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Jan 27, 03
In Britain, War Concern Grows Into Resentment of U.S. Power
Anxiety Over Attack on Iraq Moves to Political Mainstream
By Glenn Frankel
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, January 26, 2003; Page A14
LONDON -- In a recently televised satire here titled "Between Iraq and a Hard Place," George W. Bush is depicted as an idiot who can't seem to grasp why Saddam Hussein isn't cooperating with the U.S. timetable for war. American democracy is defined as "where there are two candidates and the one with the most votes loses," and Britain's role in the forthcoming military campaign is starkly simple:
"What is it that the Americans want from us?" asks a British official.
"From us?" replies an army general. "Dead bodies."
Prime Minister Tony Blair is the Bush administration's staunchest international ally in its campaign against Iraq and war on terrorism. But apart from Blair and his inner circle, there is growing unease and resentment here not just over Iraq but over U.S. power and foreign policy in general, according to political analysts, commentators and politicians.
There are fears that the United States is determined to act without heeding the concerns of its allies -- and fears that Britain will be dragged along in its wake. These fears have spread far beyond the traditionally anti-American hard left -- known here as "the usual suspects" -- to include moderates and conservatives as well.
"There's no question the anxiety is moving into the mainstream," said Raymond Seitz, a former U.S. ambassador to Britain who is vice chairman of Lehman Brothers Europe. The debate here, he said, has shifted. "It's not about how you deal with weapons of mass destruction or how you combat the threat of terrorism in the world, it's about how do you constrain the United States. How do you tie down Gulliver?"
Opinion polls show that support for military action against Iraq is at its lowest level ever among the British public. The Guardian newspaper and the ICM polling group found last week that 30 percent of respondents now support the idea, down from 42 percent in October. Opposition has risen from 37 percent to 47 percent.
Other signs of the swing in mood: efforts by the tabloid Daily Mirror to build circulation with an all-out campaign against an attack on Iraq; the sold-out success of "The Madness of George Dubya," a north London theatrical satire that depicts a child-like president in pajamas with a giant teddy bear; and the continuing bestseller status of Michael Moore's book "Stupid White Men," a blistering critique of the United States.
Criticism of America here begins with Iraq but quickly broadens to accusations that Washington is aiding and abetting Israeli repression of Palestinians and is a gluttonous society of large cars, fast food and environmental degradation seeking cheap Iraqi oil to feed its consumption habits.
"People in America don't understand that Blair is a rather lonely figure within his own party and within the country as a whole" concerning war and the alliance with the United States, Michael Gove, a columnist for the Times of London newspaper, said. "Anti-Americanism is a real force here and a growing one. It starts with tightly focused arguments but broadens into the crudest of caricatures."
Other British observers insist that what's growing here isn't anti-Americanism, but rather healthy criticism of a superpower gone awry. "Being critical of U.S. policy does not constitute a prejudice," said Godfrey Hodgson, a veteran journalist and author. "A vast majority of the British people are favorable to the United States, but a substantial majority are opposed to George W. Bush."
Much of the outrage is indeed aimed at Bush, whose colloquial speaking style and Texas accent don't go over well here. A cartoon in last Sunday's Observer newspaper depicted him as the Lone Ranger and Blair as Tonto. When Blair expresses doubts about the Iraq campaign, Bush replies: "Shut up, Tonto, and cover my back."
"Bush is a gift for anti-American cartoonists," Timothy Garton Ash, director of the European Studies Center at St. Antony's College at Oxford University, said. "If Bill Clinton were still in the White House, I suspect it'd be a very different story."
Garton Ash insists that anti-Americanism is not moving into the British mainstream. "America is the new Rome, the hyper-power, and when you're the imperial power, you get a lot of stick," he said. "But this isn't a clash of civilizations between Europe and America."
British opposition differs from that found in other European allies such as France, which has a complicated relationship with the United States, and Germany, with its post-World War II aversion to warfare.
By contrast, Britain has a martial tradition similar to America's, and its relationship to the United States remains one of the world's enduring love affairs. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Blair was one of the first foreign leaders to express sympathy and solidarity, and he sat next to Laura Bush during President Bush's speech to Congress regarding the attacks. Queen Elizabeth II emerged from a memorial service for the victims at St. Paul's Cathedral with tears in her eyes after singing "Battle Hymn of the Republic" with fellow mourners.
But there always was an alternative view that the United States had gotten some of what it deserved, that the attacks were payback for decades of ignoring Third World grievances. At a BBC televised panel discussion two days after the attacks, a studio audience fired hostile remarks at former U.S. ambassador to Britain Philip Lader and jeered his responses. "We share your grief, America -- totally," wrote columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, one of the panelists, afterward. "But you must share our concerns."
Novelist John le Carre wrote in an op-ed piece in the Times newspaper that "America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember: worse than McCarthyism, worse than the Bay of Pigs and in the long term potentially more disastrous than the Vietnam War."
The British left, which has waged a steady campaign against the United States since the days of the nuclear disarmament campaign and the Vietnam War, has also weighed in. Playwright Harold Pinter in a recent speech denounced "American hysteria, ignorance, arrogance, stupidity and belligerence."
For the traditional left, said Emmanuele Ottolinghi, a research fellow at the Middle East Center at St. Antony's, anti-Americanism has replaced a belief in socialism as the common denominator that holds disparate groups together. It also binds the left to Britain's growing Muslim population, anti-globalists and anti-Zionists. "Anti-Americanism is glue that holds them together, and hatred of Israel is one aspect," he said.
But there is also unease in the establishment. Some of the architects of Britain's involvement in the first Persian Gulf conflict in 1991, including former foreign secretary Douglas Hurd, former foreign minister Douglas Hogg and the former permanent undersecretary of the ministry of defense, Michael Quinlan, have expressed deep reservations about the new campaign similar to those expressed in the United States by Republican veterans such as Brent Scowcroft and James Baker.
Hurd in several opinion pieces has questioned whether overthrowing Hussein, the Iraqi president, would make the world safer from terrorism or simply trigger more attacks, especially if no steps are taken to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Next month, when the Oxford Union debates the proposition that "This House believes the U.S.A. is the greatest barrier to world peace," one of those speaking in favor will be Paul Robinson, a lecturer in security studies at the University of Hull. He is a former military intelligence officer who calls himself a right-of-center conservative, yet he argues that the Bush administration is destroying the long-standing international consensus that nations shouldn't wage war unless they are seriously threatened. "We are just becoming naked aggressors," he said of the United States and Britain.
Americans in Britain say they still are welcomed here, but feel increasingly challenged to take a stand against war in Iraq. When Melvyn P. Leffler, a history professor at the University of Virginia, and John Arthur, a philosophy professor at Binghamton University in New York, arrived last fall to spend a year teaching at Oxford, they went to visit a British friend of Arthur's and spent most of the night arguing over Iraq. "I was stunned to realize that people here seem more fearful of American power than they are of the oppressiveness and hideousness of Saddam Hussein's regime," Leffler said.
Former ambassador Seitz said the fears of the British are compounded by the realization that they have little or no control over what happens. "At the end of the day, the British do not control their own fate," he said. "They've hitched their wagon to the American juggernaut, and the decisions that can pose danger to British forces and interests are essentially taken in Washington, not London."
Few observers believe the current unease here poses a serious political danger to Blair, whose ruling Labor Party has a massive majority in Parliament and the backing on Iraq of the leadership of the opposition Conservatives. But if Washington fails to seek U.N. Security Council support for military action, or if a military campaign bogs down, Blair could face trouble.
Having gotten much credit for steering Bush toward the U.N. route last fall, Blair needs to do so again when he visits Washington next weekend, analysts said. "He needs plausibly to be able to say we're doing this with the U.N.," Garton Ash said.
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