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World Rebels against America

Governments everywhere are dreading the dawn of American imperial unilateralism. They are even more scared of their riled-up citizenries.

This anti-war movement may be more potent than the one against the Vietnam War. It is worldwide and it has gelled before the war has even begun.
Published on Sunday, January 26, 2003 by the Toronto Star

World Rebels Against America
by Haroon Siddiqui

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Having positioned enough U.S. troops and equipment all around this Persian Gulf neighborhood, George W. Bush can launch a war on Iraq any time, with or without United Nations' approval. But he has already lost the political war.

That came through loud and clear in my journey through Europe, the Middle East and Asia in the last three weeks. It should become evident to North Americans in the days ahead.

Tomorrow, the United Nations arms inspectors will call for a continuation of their work to disarm Iraq peacefully.

On Tuesday, Bush will deliver his State of the Union address and be applauded on Capitol Hill and in the obeisant American and copycat neo-con Canadian media. But around the world, his words likely will bring public derision, so eroded is American credibility. A similar fate awaits the promised American "evidence" against Iraq.

On Wednesday, when the Security Council meets, France, assisted by Germany, will lead Russia, China and others in resisting American calls for a U.N. mandate for war. For the first time in its history, the council may be confronted with an anti-American resolution.

On Friday, British PM Tony Blair will go to Camp David. He will pledge his fidelity but hedge it, in deference to opposition brewing in his cabinet and caucus.

There already is a global rebellion against America, separate and apart from the recent terrorist attacks on U.S. civilians and soldiers in Yemen, Pakistan and Kuwait.

Governments everywhere are dreading the dawn of American imperial unilateralism. They are even more scared of their riled-up citizenries.

Most Muslims are characterizing American designs on Iraq as racist. Others are calling it a colonial endeavor— the return of the Ugly American.

From Europe through Africa and Asia to the Far East, public opinion is solidly ranged against America. The dissidents include the Pope, the archbishop of Canterbury and Nelson Mandela.

This anti-war movement may be more potent than the one against the Vietnam War. It is worldwide and it has gelled before the war has even begun.

North American pundits have it that Bush has a small window of opportunity for war because a delay would push it into the unbearable heat of the Middle East summer. The greater truth, as seen from here, may be that his options are closing because of growing people power, even in America.

The president's poll numbers are dropping. Public skepticism is rising, as is a chorus of influential voices, including those of Senator Ted Kennedy ("This is the wrong war at the wrong time"), Jimmy Carter, Gulf War veterans, stalwart Republicans, Hollywood celebrities and unions.

The longer Bush delays the war, the more difficult it will be to launch it. But the only way he can go quickly is to abandon the fig leaf of the United Nations, proving that his enlisting of the U.N. was a sham all along.

But with 150,000 troops and equipment lined up and so much rhetorical capital invested, how can he not proceed?

Bush is in a box of his own making.

His biggest mistake has been to try to undermine the U.N. inspectors every step of the way.

Chief inspector Hans Blix, a seasoned Swiss diplomat seeped in U.N. culture, wasn't going to blink under American bullying.

When Americans and Britons charged that their intelligence showed Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, Blix said: "Show me."

When Bush called the discovery of a dozen empty Iraqi warheads "troubling and serious," Blix said: "It's no big deal." (Anyone who covered Saddam's 1980-'90 war on Iran would have seen dozens of such spent Iraqi shells all along the border.)

America has been clutching at other straws, such as looking for an Iraqi scientist or two to supply a plausible excuse for U.S. action — in return for immigration to America or, in one reported case, a bribe of free medical care for an ailing wife.

But with no smoking gun, no proof of any Iraqi terrorist links, no weapons of mass destruction, Washington changed its tack. The issue was no longer weapons but Iraqi deception. (When was the last time a war was launched over a lie?) Or Saddam himself.

American commentators duly obliged with essays on the benefits of bringing democracy to Iraq. But people across the Atlantic just laughed.

Aren't America's best allies in the region autocrats, monarchs and assorted potentates? Didn't Donald Rumsfeld, now defense secretary, meet Saddam in 1983 to convey American moral and material support in the jihad against Iran? Didn't America acquiesce when Saddam used Western-supplied chemicals to kill Iranians and his own Kurds?

Circumstances change, of course. But the American track record at nation-building is not good, either, as witnessed in Afghanistan twice: post-Soviet occupation and post-Taliban.

Nor, as noted recently by Human Rights Watch, is its record in protecting the most fundamental human rights of Arabs and other Muslims on American soil since Sept. 11.

The harassment of Muslim Americans hasn't helped. Nor have the recent horror stories of returning Afghans, Pakistanis and Indians after spending a year in American jails on suspicions of terrorism while being guilty of no more than petty immigration violations.

In promising democracy to Iraq, Bush is dealing with devalued American moral currency.

Most inconveniently, regime change in Baghdad is not part of U.N. Resolution 1441, the ostensible basis of all the current American activity.

Even if it were, the idea of killing Iraqis to give them democracy does not hold much appeal.

People in the Mideast have noticed that, in the plethora of Pentagon war scenarios, there is none on how many Iraqis are likely to become collateral damage when B-52s start bombing.

Arabs are not the only ones to flinch at the thought of more pain and death on a people already suffering under American-led economic sanctions. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees envisages "a human disaster," with about 1 million refugees spilling into neighboring nations and between 4.5 and 9.5 million Iraqis inside the country needing emergency food rations.

Complicating the Bush-Blair mission have been two unforeseen events since Nov. 8 — the Israeli election and the defiant nuclearization of North Korea.

Bush had to bench a proposed American plan for Palestinian statehood until after the election. Blair was embarrassed by Israel PM Ariel Sharon's refusal to let Palestinians go to a peace conference in London. Meanwhile, suicide bombings and counter-measures continue, with Palestinians by far the bigger victims.

Bush's conciliatory approach to North Korea raised cries of double standards. "Why is the U.S. dealing with them differently?" asked Al Sharq newspaper in Qatar, one of the more pro-American emirates and, in fact, a key staging area for an American attack on Iraq.

Such is the sad backdrop of the fateful days ahead.

Should Americans fail to swing Security Council support, Bush may proceed with "a coalition of the willing" — reluctant allies who cannot afford to anger America, including Canada perhaps. What would follow is anybody's guess.

A surgical war that topples Saddam quickly and liberates the Iraqi people would nullify all the naysayers and make a hero of Bush.

The nightmare scenario is of heavy Iraqi civilian casualties and a long siege around Baghdad, with Saddam ordering people on to bridges and other infrastructure as human shields.

Reports out of London speak of Whitehall being inundated with cables from British missions abroad warning of widespread fury. European diplomats I spoke to talk of "long-lasting enmity in the Arab, Asian and African world against the Western model," in the words of one.

And over at the staid Davos conference in Switzerland, Malaysian Prime Minister Mohammed Mahatir told the corporate and political elite of the world Thursday: "People want revenge. You kill our people, we will kill you."

He was not issuing a threat.

Haroon Siddiqui is The Star's editorial page editor emeritus. His column appears Sundays and Thursdays.

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