Many Arab Leaders Prefer Bush Victory; See No Improvement with Kerry

Article excerpt

Byline: David R. Sands, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Despite opposing the U.S.-led war in Iraq, many leaders in Arab and Muslim countries would prefer to see President Bush rather than Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry in the White House for the next four years.

Pakistani Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali, in an interview with the Associated Press earlier this month, defied both diplomatic etiquette and conventional wisdom when he all but endorsed Mr. Bush.

"We are lucky with the Republicans that the president, his secretary of state, the vice president and the secretary of defense all have a personal relationship with Pakistan," Mr. Jamali said.

Although noting that it is up to American voters to decide, he said the Bush administration "is a much better bet as far as Pakistan-American relations are concerned."

A top diplomat for a major Muslim country said he found that many leaders of Islamic countries acknowledge behind closed doors that they prefer Mr. Bush.

"Ironically, when you talk privately with a lot of these leaders, you find many of them support President Bush, even after all that has happened," said the diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

Amatzia Baram, a professor of Middle Eastern history at Israel's University of Haifa and a senior fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace, noted that Mr. Kerry on the campaign trail touts his pro-Israel Senate record, supports sanctions against Syria and vows to maintain and even expand the U.S. deployment in Iraq.

"I don't think many in the Arab world can even see a clear difference with President Bush on their big issues," said Mr. Baram.

"By and large, Arab rulers and opinion leaders just see America as America."

In the case of Saudi Arabia, Mr. Kerry has criticized the administration for being too close to the oil-rich kingdom.

"America cannot afford to hold its nose and play nice with a country whose actions often speak louder than its words when it comes to fighting terrorism," Mr. Kerry wrote in an opinion piece in the Jewish newspaper the Forward.

Analysts say Mr. Kerry faces the same foreign policy doubts any challenger does when confronting a well-known incumbent. …