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Bush Iraq Stance Spurs New Cold War -- With Europe

by Jim Lobe

"Old Europe" Remark Shows Bush Admin Disconnect
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- For the past 17 months, foreign-policy experts have been telling readers of U.S. newspapers that the world is not experiencing so much a "clash of civilizations" between the West and the Islamic world as a civil war between a small minority of extremists and the vast majority of moderate, forward-looking, peaceful Muslims.

After the past week, the existence of a similar civil war within the West can no longer be denied.

Not only are extraordinarily harsh words being exchanged between leaders on either side of the Atlantic, but senior U.S. officials are suggesting that the western alliance -- or at least that part that included the core of western Europe -- had already passed into history.

The yawning and increasingly angry divide between European public opinion and the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush has made clear that what is sometimes called Judeo-Christian civilization is undergoing a major internal battle that threatens not only its unity, but the very architecture of international relations created by the West after WWII.

The sudden and unexpectedly bitter trans-Atlantic divide has seized people's attention, moving 'The New York Times' to devote two solid pages to the schism Friday. It described the rift as "deep", "fundamental" and "profound."

Even David Ignatius, a 'Washington Post' columnist who has generally promoted the views of administration hawks, seemed suddenly alarmed, comparing Bush's determination to drag the world into war with Captain Ahab, the anti-hero of the novel 'Moby Dick', who destroyed his ship and ended his life in his obsession to hunt the great white whale.

"The administration appears willing to sacrifice almost anything -- America's alliances, its prosperity, even the security of its citizens -- in its determination to oust Iraqi (President Saddam Hussein) from power," wrote Ignatius.

Only three weeks ago, the columnist had quoted approvingly from an interview with arch-hawk Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, whose musings about transforming the Arab world made Osama bin Laden's aim of expelling U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia seem moderate, even humble. "We need an Islamic reformation, and I think there is real hope for one," Wolfowitz confided.

A secular Jew, Wolfowitz was addressing precisely the notion that the Muslim world is caught up in a civil war between moderates and extremists who, in Bush's words one year ago, were "trying to hijack Islam itself" against the wishes of a silent majority of peaceful Muslims.

The challenge before Washington and the West, in this view, is not only to physically eliminate the radicals (and the governments that allegedly support them), but, more important, according to Times columnist Thomas Friedman, to persuade "the Muslim majority that what the Osama bin Ladens are leading to is the destruction and denigration of their own religion and societies."

But it appears that the European majority is increasingly convinced that the Bush administration is leading the West in a similar direction.

While administration officials and their media supporters have been crowing since the end of January about the 16 European governments that signed statements of support for Washington's position in the ongoing crisis, and gloating over how "isolated" France and Germany were within Europe, public-opinions polls tell a far different story.

In countries -- especially Spain and Italy -- whose governments have lined up behind Bush, overwhelming majorities as high as 96 percent oppose unilateral action by Washington and its allies against Iraq, according to recent polls by Gallup International. Even given the sanction of the United Nations Security Council, war against Iraq was opposed by decisive majorities in all but two of 10 west European countries -- Ireland and the Netherlands.

But it would be a mistake to believe that European opinion is necessarily so different from North America's. Survey results in Canada, whose government has taken a decidedly unenthusiastic view of Washington's eagerness for war, are very similar to those across the Atlantic.

And even in the United States, according to the latest polls, a solid majority of the public still believe that Washington should not go to war against Iraq without UN Security Council approval -- a point that is often overlooked by commentators both here and in Europe who assume that the administration's policies represent the preferences of the general public.

Indeed, despite the ever-louder government drumbeat for war and the breathless security alerts issued by grim-faced officials on an almost daily basis, only 37 percent minority of the U.S. public favors invading Iraq without UN backing.

Not only is the public extremely skeptical of going to war with Iraq -- most view bin Laden's al-Qaeda as a distinguishable and significantly more dangerous threat -- the anti-war movement appears to be expanding rapidly at the grassroots level, compounding the growing sense that Bush speaks only for a minority, and not a very big one at that.

Elected officials from some 90 cities and towns, including Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Detroit, Cleveland, Seattle and even the Texas capital of Austin, whose governments have approved anti-war resolutions in just the past few weeks, demonstrated in front of the White House on Thursday in just one indication of the growing opposition to war against Iraq.

Even, indeed especially, on the religious front, Bush is badly isolated, so much so that a prominent neo-conservative Catholic flew to the Vatican this week to try to persuade Pope John Paul II to tone down his own anti-war declarations, while a recent 'Wall Street Journal'-NBC News poll showed that Catholic support for war has fallen sharply in the past few months.

The National Council of Churches of Christ, which includes the mainstream Protestant denominations, has spoken out against the drive to war for months, while the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, in which Bush was baptized, has assaulted the administration in the strongest terms, noting in a recent interview that he can reach an understanding with people overseas "only when I apologize for, or explain what they perceive as our unilateralist and self-serving ways which ignore the needs and suffering of their nations."

Indeed, except for the South Baptists, by far the most conservative U.S. denomination that, like radical Islamists, has long been hostile to equal rights for women, Bush war plans appear to enjoy only scattered support among Christian and Jewish congregations.

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Albion Monitor February 18, 2003 (

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