Monday, October 11, 2004

President Bush’s policy of spreading democracy abroad, with military might where necessary, was vindicated in overseas elections over the weekend, some observers said.

In Australia on Saturday, Prime Minister John Howard, a staunch ally of Mr. Bush’s in the war against terrorism, won re-election, despite strong criticism from some quarters in his country for having sent 2,000 troops to Iraq.

Australia is a member of what Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts has called the “trumped-up, so-called coalition of the bribed, the coerced, the bought and the extorted” working with U.S. forces in Iraq. Much of the world was watching the Australian election as a referendum on Mr. Bush’s Iraq policy.

“John Howard’s victory does reflect well on President Bush’s foreign policy and leadership,” said Bush campaign spokesman Brian Jones. “The prime minister is one of our staunchest allies in the war against terrorism. His becoming a part of the broad coalition in Iraq proved to be more of a help than a hindrance in his own election.”

Also on Saturday, Afghanistan’s first-ever democratic presidential election came off with no major violence, despite predictions that Taliban remnants and other terrorist groups would disrupt the process.

There were similar predictions that terrorists would prevent the U.S. turnover of authority in Iraq last summer and would scuttle the elections scheduled there in January.

“The Afghan elections were a tremendous accomplishment for American foreign policy,” said Charles Black, a Republican consultant with close ties to the Bush campaign. “It’s historic that they had an election, with no violence and fairly conducted, according to international observers.”

Results are being disputed in the Afghan election, in which 15 candidates opposed Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-backed interim president. What made the election possible was the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the ruling Taliban militia, which had sheltered Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda terrorist network.

Kerry campaign national security spokesman Mark Kitchens said the elections in neither country served to vindicate Mr. Bush’s policies.

“The men and women of Afghanistan did risk their lives to participate in the election to choose their leader,” Mr. Kitchens said. “But Bush promised a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan and has not delivered on the funding. Meanwhile, warlords control parts of the country and opium production is skyrocketing.”

But Mr. Black, looking to the third and final debate tomorrow night between Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry, said, “Even though the debate is on domestic issues, I hope the president does get the chance to bring up the success in Afghanistan.”

Some observers saw the weekend elections in both countries as the dog that didn’t bark.

“If the Afghanistan election had not come off, or if John Howard had lost, it would have been seen as a negative for Bush’s leadership and foreign policy,” said John Fortier, an American Enterprise Institute researcher. “It would have been easy to write that Australia had joined Spain in deserting the coalition.”

Some Republicans said both events can be seen as a vindication for Mr. Bush’s foreign policy and that successful elections in Afghanistan and then Iraq three months from now could start the dominoes falling in the region, replacing dictatorships with fledgling democracies.

“We are going to have an election in Iraq in January and guess what sits between those two countries: Iran, which has an educated and sophisticated population that would love fair elections of their own,” said Mr. Black.

Bob Templer, Asia program director for the International Crisis Group, which had observers in Afghanistan, said the Afghan elections “went reasonably well, given the immense difficulties.”

“But a lot of it had to do with the [United Nations], the European Union, NATO — so Bush cannot claim credit for the whole lot,” Mr. Templer said.

Thomas McInerny, a military analyst and retired Air Force lieutenant general, said the “magnitude of this [Afghanistan] election is underplayed by the press.”

“This is huge — the first time in 5,000 years on record that Afghans have elected a head of state,” he said.

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