- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

BRUSSELS, Belgium, March 18 (UPI) — As the United States prepares to launch a military strike against Iraq, there is a widespread belief on both sides of the Atlantic that Washington stands alone against Saddam Hussein and that most European states are either lukewarm or downright hostile to the use of armed force.

The feeling has been fostered by the high-profile anti-war stance of the French and German governments and the strength of the peace protests that clogged the continent's capitals last month.

French President Jacques Chirac sought to capitalize on the United Nations Security Council's hesitancy to a military strike Tuesday, declaring: "France's viewpoint is shared by a large majority of the international community."

This may be true of Africa, Asia and Latin America, but even after U.S. President George W. Bush's decision to abandon diplomacy Monday, the majority of European countries support Washington's hardline stance. A survey of the 27 countries that are either European Union members or will be in the near future reveals that 16 back military action to disarm Saddam Hussein, seven are resolutely opposed to war and four are neutral or undecided.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Spanish counterpart Jose-Maria Aznar can lay claim to being Washington's most enthusiastic supporters. Both have backed Bush from the beginning of the standoff and Sunday joined the U.S. commander-in-chief for a war summit in the Azores islands.

Portugal, which hosted the Azores meeting, and Italy have also advocated the use of strong-arm tactics to disarm Saddam Hussein despite huge opposition to war in the two Mediterranean states.

NATO founding member Denmark is another EU state to give its explicit backing to the U.S. military build-up in the Middle East. In a statement released after Bush's ultimatum to the Iraqi leader, Danish Prime Minister Anders-Fogh Rasmussen said: "The time has come to take a stance. … It is unacceptable to make a mockery of the international community's authority."

The position of the Netherlands is clouded by the ongoing efforts to form a left-right coalition government following January elections, but premier Jan-Peter Balkenende has been a staunch ally of Bush and has dispatched Patriot missiles to Turkey to protect the NATO state in the event of an attack by Iraq.

The position of the 10 ex-communist states of Central and Eastern Europe, however, leaves no room for doubt.

Last month, the former Soviet bloc countries of Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Rumania, Slovakia and Slovenia signed a letter of support for the U.S. position on Iraq, prompting an intemperate outburst from Chirac.

Announcing plans to send over 200 troops to the Gulf Tuesday, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said: "We agree with British Prime Minister Tony Blair who said that, in order to keep the peace, you have to fight."

The Balkan states of Albania, Croatia and Macedonia — which are expected to join the EU in the coming years — also back Washington's muscular stance against Saddam Hussein.

Since January, European opposition to war has been led by France and Germany, with Belgium, Austria, Greece, Luxembourg and Sweden following more sheepishly behind. Ireland, Finland, Cyprus and Malta remain neutral or have not nailed their colors to the mast.

So with only half a dozen or so European Union, or future EU member states, categorically opposed to war, why has the old continent managed to convey an image of pacifism, appeasement and anti-Americanism over the past months?

Firstly, polls show that European public opinion is overwhelmingly against war and last month's mass demonstrations rammed home this message in Technicolor detail.

Secondly, France, Germany and Belgium have waged an unrelenting rear-guard campaign against armed action, culminating in the three countries' decision to temporarily block military support for fellow NATO member Turkey.

Thirdly, although the EU's 15 members are split down the middle over how to disarm the Iraqi regime, the Brussels-based bloc is not representative of Europe as a whole. Almost all the 12 countries queuing up to join the Union over the next four years are standing shoulder to shoulder with London and Washington.

Finally, both the American and European media have been happy to repeat the old canard about the United States acting 'unilaterally' against Baghdad, despite military backing from Britain and Australia and the more passive support of dozens of other countries.

Of course, the current U.S. president is far from assembling the type of broad coalition Bush Sr. stitched together in 1991. But to talk about the United States being isolated and EU states being isolationist merely panders to the views of those who see Americans as from Mars and Europeans from Venus.

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