By Molly Moore and Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, November 10, 2006
PARIS, Nov. 9 -- For Europe and much of the rest of the world, U.S. voters' repudiation of the Bush administration in midterm elections Tuesday and the dismissal of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Wednesday confirmed the widespread view that President Bush and his policies have done more to tarnish America's image abroad and strain its global relations than any other U.S. president in recent history.
The Socialist Group in the European Parliament, the legislative body's second-largest voting bloc, called the election results "the beginning of the end of a six-year nightmare for the world."
The seismic political shift in the United States was greeted in many places less with jubilation than with a sense of relief that Americans had at long last come to their senses.
"It took a while for the Americans to realize who they had elected and the damage he had caused in the world," said Philippe Bas, 56, whose newsstand near a Paris subway stop was stacked with newspapers from across Europe carrying analyses of the election.
That view was echoed in some newspaper editorials and headlines around Europe. In Britain, the headline over the Guardian newspaper's lead editorial read, "Thank you, America."
In many capitals, Rumsfeld's dismissal was as momentous as the prospect of Democratic control of the House and Senate.
"After the Democratic victory, Bush sacrifices Rumsfeld," the French daily newspaper Le Figaro declared in a banner headline Thursday. An editorial in Le Figaro described Rumsfeld as "the symbol of the horrors of the American military intervention in Iraq" and said, "By dismissing the architect of this unpopular conflict, by sanctioning the neocons' idol, George Bush shows that he stopped believing that he could 'maintain the course' in Iraq."
"Rumsfeld never had many friends in Europe," Marcin Zaborowski, who monitors transatlantic relations for the Paris-based European Union Institute for Security Studies, said in an interview. "He exemplified anything that was bad about this administration. He personified the approaches Europeans had the most problems with -- going to war in Iraq on the false premises that it was closely linked to the war on terrorism and directly linked to the events of 9/11."
Political parties, government leaders, pundits and citizens from many countries seized on the return of a bipartisan government in the United States as a harbinger of welcome change in the Bush administration's policy of using the military. But others expressed concerns about the Democratic Party's agenda promoting trade restrictions and human rights.
"I hope the policy will be better balanced regarding the use of armed forces outside the United States," Boris Gryzlov, speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament, told reporters in Moscow. "However, there are fears that the Democrats are more prone to apply double standards in human rights."
"Democrats have traditionally had more complicated relations with Russia," said Tatyana Parkhalina, a senior analyst at the Center for Problems of European Security in Moscow. "And our politicians worry that they will pay more attention to human rights, the democratic development of the country and relations with former Soviet republics. They're not happy about that."
Some Chinese analysts also said the Beijing government is worried about potential changes in the way the United States approaches trade relations, noting that Democrats have traditionally been more attuned than Republicans to labor union complaints about loss of U.S. jobs to low-wage Chinese factories.
Officials and analysts in other nations embraced the prospect of changes in U.S. social policies.
Germany's minister for economic cooperation and development, Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul, a Social Democrat, told the Berliner Zeitung newspaper, "There is hope that our concerns in the world -- for peace, development, environmental and climate protection -- will be given more weight on the political agenda in the USA."
On the opposite side of the globe, Mexican officials said they hope Democrats will use their new power to improve Bush's approach to immigration issues, particularly the question of constructing a barrier on the U.S.-Mexico border.
"The electoral strategy that proposed the possibility of building the wall as an element of the electoral battle failed," said Rubén Aguilar, spokesman for Mexican President Vicente Fox.
Some European analysts expressed fear that some pressing issues, including the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs, could be neglected with a lame-duck leader in the White House.
Britain's Daily Mail newspaper said in an editorial that Bush had received a "richly deserved bloody nose," but the results had "left the free world with a severely compromised leader, stripped of moral authority at home and abroad."
But one of Iran's hard-line newspapers, Kayhan, relished the prospect of a politically diminished White House. "Bush's government will be obliged to take more cautious steps and instead of creating war around the world, it will be obliged to fight politically with Democrats," it said.
Finn reported from Moscow. Correspondents Edward Cody in Beijing, Manuel Roig-Franzia in Mexico City and Kevin Sullivan in London and special correspondents Corinne Gavard in Paris and Shannon Smiley in Berlin contributed to this report.