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Jewish World Review March. 19, 2003 / 15 Adar II, 5763

Bill Schneider

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Feeling all alone | The opposition of other countries to the Bush Administration's Iraq policy is not hard to explain. Look at the polls, all taken within the past month.

Start with the United States and Britain. They are the coalition of the most willing. But how do the American and British people feel?

Two polls taken in the United States last week (Gallup and ABC NewsWashington Post) both found 59 percent of Americans in favor of military action and 37 percent opposed. But in the ABCPost poll, a quarter of Americans who supported the use of force said they did so ``with reservations.'' Only a third of Americans say they've resolved their doubts and are ready to go in.

The Washington Post called attention to the fact that older Americans are more reluctant to endorse the use of force than younger people. That was true during the Vietnam era as well. Older Americans have more experience with war. They are also less well-educated and more isolationist. Whatever the explanation, it rachets up the political risk of going to war for the Bush Administration. Older people vote in high numbers. Young people don't.

America's British allies appear to be strongly supportive of military action in Iraq -- 75 percent (Market and Opinion Research International). But only if UN inspectors find proof that Iraq is trying to hide weapons of mass destruction and if the UN Security Council votes to endorse military action. If only one of those conditions holds, the British public is split. If neither holds -- no proof, no UN support -- the British public's support for war drops to one in four.

The same poll found that President Bush is dragging Prime Minister Tony Blair down. Only 36 percent of his countrymen approve of the way Blair is handling the situation in Iraq. How do the British feel about President Bush's handling of Iraq? 23 percent approve.

Blair is struggling to survive. A third of his party abandoned him last month in a parliamentary vote on Iraq. It was Blair who insisted on a vote in the United Nations Security Council in order to strengthen his political position. A decision to go to war without UN endorsement could bring Blair down.

France has led the opposition to war, cheered on by the French people. 85 percent of the French oppose military action in Iraq (French Institute for Public Opinion). And 71 percent support a French veto in the UN Security Council. But there's a little bit of good news for the U.S. Three quarters of the French claim they do actually like Americans.

The Germans are with the French. Almost exactly. 86 percent of Germans oppose war with Iraq (ForsaStern). What if the UN Security Council voted to endorse military action? 61 percent of Germans would still be opposed. The French say ``non.'' The Germans say "nein.'' And the Russians? "Nyet.'' A whopping 91 percent of Russians oppose military action in Iraq (All-Russian Public Opinion Research Centre).

Mexico held out as an uncommitted vote on the UN Security Council for a good reason. The government of President Vicente Fox faces congressional elections this summer, and the Mexican people are anything but uncommitted on Iraq. A poll for Reforma newspaper found 70 percent of Mexicans opposed to military action. Chile was another undecided vote. But the Chilean people are not undecided. 80 percent oppose war with Iraq (MORI Omnibus).

Except for the United States, there is no evidence of popular support for war in any country on the Security Council, at least where there are recent polls. But there's plenty of evidence of public opposition. Strong public opposition.

What's behind it? Is it primarily anti-American, antiwar or anti-Bush? James Harding, who has worked all over the world for the Financial Times and is currently its Washington bureau chief, answered the question this way: "Essentially, it's anti-Bush. . . . The same thing that has been paraded as one of Bush's great qualities -- his moral clarity -- is something that worries Europeans who think the world is a bit too complicated for black-and-white solutions.''

Moral clarity to Americans comes across as moral certainty to Europeans. And they feel that's dangerous. "There is something alarming to many Europeans about the idea that [Bush and Blair] are preparing for war and wrapping themselves in a mantle of religiosity and invoking G-d as they do,'' Harding said.

Blair -- unusual for a British leader -- is a churchgoer. And that makes Europeans twitchy. ``About two and a half weeks ago, Blair was asked by an interviewer, `So do you and President Bush pray together?''' Harding recounted, adding, ``It wasn't a question. It was an accusation.'' For the record, Blair answered, with a nervous laugh, ``No, we don't.''

Is it possible to find popular support for war anywhere overseas?

The Italian government supports the U.S. But the Italian people don't. 85 percent of Italians oppose military action (SWG Organization). How about Japan? Nope. 84 percent opposed (Mainichi Shimbun). What about Israel? It's good bet that the U.S. will find support in Israel. But the latest poll by the newspaper Ma'ariv shows Israelis wavering: 45 percent say they support an immediate U.S.-led attack on Iraq, down from 51 percent two weeks ago.

If Americans feel alone going into this war, there's a reason for it. They are.

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© 2002, William Schneider