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A New Power in the Streets
by Saima Alvi
22 March 2003 20:44 UTC
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A New Power in the Streets

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 The fracturing of the Western alliance over
Iraq and the huge antiwar demonstrations around the world this
weekend are reminders that there may still be two superpowers on the
planet: the United States and world public opinion.

In his campaign to disarm Iraq, by war if necessary, President Bush
appears to be eyeball to eyeball with a tenacious new adversary:
millions of people who flooded the streets of New York and dozens of
other world cities to say they are against war based on the evidence
at hand.

Mr. Bush's advisers are telling him to ignore them and forge ahead,
as are some leading pro-war Republicans. Senator John McCain, for
one, said today that it was "foolish" for people to protest on behalf
of the Iraqi people, because the Iraqis live under Saddam
Hussein "and they will be far, far better off when they are liberated
from his brutal, incredibly oppressive rule."

That may be true, but it fails to answer the question that France,
Germany and other members of the Security Council have posed: What is
the urgent rationale for war now if there is a chance that continued
inspections under military pressure might accomplish the disarmament
of Iraq peacefully?

The fresh outpouring of antiwar sentiment may not be enough to
dissuade Mr. Bush or his advisers from their resolute preparations
for war. But the sheer number of protesters offers a potent message
that any rush to war may have political consequences for nations that
support Mr. Bush's march into the Tigris and Euphrates valleys.

This may have been the reason that foreign ministers for 22 Arab
nations, meeting in Cairo today, called on all Arab countries
to "refrain from offering any kind of assistance or facilities for
any military action that leads to the threat of Iraq's security,
safety and territorial integrity."

War, like politics, is affected by psychology and momentum. The
strong surge in momentum the Bush administration felt after Secretary
of State Colin L. Powell's Feb. 5 presentation to the Security
Council on the case for war has been undermined by at least four
converging negatives.

The most obvious is the rupture in relations between Mr. Bush and
some of his principal partners in Europe: France and Germany, now
joined by Russia, China and a growing list of other countries. Just
weeks ago, it seemed that Mr. Bush was successfully coaxing France
and Germany into the war camp, especially after one of the chief
United Nations weapons inspectors, Hans Blix, delivered a negative
report on Jan. 27 on Iraqi compliance.

But the swell of popular opposition to war across Europe, the second
negative, plus the corrosive effects of the hawkish jibes that
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and others have hurled across
the Atlantic, have only roiled the waters further. Washington
discovered just how deeply Western unity had been sundered when it
asked for defensive NATO deployments to Turkey to protect that front-
line state from Iraqi intimidation a request that brought
opposition and contentious debate that were resolved today.

The Security Council meeting on Friday that was to be the penultimate
step in laying the groundwork for war, instead produced two
significant negatives. Giving his latest report, Mr. Blix indicated
that the inspectors were making noteworthy progress in forcing Iraq
to make concessions on everything from allied surveillance flights to
giving inspectors greater access to Iraqi weapons scientists. Mr.
Blix said Iraq was still not cooperating like a state that truly
wanted to disarm, but there had been progress, he said.

The implication was that Mr. Blix saw the virtue of taking more time,
though he did not specifically ask for it. But neither was he ready
to tell the Security Council that inspections had failed as a tool
for disarmament.

In another negative, Mr. Powell's performance on Friday appeared to
fall short of public expectations that he would demonstrate that the
threat posed by Iraq under Mr. Hussein was so imminent that the only
logical response was war as soon as possible.

Mr. Powell promised new intelligence on connections between Iraq and
Al Qaeda, but then did not provide it, at least within public view.
And he did not respond to Mr. Blix when the arms inspector challenged
one point of the American intelligence briefing of Feb. 5.

Mr. Blix pointed out that the satellite images Mr. Powell brought
before the Council were shot two weeks apart and did not necessarily
show Iraqi deception. A chemical decontamination truck is present in
one photo and not the other. "Routine" movements were also a possible
explanation, Mr. Blix pointed out, and Mr. Powell nodded.

Though Mr. Powell was nimble as ever in his extemporaneous remarks,
the one thing that his presentation did not provide the Security
Council was an answer to the question that hung over the body: Why
war now?

To the rest of the world, it might have seemed necessary that
Washington provide an answer, if only to respond to the argument of
the French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin. He placed an
alternative logic before the Security Council: Could anyone argue
that immediate war would be shorter and more effective in disarming
Iraq than continued United Nations inspections under the threat of

It didn't help Mr. Bush or Mr. Powell that the French said their
intelligence agencies found no support for the American claim of a
strong connection between Baghdad and Osama bin Laden's terrorism
network. It also did not help that Mr. Powell's appearance on Friday
came just days after Prime Minister Tony Blair's latest intelligence
white paper was found to have been plagiarized from Internet sources.

As if to defy the deteriorating support for immediate war, Mr. Bush's
advisers warned against playing "into Saddam Hussein's hands," as
Condoleezza Rice, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, said on Fox
News Sunday this morning.

But the more senior members of Mr. Bush's team, especially Mr.
Powell, live in the shadow of Vietnam, where their careers began and
out of which they brought a determination not to take the country
into war without strong public support. Given Mr. Hussein's record,
the actions of Iraq over the next few weeks could conceivably
resurrect that support and reverse the negative psychology and loss
of momentum that the Bush administration suffered this week.

For the moment, an exceptional phenomenon has appeared on the streets
of world cities. It may not be as profound as the people's
revolutions across Eastern Europe in 1989 or in Europe's class
struggles of 1848, but politicians and leaders are unlikely to ignore
it. The Arab states' declaration in Cairo seems proof of that.

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