March 23, 2003

Michael Skapinker on Bridges Blown Up

This is how a strongly pro-American observer from across the Atlantic views the Bush Administration. That this is what our best friends are saying seems to me to be pretty scary... Home Global: Whatever military victories the US achieves in the coming days - and let us hope they come quickly - it is worth reflecting on how much international goodwill George W. Bush has dissipated in so short a time.

By the eve of this war, America's standing in Europe had plummeted, according to a report published this week by the Washington-based Pew Research Centre. In France, Germany, Italy and Russia, fewer than 35 per cent had a favourable view of the US. In the UK, fewer than half did.

Many in the US will scoff. It is nice to have British and Australian forces alongside, even if their people are deeply divided. It is good, too, to have the moral backing of the "coalition of the willing", including mighty El Salvador, Eritrea and Iceland. But the US can fight alone if it has to. What the world thinks does not matter.

But it does matter. International terrorism will long outlive this war. It hides in obscure corners, in impenetrable urban warrens, in countries thousands of miles from its targets. Defeating it will require patience, intelligence and international co-operation.

It was not only Europeans that Mr Bush managed to alienate in recent weeks. With US troops now in action, America is rightly supporting them. But the Pew research revealed that Americans' backing for military action fell from 66 per cent in February to 59 per cent this month.

What is striking about the Pew poll is that, when asked whether Iraq would be better off if Saddam Hussein were deposed, more than 70 per cent of British, French and German respondents said Yes - almost as high as the US figure.

So why has Mr Bush failed to persuade people that he has embarked on the right path? His professors at Harvard Business School, where he studied in the 1970s, might have been able to tell him. Leadership, the business schools teach, is about defining a mission that people can unite around; it is about telling them where you are going and why. And George W. Bush MBA has never made it clear where the US is going.

The question many friends of the US are asking is not "why we are fighting this war?" but "why we are fighting it now?" Of course, the Iraqi dictator is lying about his chemical and biological weapons; he always has been. But threatened with military action and forced to readmit the UN's inspectors, he was at least pinned down. As Mr Bush and his colleagues constantly remind us, the Iraqi dictator has defied the world for 12 years. Why did he have to be dealt with this weekend, when there is more urgent work to be done?

That work is not only North Korea but also al-Qaeda, some of whose leaders are at last being rounded up. Christopher Caldwell, a senior editor on the Weekly Standard magazine, said this week in the FT that Europeans had not understood the impact of September 11 on the American psyche. I doubt that is true. What Europeans have failed to discern is a connection between September 11 and Mr Hussein.

The US has provided little evidence of any link...

Michael Skapinker: Bush has many bridges to repair. By Michael Skapinker. Published: March 21 2003 19:20 | Last Updated: March 21 2003 19:20

Posted by DeLong at March 23, 2003 02:34 PM | TrackBack

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