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Dispatches from a Small Planet: Election 2004

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Untitled Document

Dispatches From a Small Planet: Election 2004

Recent Dispatches
An Election Heard 'Round the World

Colin Powell's Glacier

The Balkans

Dual Citizens

Watching the Presidential Debate With Arabs in Berlin


Border Town

The View From the Underground

A Question of Genocide

The Hunt for Osama bin Laden

President for Life?

Terror, Trade and Tourists

Can Sanctions Bring Democracy?

Hugo Chavez, Clutch Hitter

Continental Drift

The Vet Who Didn't Come Home

The Occupier and the Occupied

By the People - Election 2004 PBS

An Election Heard Round the World
Stephen Talbot

FRONTLINE/World series editor Stephen Talbot in Beirut, Lebanon
By Stephen Talbot
November10, 2004

Since early August, we have been running a weekly series on our FRONTLINE/World Web site -- "Dispatches From a Small Planet: Election 2004" -- aimed at providing some global perspective on the race between President George W. Bush and Senator John F. Kerry. This was an election closely watched by much of the world. Millions of people outside the United States felt they had a stake in it. Now that American voters have made their choice, we want to conclude our series with a sampling of the world's response: incredulity, anger, hope, relief, resignation.

If nothing else, the French know when to be polite. They call it diplomacy.

In a "Dear George" letter faxed to the White House, French president Jacques Chirac congratulated President Bush on winning a second term, a remarkable gesture of political etiquette considering Chirac and most of his countrymen fervently hoped Bush would lose.

Image from the debate

George Bush won a close but decisive victory over Senator Kerry, but in the rest of the world, Bush still faces daunting challenges and great distrust.
Chirac's expression of "cordial friendship," however contrived, was better news for President Bush than Hungary's announcement on the very day of the election that the "new Europe" partner is withdrawing all 300 of its troops from Iraq in 2005.

It's not that the president lacks friends in the world -- Russian president Vladimir Putin endorsed Bush's re-election; Italy's prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, admires his tax cuts; and Australia's newly re-elected prime minister, John Howard, sees Bush as a comrade in arms. No one has sacrificed more for Bush politically than British prime minister Tony Blair. Bush has no stronger ally in the war against terrorism than Israel's embattled Ariel Sharon. And there are always the Poles -- in the debates, Bush touted the Poles whenever he appeared flustered by Senator Kerry's charge that the "coalition of the willing" in Iraq is more of an Anglo-American operation than a grand alliance.

Even Bush's sharpest critics in Europe realize they must find a way to co-exist with the re-elected president. The Spanish newspaper, El Mundo, editorialized that their Socialist prime minister, Jose Luis Zapatero -- who pulled Spanish soldiers out of Iraq and who clearly favored Kerry -- was "doused by reality" when Bush won. After his cold shower, Zapatero, like Chirac, promptly informed Bush that he and his government "have the firm desire to cooperate with you."

"The election has happened. America has spoken. The rest of the world should listen," Blair told The Times of London.

But as revealed in poll after poll from groups like the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press the fact remains that Bush and his foreign policies, especially the war in Iraq, are enormously unpopular in most countries, especially in Europe, Latin America and the Arab world. These are not just the "little wiener countries" -- as George W. Bush's father contemptuously referred to developing nations without oil. "Kerry was strongly preferred among all of America's traditional allies," according to a University of Maryland / GlobeScan survey. Germans favored Kerry over Bush by an astounding 74 percent to 10 percent. Even Tony Blair's British constituents preferred Kerry by more than 30 percentage points.

Inside European Parliment

Many European Parliament members, some of whom are pictured here in a debate on Iraq, did not expect Bush to win at the polls. (AP/Wide World Photos)
"The America we used to know and love is slowly disappearing before our eyes," Dominique Moisi, deputy director of the French Institute for International Relations in Paris told journalist Vivienne Walt. "We are watching with sadness and dismay. This new America is really alien to us."

The World According to Bush

Many of Bush's supporters do not seem concerned by his unpopularity in the world. They admire his determination and they delight in his Texas cowboy swagger. They cheered whenever Bush ridiculed Kerry for saying that the United States should "pass a global test" before going to war. As Fred Penar of North Fort Myers, Florida, wrote us in our React section after reading our FRONTLINE/World election coverage: "Why should we care what the world thinks?" He added, "The U.S. is the strongest country in the world -- in terms of personal freedom, economy and military. The rest of the world should care what we think, and try to apply our successful principles to themselves."

That attitude seemed to offend readers like Donna Oberholtzer of Washington, D.C., who wrote: "Not to care what the rest of the world thinks of Bush and Kerry is to remain arrogant, ignorant, righteous, shameless, alone and weak."

In the United States, the red states declared, "It's all over now, baby blue." Bush won his close but decisive victory over Senator Kerry, and the Republican party tightened its grip on Congress. But in the rest of the world, Bush still faces daunting challenges and enormous distrust. Nowhere is that more apparent than in Iraq, where the Bush administration intends to hold elections by the end of January 2005 -- less than three months from now. While Americans debate what kind of mandate a 51 percent to 48 percent victory provides, the president has moved aggressively to launch a much-anticipated military offensive against Sunni insurgents in Fallujah.

Surprisingly, the war in Iraq does not appear to have been a decisive factor in the presidential election, despite talk -- which President Bush strenuously denied -- that the administration might have to revive the draft to provide enough troops to sustain and win the war. Even the last-minute "October Surprise" of an Osama bin Laden videotape (our intrepid reporter Sharmeen Obaid wrote about the hunt for bin Laden in Pakistan's dangerous tribal frontier) appeared to have little impact on voters, who already seemed to have made up their minds about which candidate was more likely to safeguard the United States against terrorism. Exit polls indicate that "moral values" -- including opposition to abortion and gay marriage -- may have been more important to Bush supporters in Ohio, the swing state that determined the outcome.

However validating or satisfying it may be for Bush to win the popular vote this time after losing it in 2000, an election triumph in November will begin to seem hollow if the war in Iraq continues to deteriorate, if U.S. military and Iraqi civilian casualties continue to mount, and if Bush and the U.S.-installed interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi fail to deliver on their promise of democratic elections in January 2005.

Comparing Iraq with Vietnam may not always be useful, but it's worth recalling that after trouncing Barry Goldwater in a landslide in 1964, a once supremely self-confident President Lyndon Johnson was so battered by the failure of his Vietnam War policies that he chose not to run for re-election in 1968.

Of course, so far Bush has famously refused to acknowledge any mistakes in Iraq and does not intend to let Iraq become a Vietnam quagmire. But the London-based Economist, which endorsed Bush's decision to go to war against Saddam Hussein, urged Bush in its post-election editorials to be less ideological and more pragmatic. "Getting rid of Donald Rumsfeld, who should have resigned after the Abu Ghraib debacle, would be a welcome start."

Blair comes to Washington this week as a go-between, a man trying to bridge Bush's aggressive Washington with a skeptical Europe. It will not be an easy task. "Bush's victory was not expected," reports our man in Europe, Mark Schapiro. "Certainly not the magnitude of his popular and electoral vote." If there is a symbol of Europe's dismay, it can be found in the blunt tabloid headline of London's Daily Mirror: "How can 59,054,087 people be so DUMB?"

Queen Elizabeth reportedly asked Blair to lobby the United States to change its position on global warming and sign the Kyoto treaty, as Putin recently did. "But I think that's a lost cause," said The Times of London correspondent Michael Binyon on Boston's WBUR-FM On Point. Europeans seem to have low expectations of Bush's second term, despite assurances by Bush's press secretary, Scott McClellan, that the president "looks forward" to new cooperation with the European Union. "Europe will continue to criticize Bush the same way as earlier," predicted Goeran Persson, prime minister of Sweden. "But I do not believe that he will be more willing to listen."

U.S. Army soldiers in Iraq

U.S. Army soldiers secure a perimeter in Iraq. Global polls suggest that Bush and his foreign policies, especially the war in Iraq, are enormously unpopular in most countries, especially in the Arab world. (AP/Wide World Photos)
Israel and the Palestinians

The British prime minister also will be trying once again to convince Bush to make a priority of attempting to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, calling it the world's "single most pressing political challenge." Though early on in his first term Bush advocated a "road map" to peace in the Middle East, he swerved off that road into Iraq. Bush mainly deferred to Sharon on Mideast policy, only occasionally mentioning the right of Palestinians to have their own state in peace, alongside Israel.

However, with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat apparently near death in a Paris hospital and with Sharon pushing an Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, there may be some opening for a negotiated settlement. At his post-election press conference, Bush revived talk of a Palestinian state, and this week Bush phoned Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, pledging to "cooperate more actively" in seeking a two-state solution.

"Mr. Bush will need to figure out what the United States can do to make sure that Ariel Sharon's policy of Israeli disengagement from Gaza does not become Gaza only, and that Gaza does not become a lawless failed state," cautions Richard Haass, an advisor to the first President Bush and now president of the Council on Foreign Relations, in an Economist essay.

"Now that Mr. Bush is elected, we are very happy and we congratulate the American people for their choice," declared Israel's deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert, though he said Israel would have had a good relationship with Kerry too. Opinion polls in Israel showed Bush as a clear favorite.

Lebanon's current president with his wife

Under Syrian pressure, the Lebanese Parliament amended the constitution to allow Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud to remain in power for three more years; he was supposed to step down in November.
As I reported in the first story in our election series, based on my trip to Lebanon and Syria, Arabs desperately want the United States to resume the aggressive search for peace in the Middle East that Clinton was brokering when he was derailed by his not-so-"youthful indiscretions" and the ensuing impeachment scandal.

"It is time for the United States to impose a two-state solution," said Jamil Mroue, the worldly, silver-haired publisher of Beirut's moderate Daily Star. "Lay down a border and say, 'That's it, this fighting has gone on long enough.'"

My last evening in Lebanon, the president of the American University of Beirut, John Waterbury, told a gathering of reporters that he was profoundly worried. In all his years in Arab countries, Waterbury observed, he'd never known the reputation of the United States to be lower. It was, he said, a very dangerous time.

Orville Schell's report "Watching the Presidential Debate With Arabs in Berlin" confirmed Waterbury's gloomy assessment. Even among an elite group of Western-educated Arab business leaders -- men who praised the first President Bush -- Schell discovered that Bush II was regarded as arrogant and ignorant in dealing with the Middle East. "Before reading Orville Schell's column I believed that America would never regain a favorable position in the global community if Bush was re-elected," Janet Lazar of Morris Plains, New Jersey, emailed us. "After reading the column, I am more convinced than ever. As an American, I am also embarrassed realizing that many of the world's population view W. as an incompetent leader."

Latin America

As the United States moves right, Latin America is moving left.

"The government of George Bush will be defeated on Sunday," vowed Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's combative president, in a pre-election press conference last August. "It's not a question of whether Chavez goes or stays. It's a question of whether Venezuela remains sovereign or goes back to being an American colony."

Our correspondent, Ruth Morris, gave us an eyewitness account of the bare-knuckles battle in which Chavez defeated the recall referendum. On Halloween, Chavez frightened his opponents even more: In local elections, his allies captured 20 of Venezuela's 23 states, including Caracas, the capital.

President Hugo Chavez

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, pictured here at a press conference in April 2003, is one of several leftist Latin American leaders who are rejecting the advice of Washington and Wall Street.
Genuine populist or aspiring tyrant -- or both -- Hugo Chavez takes pleasure in taunting George Bush, who Chavez believes supported the coup against him in 2002. But as I noted in one of our newsletters, the adversaries share two things: a love of baseball (Bush was once part owner of the Texas Rangers; Chavez is always using baseball as a metaphor for politics) and a close political association with oil. As Morris reported in her dispatch, Chavez used revenues from Venezuela's booming state-owned oil company to pay for an array of social programs -- health clinics, literacy campaigns, housing -- which bolstered his support and won him votes from the 60 percent of Venezuelans living below the poverty line. Chavez benefited from the war in Iraq, which disrupted oil production and sent oil prices sky-high on the world market. In that sense, the Bush administration helped Chavez beat the recall campaign. Call it the law of unintended consequences.

If all the world's a stage, and Iraq is now front and center, a new drama is unfolding offstage, in Latin America, and its stars are politicians like Chavez. In a region that the United States has long considered its backyard -- a particularly neglected backyard these days -- voters are electing a series of left-leaning leaders who are rejecting the advice of Washington and Wall Street. The latest is Uruguay's new socialist president, Tabare Vazquez, elected last month. He joins Brazil's working-class hero, President Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, and Argentina's center-left president, Nestor Kirchner, as well as Chile's president, Ricardo Lagos, a moderate socialist. In Chile, the military just officially apologized for its role in the bloody U.S.-backed 1973 coup that overthrew Chile's first democratically elected socialist president, Salvador Allende.

Of course, there are exceptions to the trend. Colombian president Alvaro Uribe, a moderate conservative, has close ties with the Bush administration and commands extraordinarily high approval ratings -- up to 70 percent -- for his crackdown on drug trafficking, crime and violence in a country plagued by 40 years of civil war. But again, offstage, there is a turbulent drama taking place: U.S. troops are currently engaged in a large-scale Colombian military offensive against leftist rebels in southern Colombia -- a campaign aimed at securing oil-producing areas. The Middle East is not the only region in the world where oil is a source of conflict.

John Kerry

Polls showed that Asia had the most mixed response to the Bush-Kerry race, although Kerry was still favored by large margins in China, Indonesia and Japan.

No one was more critical of President Bush than a former vice premier and foreign minister of China who denounced the "Bush Doctrine" in a commentary published in the English-language, government-run China Daily on the eve of the U.S. election. Breaking with a tradition of not commenting on U.S. presidential candidates, Qian Qichen condemned Bush for the war in Iraq and for an "arrogant" policy of trying to "rule the world."

After the election, the Chinese government offered an olive branch, with President Hu Jintao congratulating Bush. The Xinhua news agency quoted Hu as saying, "Both China and the United States are great countries and share a wide range of common interests and basis for cooperation."

But the schizophrenic responses underscore China's ambivalent relations with the United States, including rivalry over trade, tensions over Taiwan and North Korea, and disagreements over the war in Iraq. Since September 11, 2001, the Bush administration has encouraged Chinese cooperation in the war on terror by avoiding any criticism of Beijing's crackdown on Uighur Muslims in western China. But in a current twist, the United States is preparing to release from prison in Guantanamo as many as 22 Uighurs rounded up in Afghanistan, declaring that they are not a security threat. The Uighurs say they don't want to go back to China for fear of being killed or imprisoned, so the United States is looking for third countries in which to place them -- a process that angers Beijing.

Polls showed that Asia had the most mixed response to the Bush-Kerry race, although Kerry was still favored by large margins in China, Indonesia and Japan. But in India and Thailand, public opinion was evenly divided, and in the Philippines -- where the government has long battled Muslim separatists (see our FRONTLINE/World television report "Islands Under Siege," June 2003, by reporter Orlando de Guzman) -- Bush was the favorite.

Our correspondent Carrie Ching wrote about American expat GIs in Thailand -- just before the Swift Boat furor erupted among vets who backed Bush and never forgave war hero John Kerry for joining the antiwar movement when he returned home from his tour of duty in Vietnam. Ching reports that Thailand's prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was relieved that Bush won because he felt a Republican administration would "move forward quicker" with a free trade agreement. But Shinawatra also expressed concern that the war in Iraq and Thailand's own problems with the Muslim minority in southern Thailand might escalate.

Joan Bieder, who wrote about Burma's military regime and whether U.S. sanctions could help restore democracy, forwards a message from a Burmese exile living in the United States with close ties to the National League for Democracy (NLD), the party led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who is still under house arrest. "Most Burmese favor Bush," says the NLD contact. "Burmese support the war [in Iraq] because they hated Saddam Hussein and compare him to their senior general, Than Shwe. They are for the war because [U.S.] troops took down a dictator."


We received an enormous response to Amy Costello's heartbreaking story from the refugee camps in Chad, where people have fled attacks by the government of Sudan and local Arab militias known as the Janjaweed.

Woman and hger children

One of the thousands of victims of the growing violence in the Sudan, which Secretary of State Colin Powell recently labeled a genocide. Ending the war in Sudan's Darfur region and coping with the humanitarian crisis is an immediate challenge for Bush in his second term.
"Now that our Secretary of State has labeled the crisis in Darfur [Sudan's western region] as genocide, we (the U.S.A.) should act," a reader from Arlington, Texas, wrote in our React section. "Our president says Christ changed his life. Well, Christ said, 'As you have done it unto me you have done it unto the least of these, my brothers ... .' So let's pull a brigade or two that have experience in humanitarian relief out of Iraq and send them to eastern Chad. Let's use the techniques the 1st Marine Division used in their sprint to Baghdad to deliver water and food to the refugees. C130s and Chinook helicopters can carry a lot of bottled water and emergency rations, and they can land on hastily improvised landing areas."

Amy Costello and producer/camerawoman Casey Herrman are currently in Sudan doing a television report that we hope to air in our next episode of FRONTLINE/World, slated for Tuesday, January 11, 2005, at 9 p.m.

We also reported from East Africa in our election series, and our reporter Jonathan Jones says Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni issued a public statement congratulating President Bush on his victory and hailing the Bush administration for its support in Uganda's fight against HIV/AIDS and for opening U.S. markets to African goods. "The war was very much on the minds of Ugandans on the day of the U.S. election," says Jones. "Not the war in Iraq, but Uganda's long-running war with the Lord's Resistance Army. A spokesperson for the group, which is notorious for using child soldiers, called for peace talks with the government, which has adopted a policy of amnesty for rank-and-file rebels."

Presidents for Life?

In our dispatches about other elections around the world, we noticed a disturbing trend -- presidents who want to remain in office past their expiration dates. Uganda's 60-year-old President Museveni is trying to amend the constitution so he can run for a third five-year term in 2006. In Belarus, our correspondent Keli Dailey found Alexander Lukashenko, the man they call "Europe's last dictator," also determined to serve a third term, and in October 2004, he won a dubious referendum allowing him to do so. "It is all too easy to write off Belarus as a political basket case and Lukashenko as a loony dictator," commented the Moscow "but the repercussions of this latest move will make themselves felt well beyond Belarus' borders ... . There is a pernicious and disturbing tendency for worst political practice [to spread] ... . Belarus and Russia are clearly a bad influence on each other, while both have been a bad influence on neighboring Ukraine."

And in September 2004, under Syrian pressure, the Lebanese Parliament amended the constitution allowing Syrian-backed President Emile Lahoud to remain in power for three more years. He was supposed to step down in November. But Syria has some 17,000 troops in Lebanon and still calls the shots politically. "Today is a black day in Lebanese history," said Member of Parliament Nayla Mouawad. Syria's president, Bashar al Assad, whose father ruled Syria for nearly 30 years, later defended his power play in Lebanon, saying the country needed stability.

Poster on side of building

A portrait of President Karzai hangs on a government building in downtown Kabul. Elections in Afghanistan were a victory for the Bush administration, but the democratic future of Afghanistan still depends on the unfinished business of providing security, disarming the warlords and building grassroots political parties.
The World Is Still Watching

Afghanistan's presidential election on October 9, 2004, was a sweeping victory for Hamid Karzai and a defeat for the remnants of the Taliban, who had vowed to disrupt the voting. Our correspondent Roya Aziz covered the run-up to the historic vote in one of our election-related FRONTLINE/World Fellows projects. Aziz was impressed with the massive turnout, including the number of women who took part, but cautioned that the democratic future of Afghanistan still depends on the unfinished business of providing security, disarming the warlords and building grassroots political parties. The next big test will be parliamentary elections scheduled for spring 2005.

Another Fellows story, "The Struggle for Water," focused on Haiti, a country that hasn't really had much of a functioning government since the United States removed President Jean Bertrand Aristide from office last February during a rebel uprising. Reporter Shoshana Guy's intimate account of Haiti's crushing poverty elicited an emotional response from readers, including this message from Petionville, Haiti: "I live and work in Haiti and want to compliment you on the excellent portrayal of Haitian reality. Your reporter was a very courageous woman."

Prime Minister Paul Martin (Getty Images)

Prime Minister Paul Martin, of Canada, pictured here at a conference, has refused to send Canadian troops to Iraq. For the first time in his presidency, Bush will soon make an official visit to Canada. (Getty Images)
We are particularly pleased by the amount of feedback we received from readers in the United States and around the world in our React section. A former British ambassador to Thailand commented in great detail on our Burma story; historian Howard Zinn thanked reporter Joe Rubin for his update on El Salvador, a country that has faded from view since the Reagan era wars in Central America ended; and Canadians, who seemed both baffled by the direction of politics in the United States and pleased that we paid attention to them. In response to Meghan Laslocky's story, "Border Town," which focused on the vastly different Canadian and U.S. health care systems, Ryan Cuthbert of Toronto wrote: "As a Canadian accustomed to American ignorance, I would like to commend the author of this article. It was thoughtful, articulate and needed."

Laslocky forwards news that Bush will actually make his first official state visit to Canada, supposedly before his January inauguration, and that, in the words of a Toronto Star columnist, "Ottawa is in a tizzy."

"George W. Bush is full of surprises," writes James Travers. "First he stunned Democrats by seizing nearly full control of the U.S. power grid in last week's elections, and then he startled Liberals here by so readily agreeing to an early visit to Canada." Apparently, Prime Minister Paul Martin did not anticipate Bush's R.S.V.P. The last American president to drop by was Bill Clinton in 1995.

It won't be all tea and scones. There are serious disputes between the United States and Canada: Martin has refused to send troops to Iraq, and he is dubious about Bush's desire for Canada to join in a controversial and expensive missile defense system. As Krista Mahr reports in our final election dispatch, "Colin Powell's Glacier," the Bush administration is already moving ahead with plans to install part of the "Star Wars" system at a U.S. military base in Thule, Greenland.

We could not cover everything in our 15-week series, though we certainly had a broad reach -- from Molly Blank and Elizabeth Gettelman's reports about the legacy of war in the Balkans to Yahaira Castro's story about Dominican voters in the United States who, as dual citizens of the United States and the Dominican Republic, could vote this year for U.S. president as well as for president of their Caribbean island.

Some of the potentially explosive countries we did not cover -- Iran and North Korea -- we had previously reported on in our FRONTLINE/World television series, and we plan to return to them in the future as the threat of nuclear proliferation grows. In our January 11, 2005, broadcast, we will also continue our coverage of the war in Iraq.

Our slogan for "Dispatches From a Small Planet: Election 2004" Web series was "The World Is Watching," and much of the world did seem riveted by the Bush-Kerry showdown, if disappointed by the outcome. Some saw little difference between Bush and Kerry, like the old Serbian nationalist who told our reporter it was like the difference between Coke and Pepsi. But many people around the globe said they wished they could vote in a presidential race that would have such consequences for the whole world.

We take heart from your interest in our Web series and in FRONTLINE/World in general.

"This is a much-needed program that should be provided in all schools, let alone homes," wrote David Murray of Cedarville, Michigan in our React section. "A perspective from other countries helps us see and know ourselves better. Thank you for doing this."

We are not going away. We return soon with "The Road to Peace?" a story from Kashmir by FRONTLINE/World Fellows Sachi Cunningham and Jigar Mehta -- followed by reports from Guatemala and China. And we hope to produce and broadcast four episodes of FRONTLINE/World between January and June of next year. Sign up for our newsletter to receive notice of our next airdate.

FRONTLINE/World was born of a desire to keep Americans better informed about the world, particularly after the tragedy of September 11; to explore other cultures and countries; and to bring a wider range of voices to the television and the Web, including those of younger journalists, who contributed so much to this election series. With your continued interest and the support of our funders, we plan to continue doing just that.

Stephen Talbot is the series editor of FRONTLINE/World and edited the Web site's election coverage.

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