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In an anti-Bush world, key backers

A roundup from Monitor correspondents around the world.

By Abraham McLaughlin / November 1, 2004

By most accounts President Bush is almost universally disliked, even reviled, around the world. Seven out of 10 French citizens would vote against him if they could. So would 68 percent of South Koreans and two-thirds of Australians.

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On this election eve, Mr. Bush may be the least-liked American leader in history. Yet closer inspection reveals intriguing pockets of support for the US president.

Consider that Germany's biggest newspaper endorsed Bush last week, saying he's less "wobbly" than his Democratic challenger, Sen. John Kerry. Or that in Iran - part of Bush's "axis of evil" - a top cleric supports Bush, partly because Republicans are slower to slap sanctions on Iran for its nuclear ambitions or rights abuses.

Or that Japan's prime minister broke decades of protocol and effectively endorsed Bush, whose strategic worldview envisions Japan as the key Asian power broker. Or that Colombia's president backs Bush and has adopted his with-us-or-with-the-terrorists paradigm in an increasingly successful war against narco-rebels.

Support for Bush has become lens through which countries and their leaders now see the world, on everything from terrorism to free trade to human rights. "We're talking about islands of support for Bush," says Clifford Kupchan, vice president of the Nixon Center, a Washington think tank. And they're usually leaders or nations that have benefited from Bush's worldview. He cites Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, as a prime example.

Mr. Putin has criticized Bush over the Iraq war but said recently that attacks on US forces in Iraq by international terrorists are personally aimed at Bush. Their goal "is to inflict maximum damage on Bush, to prevent him from getting a second term," Putin said, adding, "If they succeed ... that would give an additional impulse to international terrorism and could lead to the spread of terrorism to other parts of the world."

The Russian public is split 52-48 for Bush in the US contest, according to a Moscow News poll. But Putin has robustly backed Bush's terror war, partly out of a desire to do fierce battle with Chechen insurgents - without outside criticism. Bush has largely obliged. And when Putin recently introduced reforms that some considered an authoritarian power-grab, the White House didn't balk.

However, "If Democrats come to power, they are more likely to intervene in Russia's internal affairs," highlighting democratic lapses or human-rights abuses, says Sergei Rogov, director of the official Institute of USA-Canada Studies in Moscow.

At least one top Iranian mullah has a similar view. "We haven't seen anything good from Democrats, so we won't be happy if the Democrats win," said Hasan Rowhani recently. He heads Iran's Supreme National Security Council and referred to sanctions imposed by President Clinton and poor relations with the US under Presidents Kennedy and Carter.

Republican Ronald Reagan's White House, meanwhile, set up the Iran-contra deal, by which Iran received weapons in exchange for lobbying for the release of American hostages in Lebanon. More recently, Bush removed two traditional Iranian enemies - Afghanistan's Taliban and Iraq's Saddam Hussein. But a President Kerry might be more effective in leading an international effort for tougher sanctions because of Iran's apparent quest for nuclear weapons.