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BOB GARFIELD: Stay tuned for this and how the State of the Union played here and abroad. It's all coming up after the news. [MUSIC]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. When the President used his inaugural address to vow an end to tyranny worldwide the global reaction ranged from sympathy, to amusement, to fear. But with the surprisingly successful elections in Iraq, media around the world disseminated and absorbed the images of courageous ink-stained Iraqi voters and began to reconsider George W. Bush's ambitions. Joining us once again is Martin Walker, Editor in Chief of United Press International, with the review of the reviews from last week's election, and Wednesday's State of the Union. Martin, welcome as always.
MARTIN WALKER: Hello there.
BOB GARFIELD: If we're to believe the President in his State of the Union address, democracy in Iraq and the rest of the Middle East is all but a fait accompli. Reading the European and Arab press, do you think there's a consensus on that issue?
MARTIN WALKER: Not altogether. What's very striking is that the Europeans seem to be moving in George Bush's direction. Le Monde, which is the great French newspapers which has been exceedingly critical of the Bush foreign policy, said "Should we celebrate these elections, yes, absolutely, without any reservation. We mustn't forget, Iraq had never known free elections before, not even under their monarchy. Although these polls took place in the worst possible conditions, nonetheless, the people of Iraq tried to vote." In Belgium's De Standaard, "It looked like the mission impossible and yet the first phase has turned out all right for Mr. Bush. The Iraqis chose to vote because freedom is the wish of all people and not just a western value. The success of a system of freedom in this Arab country could become a beacon for the rest of the region." All across Europe we're getting this. From Germany's Berliner Zeitung, "The courage of the Iraqis to vote and the surprisingly high turnout demonstrates above all a rejection for the terrorists, but it also demonstrates that perhaps President Bush has been right."
BOB GARFIELD: Isn't this a complete u-turn?
MARTIN WALKER: Well, some of the papers are putting in obviously a certain kind of caution, The Guardian, the liberal left paper of Britain. "When a nation holds its first elections after a long period of dictatorship their temptation is to rejoice at the mere fact that it's happening. In many respects it's difficult to be confident this was a free or fair election, given the violence and intimidation surrounding it. Nor do we have any idea when the grim nightmare of violence will end."
BOB GARFIELD: Wild guess here, Martin. I'll bet the euphoria does not extend to the Arab media.
MARTIN WALKER: No, it doesn't. You're entirely right. Al-Quds Al-Arabi which is based in London--it's a Pan-Arab newspaper--"To talk about democracy in the light of bloody chaos that is putting Iraq up on the rack is a complete fraud. Bush's congratulations cannot reflect the reality of Iraq, only his own obstinacy as he attempts to conceal the failure of the American imperial plan." An editorial in the Saudi paper Al Jazirah, "Iraq is blazing a path of fire which the Americans entered by force, not knowing that the situation was far, far more difficult than they thought." From Al Sharq Al-Awsat, Palestinian owned and printed and based in London, "This election will be remembered for being the first in history in which most of the candidates did not dare to reveal their names."
BOB GARFIELD: One powerful symbol that emerged from the election in Iraq a week ago was the purple ink-stained fingers. They were used as evidence that you had voted, and they were indelible so that you couldn't vote repeatedly at multiple polling stations. But people brandishing those fingers, they became a symbol, certainly in the western media, for nascent freedom in the Middle East. Was nobody moved in the Arab world by that fairly stunning bit of symbolism?
MARTIN WALKER: Yes, they were moved but not in the direction which I think you're intending. For example, Palestine's paper Al Ayam, where they too, of course, have just gone through their own election recently, "History in Iraq and the neighboring region will change after the elections, just as President Bush predicted, but not in the way in which he thought, just as our own elections will not change the Middle East in the way in which he thought. After all, it is clear now to all Arabs that Bush intends only to take control of the central government of the Arab states, despite their elections and to take control of our oil, leaving the Ayatollah Ali Sistani and his like just a paper autonomy that will turn Iraq into a chicken cage. So damn this supreme democratic ideal!"
BOB GARFIELD: The President was relatively bellicose in the State of the Union address towards both Syria and Iran, and gave some words of caution to our allies Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Has anyone in Europe yet registered nervousness about the President's tone?
MARTIN WALKER: Oh, yes. Germany's Der Tag Zeitung, "We have the right to feel a chill down the spine to describe Bush as a madman with a mission at the head of a state bristling with weapons--doesn't begin to describe the full terror of the case. But it doesn't get us very much further. " And from Turkey's Mullette which is the best-selling newspaper in the country, they are very worried. They're saying, "As the strategy of toppling Saddam Hussein and democratizing Iraq has gradually turned into a nightmare scenario, the initiative of declaring new wars in attempts to widen the occupation increase our suspicions about Bush's second term." Out of the websites of some of the Iranian papers, they're not taking his threats very seriously. From the Tehran Times, "There simply aren't any American troops available to invade Iran. But what might tip the area into acute crisis is a re-radicalized Iran that is concluding it will never be secure until it has expelled the United States from the entire region."
BOB GARFIELD: Well that was a fairly hard line. Was there any softer line taken elsewhere in the Iranian media?
MARTIN WALKER: Well, what's interesting is the moderation of one of the sort of semi-official papers, The Iran Daily. "The Islamic Republic of Iran cannot remain immune from mounting U.S. pressure. In the face of a new round of warmongering policies and propaganda warfare Iran needs to adopt a comprehensive approach based on boosting transparency and international trust, without compromising its national interests."
BOB GARFIELD: Martin, thanks so much.
MARTIN WALKER: Thank you.
BOB GARFIELD: Martin Walker is Editor in Chief of United Press International.