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The Tide of Opinion on Iraq
has clearly turned




Jonathan Power

February 24, 2003

LONDON - Until Mr Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons' inspector, made his presentation to the UN's Security Council last week it was still unclear which way the Europeans were going to vote on authorizing war against Iraq. Many had assumed the French in the end would go along, to get along - to maintain their status at the UN and to make sure their serious economic interests in Iraq were not jeopardised. This is no longer true. Indeed one can go even further and say that Britain, until now America's most faithful ally, is beginning to waver. One can see it in parliament, one can see it in the newspapers, one can see it on the street and, most important of all, one can see it on Prime Minister Tony Blair's face.

The Americans, in particular Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have tried to divide Europe, to mock the notion of an emerging common foreign policy, to set "old" Europe against a "new" Europe, the pro American eastern Europeans. But, apart from the fact that the east Europeans are not yet in the European Union and need to watch their step in case they provoke a delay in their promised entry, the important development of the last few days is that it has become clear that the electorate of Europe has a common foreign policy even if the leaders do not - and that is to oppose war with Iraq. The Americans, the crowds on the marches seemed to be saying, may be assuming the inevitability of war but surely they are not claiming infallibility! The Europeans want the Americans to stop, look at the evidence that Mr Blix and his colleague, Mohamed ElBaradei, from the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, are garnering with an open mind, and also think hard of the awful, quite terrible likely consequences of a war.

What are these? The real danger that Saddam Hussein with his back to the wall and with the end of his life only hours away gives the order for the use of chemical and biological weapons. The Americans have said in this case they might use nuclear weapons and Israel almost certainly would if they were attacked too. It is quite impossible to imagine how angry 80% of the world would be at such an act. It is nearly everyone's greatest taboo (apart from a relatively small circle of neo-conservatives who have the ear of President George Bush - Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney but certainly not Secretary of State Colin Powell who would certainly resign taking some of the important service chiefs with him). Humanity in unison would seethe with anger. America would never dare show its face again, for a very long time.

But even if war did not degenerate to this level it will still trigger enormous waves of political bitterness against America all over the Islamic world. These tidal waves of anger will certainly topple the regime in Pakistan, putting the country's nuclear weapons in the hands of extremist Islamic militants - although American troops will probable race to forestall them - and they will rock to their very foundations the governments of Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

There will be thousands of new recruits for Al Qaeda, which will find that the present day social sanction against further murderous activities, quite rigorous in most Islamic societies despite the superficial analysis of American "experts", will have softened by many degrees. Besides, the way a war is going to be fought in all likelihood - almost house to house in Baghdad - is going to produce an appalling loss of civilian life.

No wonder the Pope, no great radical and a staunch believer in the valuable role played by the U.S. in the Cold War, has come out against what he sees as an unjust war. These protests were not the old student kind of the 1960s. They were middle of the road people, professors as much as students, the thinking middle classes and working class, people with experience who know quite a bit who don't even want necessarily to see their government replaced. They just want it to change its mind.

Whatever economic difficulties there may be in Europe at the moment the one thing cannot be said is that the continent is in the grip of Europessimism. That period if it ever existed has long gone. It is generally positive and optimistic. Neither is it a "used up" civilization. There does not have to be a federal Europe for a powerful Europe to exist, as my colleague William Pfaff has long and correctly argued. Europeans are aware of their common experience. They built the European Union to avoid the mistakes of their fathers - the too ready resort to war. And increasingly as the demonstrations, the newspapers editorials and the critique of politicians have shown, a Europe is emerging that is going to stand up to America on this need for war. Iraq and its weapons of mass destruction can be contained as they have been contained the last decade without another war.

Perhaps Mr Bush has done the world a service. It has made us all hold Iraq up to the light. But a majority in Europe have concluded that whilst Saddam Hussein is an evil man, inured to any sense of human rights, a war would be the worst of all human wrongs.


I can be reached by phone +44 7785 351172 and e-mail:


Copyright © 2003 By JONATHAN POWER


Follow this link to read about - and order - Jonathan Power's book written for the

40th Anniversary of Amnesty International

"Like Water on Stone - The Story of Amnesty International"





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