate for the president to act.

"What this message says is that this president does have a country that trusts him, respects his leadership and supports what he's trying to do for peace and democracy and security at home and around the world," said Mr. Lott.

Leaders of both parties agree that terrorism and homeland security were the most important issues on voters minds in these midterm elections. One of the first priorities for the new congress will be to complete work on the creation of a new department of homeland security, 14 months after the United States was attacked.