Tue, Nov 02, 2004 - Page 9 News List

US election is everyone's business

As the world's only superpower, who rules in Washington is of vital interest not just to the people of America but to everyone everywhere.

By Ethan Casey  /  THE OBSERVER , LONDON

ILLUSTRATION: YU SHA

The veteran US politician Tip O'Neill famously said "all politics is local." But these days it's global too, and no election anywhere has been more closely watched worldwide than today's contest for the US presidency.

How you perceive it has much to do with whether you get your news from US or international media.

In his debates with Senator John Kerry, President George W Bush has cited the recent election in Afghanistan to claim "freedom is on the march" there and in Iraq. Columnist William Safire echoes Bush in the New York Times of Oct. 27: "American and British Wilsonian idealists can hold their heads high today; the defeatists who presume to call themselves realists were defeated."

But beyond US shores observers have a different take on the situation.

Pakistani journalist, Beena Sarwar, in her "Personal Political" column distributed worldwide by email says both Afghanistan and Iraq today are more unsafe places than ever before.

"[Both are] suffering from thousands of civilian casualties, destroyed infrastructure and no law and order to speak of," she said.

A UK-based international NGO's country director for Afghanistan -- himself an American -- confirmed this impression for me last week.

"About 50 percent of the country is no-go," he said. "And not just for foreigners but for ordinary Afghans."

Is Afghan President Hamid Karzai "one gutsy, deft and appealing politician" as Safire calls him, or "a nonentity" as a Pakistani who has worked for the UN in Afghanistan told me. And how can we account for these differing perceptions of the situation?

"People in America are totally brainwashed by Fox News," Pakistani lawyer Ghazala Minallah told me.

But notwithstanding William Safire and Fox News, there are signs many Americans are unconvinced. James Fallows is a veteran US journalist whose article "Bush's Lost Year." in last month's issue of The Atlantic Monthly magazine, chronicled everything the Bush administration has failed to achieve because of its single-minded focus on Iraq.

"The moment of the wheels coming off has arrived," Fallows told me in Washington in July. "A combination of fecklessness, dishonesty and lack of foresight is making the administration seem vulnerable -- the opposite of that air of invincibility that Bush had through 2002.

There are all sorts of dramatic parallels with the saga of his father, who went from even greater triumphalism to defeat. There are interesting signs of defection and dissension within the Republican machine."

Seeking out perspectives on their own country unavailable through their own news media, many Americans are turning to Britain. The Guardian's Web site (www.guardian.co.uk) is increasingly popular in the US, as are articles by The Independent's authority on the Middle East, Robert Fisk, and the UK-based Australian investigative journalist John Pilger. Last month The Guardian, The Observer and The Financial Times began distributing editions printed on the East Coast of the US.

Getting even closer to US readers (and voters) the Guardian, arguing the outcome of today's vote was of as much interest to non-Americans as to Americans, offered its readers the opportunity to write to US citizens in the crucial "swing state" of Ohio. The paper gave the name and address of one voter in Clark County, Ohio, to each reader who expressed an interest in the project.

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