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Column: Election Night From Istanbul

This story was written by Alex Kantrowitz, Cornell Daily Sun


ISTANBUL In a painful fashion the chants rang out. We couldnt fully understand what they meant but it was clear from the posters that every mention of the ABD (Turkish for USA) was another shout against our country. This scene unfolded at start of a surreal week, one which will be difficult to forget.

We heard the chants in the Turkish capital of Anakara. After being promised a free bus ride and a new look into Turkish politics, I joined two friends and a number of Turkish students on a trip there last Saturday night. Our buses boarded shortly after midnight and off we went, headed to a mass protest against the government.

At two in the morning we stopped and emptied out into a large parking lot. Then, joined by several other groups, a tremendous circle formed and we began dancing to the music of the Tulum a bagpipe popular in Turkeys Black Sea region. The unity and spirit was something great but, as we soon realized, the Tulum was not the only thing holding these people together.

Prominent, although not exclusive in their cohesion, was a disdain for the United States of America. When it comes down to it though, this shouldnt have been so surprising. Turkey, after all, is a country where news stations come to report on global Anti-American sentiment. American approval here hovers in the single digits and there is rarely (actually never) a kind word for the policies of the Bush Administration.

Returning home Sunday night I was glad to have gotten a chance to see the capital but was still hit by how vastly unpopular our nation has become. Over much of the past decade we have seen the crumbling of our international standing and what I witnessed was a direct result. The unpleasantness, however, was tempered by thoughts of the upcoming election.

Two days later I was standing in front of a large TV screen in an environment that would have been unimaginable just six months before. It was election night in America and there I was with dozens of expats (along with a decent number of Turks and Europeans) watching Wolf Blitzer navigate CNNs results center.

We were thousands of miles away from the voting booths yet there was still an overwhelming understanding of just how important this election was. Unmistakable excitement reverberated throughout the room as precincts began to file. History was to be made and, despite the fact that the sun was soon to rise, we were going to be there to see it.

In the days following the election of Barack Obama, I have experienced on the streets of Istanbul the exact opposite of that which I saw on the streets of Ankara. Often people will congratulate me, as an American, on the decision our country has made. Obama has become a symbol here of the willingness of the American people to change and a testament to our stark rejection of the policies of George W. Bush.

The policies of Bush have hurt us badly; from the Iraq War to torture, illegal imprisonment and Enemy Combatants we have turned the world away. Now, with the election of a man who looks to change course, we may just bring them back.

Not since 1964 have we seen the election of a Democrat in such strong numbers. That year, the American people entrusted Lyndon B. Johnson with the seat of thier executive branch, his victory punctuated by an impressive 486 electoral votes. Johnson had a blank check and ran with it, implementing a slew of social programs and going to war in Vietnam. After four years and a failing presidency, he did not run again.

In late January, Barack Obama will come into office with a simmilar mandate, his victory has been convincing and his message accepted. He will be presented with the task of living up to his hype, a daunting undertaking in itself, but more than that, hewill try once again to manage war and implement social policy at the same time.

Failure this time would be devastating. President Bush will leave office with America at an incredibly low point. Our markets have crashed, our middle class is suffering, our image throughout the world is tarnished and we face new emerging forces in this global world. If the policies of Obama lead to further decline, Id rather not think about the consequences.

I have been told many times throughout this election season that our generation is naive and that, when we come to our senses, we will finally see that Democratic politics will never work. But, from this vantage point, I can only be more confident that the decision we have made is correct. Granted, we dont elect our leaders based on what other people want but, as is clear in the eyes of any American abroad, this meant as much to the rest of the world as it did to us.

As we walk today into a new era in American politics, we realize that we have been promised much and expect even more. We, all of us, have placed much hope into Barack Obama it is now up to him to come through with that change we believed in,

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