TORONTO, Feb. 12 (UPI) — No U.S. presidential primary in recent memory has been watched overseas more closely than the 2008 contest. It has also brought out large numbers of previously unregistered U.S. citizens who live outside the United States to vote. Here are comments from some ranking individuals.
Hassan Abouyoub is chief foreign policy adviser to King Mohammed VI and former minister of economics and foreign investments.
“Marc, as you know, I have followed world politics for a long time. This is truly the most intense U.S. election I have ever seen. And I was around for JFK-Nixon (1960); Johnson-Goldwater (1964); Humphrey-Nixon (1968); and McGovern-Nixon (1972) — even during that Vietnam period, the election was not as intense as today. And, there is more at stake for all of us than ever before.”
Kurt Bodewig is vice chairman of the European Affairs Committee of the Bundestag, a member of the U.S.-German Parliamentary Group and a member of the board of the Social Democratic Party. He was minister for transportation and infrastructure from 2000 to 2002.
“McCain appeals to me as a person, but I find his foreign policy and military doctrines dangerous. I think he is a man of the past in these areas. I think Obama will be the better candidate against McCain because his strengths counteract McCain’s weaknesses. I think it will be Obama versus McCain. This will show the American people clearly reject the Bush years and will send an important sign to the international community. Obama could well become the first black president. He best represents a new generation. It would also be a move forward.”
Jan Carnogursky was prime minister from 1991-1992 and justice minister from 1998 to 2002. He was a leader of the underground movement that fought communism in Czechoslovakia.
“In general good candidates have won in both parties. John McCain’s experience from Vietnam gives him the courage which a U.S. President needs. I fear, however, in foreign policy that McCain could lead the United States into conflicts that put her over her capacity. Senator Clinton and Senator Obama look to be more cautious in foreign policy. The people of the U.S. have a clear choice between the camps. For me, I would vote for the domestic policies of John McCain and the foreign policy of Obama and Clinton.”
Jens-Hald Madsen served in the Folketing from 1994 to 2007. He was chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and vice chairman of the Defense Committee. He was also the foreign policy spokesman for the right-leaning Venstre (Liberal Party).
“There is extraordinary attention being focused on the U.S. elections. It shows Europe’s close connection to the United States. There is more attention being paid to the U.S. presidential elections than to the European presidency. It is also clear that no matter what Europeans pretend, Europeans accept that the United States is the only superpower and they want to know which tools beyond the military will be offered by a new president. Europeans want to know which tools will be taken out of the tool box, believing that a hammer will not solve all or even most of the problems facing the U.S. and the rest of the civilized world.
“In Denmark, opinion leaders and the press — whom I mostly disagree with — are against Bush. For them it is a great relief that one will finally be rid of him.
“Denmark provided troops and lost soldiers in the fight against terror, and that makes the public interested in who will succeed the U.S. president. The recession is also an issue. When the U.S. has a cold, Europe has a major illness.
“While there are no Danish soldiers left in Iraq, Denmark along with Poland, Canada, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands are providing forces in the war area of southern Afghanistan. The Germans are providing soldiers in the north. During the NATO ministers meeting last week in Lithuania, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates upbraided those Europeans who will not offer their soldiers to fight — and die — as painful as that might be — to foster stability in Afghanistan.
“President Sarkozy might actually respond to Canada’s call for more European forces by sending in a contingent of 1,000 French soldiers, thus drawing a clear line between his leadership and that of Chirac.”
Barbara McDougall was foreign minister from 1991 to 1993 having previously held the post of finance minister. She was in the Cabinet from 1986 to 1993. She is the chair of the International Development Research Center.
“I don’t get it — none of them talked about international economy or trade. I’ve read all their foreign policy statements and none of them mention it either. The candidates’ points-of-view are very important on these issues. It means we — Canada and Europe — will not have any idea how they will contribute to the global economy until the primaries are over. I think that is a shame.”
Martin Palous is ambassador to the United Nations. He was ambassador to the United States from 2001-2005. Previously he was deputy foreign minister of Czechoslovakia from 1990-1992 and the Czech Republic from 1998-2001. He was a spokesman for Charter 77 and is a close friend of Vaclav Havel.
“The election campaign is good proof that the election process in the United States can be exciting, vital and dynamic — even for outside observers. It says a lot about U.S. politics in general. Both Democrats are trying to diminish their weaknesses. It is a visionary versus a realist. How much can the visionary compensate his weakness? Senator Kennedy and Senator Kerry’s endorsement did not help Obama in Massachusetts. John McCain will be a difficult opponent no matter who wins the Democratic nomination.”
Sir Malcolm Rifkind is a member of the House of Commons and was defense minister from 1992-1995 and foreign secretary from 1995-1997. He served both in Margaret Thatcher’s and John Major’s administrations.
“From a U.K. point of view we are interested in the international implications. If the choice is between Clinton or McCain, both have a clear and well-known track record. Both would be better than the incumbent. Both would be anxious to work closely with the allies, recognizing that most of the world’s problems cannot be solved by one country no matter how powerful. They would be tough presidents in the American tradition. Obama, to be honest, I just don’t know. He might in fact turn out to be superb, but we don’t have a track record or clarity of vision of how he sees the world, and how he plans to contribute to the future. He offers good rhetoric, but work needs to be done, because he’s the new kid on block. He would not worry me, he’s a brilliant guy. But internationally he must offer greater clarity.”
The Reverend Kenneth E. Sherman is vice chairman of Democrats Abroad Canada. A well-known community organizer, he lives in Hamilton, Ontario.
“The proof of interest was shown on Super Tuesday when over 1,500 U.S. citizens voted in London, England, and 270 showed up in voting centers in southwest Ontario. About 80 percent of them were first-time voters. That is impressive. And let us not forget — in 2000 Florida swung by less than 150 votes. OK, that wasn’t a primary. But still, these new voters will also have an impact on the general election.”
I have spent much of my life overseas — the son of a U.S. military family, a child of the Cold War, influenced by the Vietnam period, who was directly affected by the Red Army Faction and Baader-Meinhof terror gangs — I often do not see eye-to-eye with my European friends or U.S. brethren. But, I do agree that no election in my life has generated so much interest.
A senior diplomat recently said to me, “Hillary is the safe pick for new Europe because she knows us. With Obama we just don’t know — it could be less important, even though he has great charisma. But I prefer McCain.”
Whatever our choice, we must not let our friends down.
(UPI Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. A venture capitalist with seats in Berlin and Prague, he is a member of the National Advisory Board of the U.S. Democratic Party and the vice chairman of the Democratic Expat Leadership Council.)