- The Washington Times - Monday, February 17, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 16 (UPI) — A million people protesting against the coming war with Iraq here, and another 1.3 million protesting it there — and pretty soon you're talking about real numbers.

The unprecedented number of people who turned out across Europe this Presidents' Day weekend to oppose the looming confrontation in the Persian Gulf is likely to be seen as a truly epochal event in early 21st century history in many ways. Ironically, the one thing it looks most unlikely to do is to actually prevent war in the first place.

That's primarily because President Bush and the civilian war hawks that have flocked around him clearly remain determined to have their war. They have shown no sign of trying to prepare viable compromise exit strategies for themselves in order to do a U-turn or turn away from this prospect all together.

Indeed, as several commentators have noted, on the few occasions when the president has agreed to take questions on the issue, he uses the occasion to simply reiterate the same talking points he has already made in his formal speeches.

The second reason why the weekend's enormous demonstrations look unlikely to seriously affect the deliberations of administration policymakers is that even though there were significant rallies across the United States and an especially large one around the United Nations in New York City; these events were not even remotely comparable in size with the vast gatherings in London, Rome, Berlin, Barcelona and elsewhere in Western Europe.

Therefore, far from being awed by the turnouts on either side of the Atlantic, Bush administration hawks and their cheering chorus among the U.S. media punditry will be able to indulge their favorite pastime of negatively stereotyping the motivations and significance of those who marched on the side of restraint.

In the eyes of Washington insiders, it really doesn't matter that well over 3 million people turned out across Europe, because that is what you would expect of those wimpish Europeans. Americans after all, are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus, as historian Robert Kagan and other prominent Europe-bashing neo-conservative intellectuals in the United States have repeatedly claimed.

It is of significance for this kind of superficial, but surprisingly widely held argument that although the attendance figures for the New York demonstration were huge, they were not comparable to the London or Barcelona turnouts. The implication — driven perhaps by wishful thinking, let it be said — is that Americans are made of sterner stuff.

Furthermore, since the president himself appears to have written off the Northeast — where he received his own degrees at Yale and Harvard Business School — as incurably decadent, secular and liberal, the fact that New York was the scene of the largest anti-war turnout will only confirm to him and his core supporters their most cherished beliefs and prejudices.

It therefore should not be expected that the size of the crowds in Europe and in New York would cause any loss of nerve among the hawks in Washington — either within the administration or outside the White House. As long as they still believe they can oversee a crisp little campaign in Iraq that lasts from 48 hours to three weeks maximum for ground operations, with no more than 1,000-1,500 U.S. dead for the whole business, protests will not sway them in the slightest.

Does that therefore mean that there neither was nor will be any significance to future U.S. policymaking, the fact that millions turned out to protest a war with Iraq well before it had even started? Or, that hundreds of thousands more turned out within the United States itself to do so?

On the contrary, the significance of both of those developments is enormous and their implications are likely to reverberate on both sides of the ocean for years and even decades to come.

In the coming days and weeks, we will be exploring some of those ramifications here in UPI Analysis.

For now, it is enough to take note of the awesome scale of these demonstrations, especially in Britain, Spain and Italy — the three European governments that have been most supportive of current U.S. policy and to consider, as the Book of Acts in the New Testament pithily puts it, "This thing was not done in a corner."

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