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The presidential race, as seen from Europe

Morgan Smith

“Bush or Kerry?”From Oct. 13 to Oct. 27, I circled Spain by car, taking photographs for a book I’m preparing. What struck me was the extraordinary interest in the U.S. presidential election.One example was a farmer named Lionel in a remote area of Aragon. When I stopped to photograph a huge brush fire – Lionel burning the weeds off a large irrigation ditch – his first question was, “Bush or Kerry?” This happened time and again, even in these remote little towns.Throughout those two weeks, the major papers – El Pais and La Vanguardia, for example – carried pages and pages of coverage, including speculation as to what would happen after the elections, biographies of the candidates and mock polls (the poll in Barcelona showed Kerry receiving 76.2 percent of the vote and Bush only 12.6 percent).What next? How do people feel now that the elections are over? Here are a number of reactions from outside the United States.Alex Muns, a Spanish professor and author says that Bush should “One, try to shore up the situation in Iraq, take out the rebel strongholds with real house-to-house combat and not aerial bombardment that alienates the locals. Get countries like Pakistan, Turkey to send troops. Send additional U.S. troops. Stabilize the country, otherwise it will never take off economically.”Two, reach out to countries that opposed the war. Forget previous disagreements, try to cooperate in areas of mutual agreement. Next year is the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, a good occasion for coming together.”Three, a total must is to get the Israeli-Palestinian peace process started again. The passing of Arafat offers a window of opportunity.”Four, lean on countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries to carry out internal political and social reforms. Generally deploy not just military but economic, development, diplomatic and other tools to bring about change in the Middle East – a Marshall Plan for the Arab and Islamic world.”He ends by saying that “I am quite skeptical that any of this will be done, but who knows?”Scott Doane, an American businessman living in Barcelona, comments, “I think that the election result has been ‘accepted’ – i.e. grudgingly. Now it’s off the agenda. As for rebuilding the image of the USA, I can only imagine that the best possible result would come from seeing peace and democracy established in Iraq. Next on the list should be Israel/Palestine, then if they want to endear themselves to the world a bit more I personally suggest banning the sale of handguns.”Continuing, he says, “It would be nice if George Bush would use his second term to stand up to the pressure groups a bit, though, and consequently promote free trade. Let’s say goodbye to subsidies for cotton, wool, steel and bananas! Let’s see falling carbon emissions, support for the Kyoto treaty, and releasing of prisoners held without trial to independent legal tribunals.”How are Americans being treated abroad?Wendy Wollard, a Coloradan working in London writes that “American politics is always clearly separate from personal feelings towards individual Americans.”A Canadian in Barcelona, Sheila Hanchard says, “I have yet to speak to a person who sees this [election] result as a positive thing.”John Burgess writes from Russia: “They [Russians] are amazed that he [President Bush] had so little understanding of life in a totalitarian society [Iraq under Saddam] and therefore so little understanding of the chaos that would ensue when Saddam was removed.”Joy Carey, former trade specialist for the Colorado International Trade Office, writes from Paris: “It is truly astonishing how quickly the sympathy and outpouring of support Americans in Paris received after 9/11 was so quickly squandered with the race to war in Iraq.” She adds, “Public opinion of our government is appalling, though they are good at distinguishing between Americans and the American government.”A Vietnam veteran in Barcelona who played ice hockey with John Kerry in college, George Semler comments, “Our country … or just over half of it, is composed of scared-to-death cowards who are addicted to war … as long as they don’t have to fight them … Thus, there is more sympathy for a chicken hawk than for a decorated combat veteran.”Sheila Shannon, a professor from the University of Colorado, Denver, on sabbatical at the University of Guadalajara in Mexico writes: “The greatest problem for Mexico is immigration and all the implications of it. Neither Bush nor Kerry talked about it and it’s no wonder since Mexican immigration supports the economies of both countries although it ruins the lives of millions of [poor] Mexicans.”Gail Craigie, a British businesswoman in Barcelona, reports on what many Spaniards said to me during my trip: “We are very much affected by who the president is, but we don’t get to have a say!”Bartolomé Rodriguez, a businessman born in Madrid, repeats the hope of Europeans that Kerry would win and describes the gestures of disrespect that have recently occurred between Spain’s prime minister and the U.S. ambassador there. This “survey” certainly isn’t scientific, but it does reflect the opinions of people – British, Spaniards and Canadian, as well as American – who care deeply about our country. What will happen next? Will the president reach out to new leadership in Palestine? How is the war in Iraq really going? Can an effort to rethink the Kyoto treaty be initiated? Will new cabinet appointments reflect a “softer” approach?The president has a unique opportunity. Will he take advantage of it?Morgan Smith is a former Aspenite and part-time Barcelona resident. He can he reached at msmith@abaforum.es


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