18 November 2003

Bush Visit Spurs Protests Against U.S. in Europe

'What scares people is Bush's unilateralism,' said Javier Noya, a political analyst in Madrid.

Indeed, one recent opinion survey of 7,500 Europeans, conducted on behalf of the European Commission in Brussels, ranked the American leader No. 2, along with Kim Jong Il of North Korea, as a threat to world peace. (Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel ranked No. 1.)

Even in Britain � by far Washington's staunchest ally in the Iraq war � thousands of people say they will take to the streets to protest President Bush's state visit here. Mr. Bush and his wife, Laura, will stay at Buckingham Palace as guests of Queen Elizabeth II.

Partly, hostility by Britons � unlike that of some other Europeans � is colored with a profound resentment that, having sent troops to fight and die in Iraq and having provided unfailing political cover and support, Prime Minister Tony Blair seems to reap so few American rewards for tying his political fortunes to an unpopular alliance with Mr. Bush.

'It is all too clear what Britain has done to advance U.S. foreign policy,' said Robin Cook, the former foreign secretary who resigned in protest over the Iraq war. 'It is hard to spot what President Bush has done in return to assist British interests.'

In an effort to soften the harsh and simplistic contours of his image here, Mr. Bush embarked on an unusual publicity campaign, giving interviews in Washington to two British newspapers and a news agency. He also plans to appear on Sir David Frost's television talk show.

'The president is entitled to a fairer hearing than he has received and to be treated as a politician on his merits rather than be caricatured as a cartoon figure,' said an editorial in The Times of London, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation.

The editorial appeared, though, opposite a cartoon showing a confused-looking Mr. Bush in camouflage military gear pondering how the letter X in the phrase 'Exit Strategy from Iraq' would look as the X on a ballot for the presidential elections in 2004.

Mr. Bush will find it hard to shake the perception among European critics that he is anything more than a tool of oil interests and a coterie of close, neoconservative advisers and an implacable opponent of many cherished European ideas on the environment, the Middle East and other issues. His frequent allusions to his own Christian faith may not have won friends, either.

'He thinks the same way as Philip II did in the 16th century: as long as we believe in God we're going to win,' said Mayte Embuena, a 43-year-old tour guide in Madrid. 'He doesn't know anything about history, economics or sociology; he's governing thanks to his faith, his mother's advice and the help of four friends.'

Mr. Bush's visit was planned long before the war in Iraq at a time when British sentiments toward Washington were molded by sympathy after the Sept. 11 attacks. Since then, attitudes have changed. In particular, the arguments offered by both Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair to justify the war %u2014 that Iraq had chemical, biological and potential nuclear weapons, that there were links between Iraq and Al Qaeda and that a smooth victory was likely %u2014 have not been borne out for many Europeans.

'If we had found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, if the transition was going well, what would be the atmosphere around this visit?' Mr. Garton-Ash said. 'If things had gone well, if Blair and Bush had been proved right, you wouldn't have had anything like the kind of resistance that you have now.'

By memory, Felipe II expected Catholics in England to rise and shower his troops with flowers. And he knew his victory was inevitable. Otherwise he would not have launched the Armada.

No comments: