In an anti-Bush world, key backers

A roundup from Monitor correspondents around the world.

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.

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.

Despite Bush's "axis of evil" talk, Iranian leaders see Republicans as "people we can do business with, but Democrats keep bugging us about democracy" and nuclear proliferation, says Mr. Kupchan.

There's a similar sentiment in Colombia, where terrorism and trade dominate. Popular President Alvaro Uribe has invoked the war on terror to mount a successful offensive against the country's leftist rebels. He's relied heavily on US help via the antidrug and antiterror "Plan Colombia," which has been beefed up under Bush. The US Congress last month doubled the number of US troops allowed in Colombia to 800, no small feat with American forces overstretched around the world.

Recently, there's been a sharp decline in kidnappings and killings of civilians in Colombia, leaving many citizens thankful for US help. Now the guerrillas are "considered terrorists," says Rosario Rodriguez, a beauty-salon owner in Bogotá, adding, "We are not alone in the struggle. We are supported by the United States."

Here, and elsewhere in Latin America, there's concern that free-trade talks would be derailed under a President Kerry.


The idea of Bush and the Republicans as tough-minded pragmatists resonates in China, too, where two issues dominate: Taiwan and trade. Bush's team has been consistent about Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province that must be reunited with the mainland. Secretary of State Colin Powell earned big points in China recently when he said Taiwan is not a "sovereign" country, hinting it would be reunited with China.

"In the Chinese mind, Taiwan is No. 1," says Sun Zhe, head of American Studies at Shanghai's Fudan University.

And perhaps the issue of trade and economic growth is No. 2. Alex Zhou, a Shanghai financial analyst backs Bush, saying a President Kerry might be "more prickly about human rights issues." About Bush, he says: "I hate the war, but from the business point of view, especially longterm, Bush is better."

Bush as good for business echoes in India, too. The country's intelligentsia adamantly opposes Bush over the Iraq war. But many in the middle class focus on bread-and-butter issues of jobs and trade. Anything that hinders India's rising stature in the cyberworld of computer-software engineering and telecommunications is a bigger long-term threat than an amorphous notion like global terrorism. Thus Kerry's positions on "outsourcing" - and keeping American jobs at home - make him unattractive. "Many Indians are beginning to see IT as a way out ... a panacea to all the ills India faces," says Dipankar Gupta, an anthropologist at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi. Thus Bush, who's more of a free-trader than Kerry, appeals.

In Japan, however, support for Bush is based not so much on business but on regional and global power politics. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi is a Bush supporter, sending 500 noncombat troops to Iraq. In October he broke tradition, saying, "I am very close to President Bush, so I want him to do his best." This despite a poll showing just 30 percent of Japanese backing Bush and 51 percent favoring Kerry.

"The Japanese government has vested interests" in supporting Bush, explains Sheila Smith, at the East West Center, a think tank in Hawaii. Japan is seeking a bigger role in Asia. While Bush sees Japan as a strategic anchor in the region, Kerry's plans for one-on-one talks with North Korea, for instance, would sideline Japan. It also wants a larger presence on the world stage, including a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, a bid that would be helped by US support.

Meanwhile, Australian Prime Minister John Howard, recently elected to a fourth term, has been one of Bush's staunchest allies in the war in Iraq and the war on terror. Australia currently has 920 troops in Iraq and the region, and Mr. Howard has resisted all calls to bring them home. "I express my strong support for the leadership that the president has continued to display," Howard told Bush earlier this year.


Leaders in South Africa may quietly support Bush, experts say, in part because he sees sub-Saharan Africa's wealthiest nation as the regional power broker and peacemaker.

The African continent in general is one region Bush where seems to have gained kudos simply because of his strong involvement. He's promised $15 billion for fighting AIDS. He has revamped foreign aid, demanding accountability on good governance and other standards - an effort that dovetails with growing African efforts to address the continent's problems. And he has invested far more political capital than many expected to halt genocide in Sudan. "None of us forecast Bush would be as favorable to Africa as he's been," says international relations professor John Stremlau at Witswatersrand University.


But it's what the Bush team refers to as "Old Europe" - especially Germany and France - where much of the antipathy toward Bush is rooted. So when the tabloid Bild, Germany's biggest paper, endorsed Bush last week, it set off groans of controversy. "There has already been an American president the Germans haven't thought very highly of," the article said. "His name: Ronald Reagan.... We have him to thank for the end of the cold war and reunification. There's a good chance that we'll also be thankful one day for George W. Bush."

The comment bordered on blasphemy in a nation where polls show up to 80 percent of Germans would vote for Kerry. Yet many aren't excited by the Bush alternative. "If you look at the rhetoric, you ask yourself how much different Kerry really is, aside from the fact that he's a bit more diplomatic," says freelance journalist Martin Schrader of Berlin.

Meanwhile, in Britain, where public support for Bush is weak, Prime Minister Tony Blair has taken hits for backing Bush. "If Bush is defeated, there will be a strong assumption it's because of Iraq, and Blair might well be concerned that he'd be next in line," says Dana Allin at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.


Even in perhaps the most anti-Bush region of all - the Middle East - there are those who support the incumbent, if for unconventional reasons. Many in the region figure that lobbyists for Israel have big influence on US policy and that a second-term Bush might be able to brush off their pressure. "Bush won't have to answer to the Jewish lobby and that could help," says Mohammed Essam, a Cairo cab driver.

Osama El-Ghazali Harb, an Egyptian analyst, is another who argues for Bush. "Being a second-term president, Bush will have the benefit of experience, which will make him wiser," he says. But, as befitting his region's sentiment, Mr. Harb was one of only 12 people in a 110-person straw poll done by a local paper who said they'd vote for Bush.

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