A Worldwide Tide of Anti-Bush Feeling
Other countries' opposition to the Bush administration's policy on Iraq is not hard to explain. Just look at the public-opinion polls taken within the past month.
Start with the United States and Britain, the coalition of the most willing. How do the American and British people feel?
Two polls taken in the United States in the past week (Gallup and ABC News-Washington Post) both found 59 percent of Americans in favor of military action and 37 percent opposed. But in the ABC-Post 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 has 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 educated and more isolationist than younger Americans. Whatever the explanation, the opposition of older Americans ratchets up the political risk of war for the Bush administration. Older people vote in high numbers. Young people don't.
Meanwhile, the British people appear to be strongly supportive of military action against Iraq (75 percent, Market and Opinion Research International), but only if United Nations inspectors find proof that Iraq is trying to hide weapons of mass destruction and if the U.N. Security Council endorses military action. If only one of those conditions holds, the British public is split. If neither holds—no proof, no U.N. support—the number of Britons who support the war plummets to one in four.
The same poll found that President Bush is dragging Prime Minister Tony Blair down. Only 36 percent of the British approve of the way Blair is handling the situation in Iraq. How do they feel about Bush's handling of Iraq? Just 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 Security Council, in hopes of strengthening his political standing. Going to war without the United Nations' endorsement could bring Blair down.
France has led the opposition to war, cheered on by its people; 85 percent of them oppose war in Iraq (French Institute for Public Opinion). And 71 percent support a French veto in the Security Council. But there is a little bit of good news for the United States: Three-quarters of the French say they do like Americans.
The Germans are with the French-almost exactly-with 86 percent opposing war with Iraq (Forsa-Stern). What if the Security Council voted to endorse military action? Then, 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-Russia Center for Public Opinion Research).
Mexico held out as an uncommitted vote on the 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 Reform newspaper found 70 percent of Mexicans opposed to military action. Chile was another undecided vote, but its people are not undecided. Eighty percent oppose war with Iraq (MORI Omnibus).
Except for the United States, there is no evidence of popular support for war in any country with a seat on the Security Council, at least in those where there are recent polls.
What's behind the strong public opposition in so many countries? Is it primarily anti-American, anti-war, or anti-Bush? James Harding, who has worked all over the world for the Financial Times and is currently its Washington bureau chief, answers 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."
What seems like moral clarity to Americans comes across as moral certainty to Europeans. And they think it'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 God as they do," Harding said.
Blair is a churchgoer, something unusual for a British leader. 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 Bush administration, but the Italian people don't—85 percent oppose military action (SWG Organization). How about Japan? Nope. Eighty-four percent are opposed (Mainichi Shimbun). What about Israel? It's a good bet that Bush should 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. And 49 percent of Israelis say the U.N. inspectors should be allowed to continue their work.
If Americans feel alone going into this war, there's a reason for it. They are.