- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 8, 2003

WINCHESTER, England. —Americans who have found comfort in the solidarity of the Anglo-Saxon nations, in the unshakable spirit of our British allies as the United States faces the prospect of another Gulf War, may want to think again. Having just spent a week in England listening to bitter and angry complaints about American policy on Iraq, I can report of levels of anti-Americanism unsuspected by most in the United States. It is a mood of whiny petulance that is deeply unflattering for the British, a nation with otherwise proud traditions of fighting and winning wars.
It should be said that generally New Year in Britain 2003 was a depressing experience. Floods, caused by constant rain and blamed on global warming (what else?) have turned fields into lakes and basements into swimming pools in southern England. Politically, the country is a mess. Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair's popularity is nosediving, and the Conservative Party has almost completely disappeared from public view. Consumer spending over Christmas was disappointing; house prices are widely expected to fall; and the manufacturing sector is headed towards recession, according to the Financial Times
A fitting symbol of Britain's national malaise was the embarrassing failure on New Year's Eve of BBC's Radio 4 to fulfill the simple yet traditional task of broadcasting the twelve midnight strokes of Big Ben. As revelers impatiently waited to break into "Auld Lang Syne," a voice came on the air, announcing sheepishly that due to technical difficulties, the BBC had not been able to broadcast the familiar chimes. We did not even make it into 2003 on time.
At about 1 A.M., yours truly found herself under assault by her host for the evening. An allegedly otherwise mild-mannered individual, he launched into an enraged attack on President Bush and on the United States in general. "The man is an alcoholic. The fact that he hasn't had a drink in 20 years proves it," he yelled illogically. "You can't trust him. He is a madman, and he is going to get all of us killed." The fact that this outburst came from someone with a bottle of champagne in each hand did rather take the edge off the argument, though unfortunately this irony got lost in the heat of the moment.
Mr. Blair's New Year's message itself was a study in black. The day after his speech, the front page of the conservative Daily Mail announced, "We're all doomed." "You have never had it so bad," intoned the Daily Mirror, voice of the working classes, which portrayed Mr. Blair as the grim reaper sporting a scythe and huge black rings around his eyes. Mr. Blair cited possible al Qaeda attacks, North Korean nukes, weak economic growth in Europe, failing British secondary schools, health care and public transportation (none of it his government's fault, of course), and made 2003 sound pretty unappealing over all.
While Mr. Blair seems to have wanted to prepare his countrymen for the hardships of an economic downturn and a possible war with Iraq, inspiring the British in a Churchill-like fashion, instead his government has managed to scare their socks off. Warnings have come fast and furious from the Labor government about sarin gas attacks on the London subway, smallpox, a possible quarantine of London, what have you. "We are afraid," is a constant refrain.
Indeed, Mr. Blair, who is constantly derided as "Bush's poodle," has become so unpopular that in a BBC poll to decide whom the British most wanted deported, the prime minister's name had to be removed; everybody voted for him. Instead, his wife Cherie won the honor, ahead even of a militant Muslim cleric by name of Sheik Abu Hamza al-Masri. According to the poll, the person the British would most like to import in her place is Burmese dissident Ang Yang Sui Kyi. "I am surprised they voted for someone who had nothing to do with soccer," one British diplomat remarks drily.
Fears about the consequences of war with Iraq are not confined to the left or to the liberal media. "Iraq is a nasty place and military planners must have contingencies. But to no one can Iraq be said to pose a sovereign threat sufficient to require a pre-emptive war," writes columnist Simon Jenkins on the op-ed page of the London Times. "There is no cause for Britain to go to war with Iraq." This sentiment is echoed all the way to the pages of the weekly magazine the Spectator on the right.
From an American perspective, Mr. Blair ought to be congratulated for his leadership. Yet, one cannot help but wonder whether this loyalty does not place him in considerable peril at home. With an heir-apparent waiting patiently, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, and gales of opposition blowing all around, Tony Blair the question is how long his steadfastness will last.

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