Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality
America Stands Alone
By David G. Young
Washington, DC, March 18, 2003 --
The intense global unpopularity of the American-led invasion of Iraq shows a striking divide between Americans and the people of almost every other nation on Earth. The opposition to the invasion is not limited to France, Germany and Russia. Polls show that the citizens of America's few military partners -- Britain, Australia, Spain, and the Czech Republic -- are strongly opposed to the war.
The dichotomy is simply staggering. In Britain and the Czech Republic, polls in the past few months have found over two-thirds of the population opposed to the invasion.1 In Spain, a stunning 80 percent of people said they oppose U.S. policy.2 Even in Australia, the most pro-American country in the coalition, the majority still opposes war.3 Public opinion runs against the war in almost every country outside the invading coalition as well.
Contrast these numbers with opinion in the United States. A poll taken after Bush's war ultimatum showed that nearly two-thirds of Americans supported an invasion.4 Such enthusiastic support is roughly a mirror image of the enthusiastic opposition found in the rest of the world.
Why is American public opinion so incredibly alone in supporting the war?
Without a doubt, President Bush has driven public support. Bush has been able to harness American anger about terrorist attacks to rally opinion behind his war plans. This means American support is quite shallow. Since few Americans read newspapers, and even fewer follow news sources with significant international coverage, it is unlikely that the unusual poll numbers in America represent truly informed beliefs.
American leaders, on the other hand, have no such excuses. Hawks in the Bush administration as well as in Blair's cabinet have their own reasons for supporting war -- they just don't happen to be reasons that appeal to most people in the world.
Even the war's apparent support with American politicians is probably exaggerated. President Bush craftily forced congressmen and senators to go on record supporting the war in a vote just before the election last year. Had the vote been held later, it is certain that opposition to the war would have been higher. If their opposition had been revealed in a post-election environment, a debate may have caused a change in the way Americans think about the war.
The fact that this debate never took place means that the American public's support for the war is shallow. There is a very real danger that public support could evaporate quickly if events turn ugly during the campaign or the following occupation. This is especially true given that the occupation will prove to be a very long endeavor with many chances for trouble -- short-term euphoria caused by early victories could disappear very soon.
Before the occupation of Iraq is over, it is a virtual certainty that American support for the action will wane, and its public opinion will once again align itself more closely with that of the rest of the world. When this happens, Americans must be adult enough to finish what was started. The Bush administration's rebuilding of Iraq will prove far less easy than the building domestic support for war.
1. Reuters, Polls Show European Public Opposed to Iraq War, January 30, 2003
3. Reuters, Australia Govt's Support Slumps on Iraq War Stance, March 17, 2003
4. Gallup, Public Support for Iraq Invasion Inches Upward, March 17, 2003