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Americans aren't worried about 'old Europe'


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Matt Towery

February 18, 2003

Americans aren't worried about 'old Europe'

Here's a tip for the Bush administration: If you are going to wage war without totally debilitating longstanding international relationships and the world economy, cast aside your over-regard for the opinions of other nations, and get moving. Based on our newest poll, you needn't worry about what Russia, Germany and especially France have to say. The truth is, Americans aren't wild about these so-called international heavyweights.

Our poll of more than 1,000 Americans, with a margin of error of 3 percent, ranked in descending order how Americans feel about other nations. The results showed England, Canada and Japan as scoring the highest among the 10 nations surveyed. But France found itself close to onetime Cold War enemy Russia and not far from current communist regime China, as among the least popular. France scored worst among those respondents 65 and older, the demographic group most likely to recall America's heroic efforts to liberate that country during its occupation by Nazi Germany during World War II.

How ironic to see images this past weekend of millions of Europeans taking to the streets. Not to celebrate the freedoms they enjoy in large part because Americans a generation ago fought for their safety against perilous attacks from crudely built German missiles, but to oppose current U.S. efforts to disarm Iraq.

And therein may lie just one of the many difficulties created by the Bush administration's well-intended but disastrous approach to Iraq. That long-ago initial decision -- to follow the labyrinth of diplomatic rituals created by an out-of-touch and out-of-date United Nations -- collapsed under the weight of nationalistic jealousies and recriminations. The United Nations has proven itself useful for only one thing -- stalling long enough to allow sympathy to build for international criminals.

While it's true the Bush administration has provided less than overwhelming evidence that Iraqi misdeeds call for immediate military intervention, there is also little doubt Saddam Hussein is not only pressing in on his efforts to develop and stockpile weapons of mass destruction, but also continuing to hold his nation's people under a reign of terror.

One can only wonder why the millions who protested a potential U.S.-led invasion of Iraq did not instead target their demands toward Hussein; namely, that he go into exile and free his people. Instead, America and the world were treated to images of the French, Germans and others marching with swastika-emblazoned American flags and placards demeaning President Bush.

On the flip side, is it any wonder the survey finds Americans are most devoted to England and Canada? Although even British support for the United States' current diplomatic position is rapidly fading as the cat-and-mouse game with Iraq continues unabated, the London government has offered solace to Washington early and often.

And the French? American disdain for France's apparent national envy toward the United States -- clumsily disguised as a superior understanding of diplomacy -- may itself be changing. For years Americans have noted French efforts to deflect or slow what they call an invasion of Yankee culture, or the perceived lack of it. But the typical American's response has usually been a good-humored observation that any country that can't get enough of Jerry Lewis movies -- France -- must have a rather twisted view of culture, or even of common sense.

Now, however, feelings may be hardening, particularly among older Americans, who belong to the generation that fought for the restoration of democracy in France.

No, it was not a good decision on behalf of the U.S. government to play the United Nation's game of "hide the solution" in regard to Iraq. And as Americans see more and more protestors, it is entirely possible that U.S. public support for Bush will start to erode.

But at least up until last weekend, Americans' support for the president remained solid. While some polls have suggested this support is dependent upon other nations' backing of the U.S. war effort, our own flash poll, taken immediately after the Columbia space shuttle disaster, showed 61 percent support an Iraqi war, regardless of the involvement of other countries.

Our latest poll also reveals the ironic finding that the American people are now more appreciative of their World War II enemies, Japan and Germany, than they are of France, which was a primary ally in that conflict. If nothing else, it appears the American people may take some years to overcome their less-than-enthusiastic feelings toward France.

C'est la vie.

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