The seismic shift that midterm elections brought to Washington’s political landscape was welcomed by many Wednesday in a world sharply opposed to the war in Iraq and outraged over the harsh methods the Bush administration has employed in fighting terrorism.
From Paris to Pakistan, politicians, analysts and ordinary citizens said they hoped the Democratic takeover of the House of Representatives would force President Bush to adopt a more conciliatory approach to global crises, and teach a president many see as a “cowboy” a lesson in humility.
But some also expressed fears that a split in power and a lame-duck president might stall global trade talks and weaken much-needed American influence.
On Iraq, some feared that Democrats will force a too-rapid retreat, leaving that country and the region in chaos. Others said they doubted the turnover in congressional power would have a dramatic impact on Iraq policy any time soon, largely because the Democrats have yet to define the specifics of the course they want to take.
The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, said American policy would not dramatically change, despite the Democratic election success.
“The president is the architect of U.S. foreign policy,” the ambassador said in a videotape distributed by the U.S. Embassy. “He is the commander in chief of our armed forces. He understands what is at stake in Iraq.”
'Beginning of the end'
Regardless of the effect on world events, global giddiness that Bush was finally handed a political black-eye was almost palpable.
In an extraordinary joint statement, more than 200 Socialist members of the European Parliament hailed the American election results as “the beginning of the end of a six-year nightmare for the world” and gloated that they left the Bush administration “seriously weakened.”
In London's Guardian newspaper, commentator Martin Kettle wrote: "The cheering can be heard not just in America itself but around the planet."
In Paris, expatriates and French citizens alike packed the city’s main American haunts to watch results, with some standing to cheer or boo as vote tabulations came in.
One Frenchman, teacher Jean-Pierre Charpemtrat, 53, said it was about time U.S. voters figured out what much of the rest of the world already knew.
“Americans are realizing that you can’t found the politics of a country on patriotic passion and reflexes,” he said. “You can’t fool everybody all the time — and I think that’s what Bush and his administration are learning today.”
Democrats swept to power in the House on Tuesday and were threatening to take control of the Senate amid exit polls that showed widespread American discontent over Iraq, nationwide disgust at corruption in politics, and low approval ratings for Bush.
Bush is deeply unpopular in many countries around the globe, with particularly intense opposition to the U.S.-led war in Iraq, the U.S. terror detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and allegations of Washington sanctioned interrogation methods that some equate with torture.
In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez said the Democrats won the election thanks to a "reprisal vote."
'Bush is no longer acceptable'
People across the Mideast also reacted swiftly, saying it appeared the U.S. president had paid the price for what many view as failed policy in Iraq.
Most governments across the region had no official comment, but some opponents of the United States reacted harshly. “President Bush is no longer acceptable worldwide,” said Suleiman Hadad, a lawmaker in Syria, whose autocratic government has been shunned by the U.S.
Iranian state television blamed U.S. strategy in the Middle East for the change. "Experts believe that Bush's wrong strategy in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as financial corruption in the United States, was the main reason for the failure of Republicans in the midterm election."
Even some Iraqis voiced hope for change.
“We hope American foreign policy will change and that living conditions in Iraq will improve,” said 48-year-old engineer Suheil Jabar, a Shiite Muslim in Baghdad.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, 35-year-old Jens Langfeldt said he did not know much about the midterm elections but was opposed to Bush’s values. He referred to the president as “that cowboy.”
In Sri Lanka, some said they hoped the rebuke would force Bush to abandon a unilateral approach to global issues.
The Democratic win means “there will be more control and restraint” over U.S. foreign policy. said Jehan Perera, a political analyst.
Passions were even higher in Pakistan, where Bush is deeply unpopular despite billions in aid and support for President Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
One opposition lawmaker, Hafiz Hussain Ahmed, said he welcomed the election result but hoped for more. Bush “deserves to be removed, put on trial and given a Saddam-like death sentence,” he said.
But while the result clearly produced more jubilation than jitters, there were deep concerns.
Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen told broadcaster TV2 he hoped that the president and the new Congress would find “common ground on questions about Iraq and Afghanistan.”
“The world needs a vigorous U.S.A.,” Fogh Rasmussen said.
Worries in China
Some also worried that Democrats, who have a reputation for being more protective of U.S. jobs going overseas, will make it harder to achieve a global free trade accord.
The accord, said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, “is very important for the future of trans-Atlantic relations.”
And in China, some feared the resurgence of the Democrats would increase tension over human rights and trade and labor issues. China’s surging economy has a massive trade surplus with the United States.
“The Democratic Party ... will protect the interests of small and medium American enterprises and labor and that could produce an impact on China-U.S. trade relations,” Zhang Guoqing of the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences said in a report on Sina.com, a popular Chinese Internet portal.
The prospect of a sudden change in American foreign policy could be troubling to U.S. allies such as Britain, Japan and Australia, which have thrown their support behind the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Democrats campaigned on a platform that demanded a change of direction in Iraq, and the war has lost the support of the majority of American voters.
“The problem for Arabs now is, an American withdrawal (from Iraq) could be a security disaster for the entire region,” said Mustafa Alani, an Iraqi analyst for the Gulf Research Center in Dubai.