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Volume 2, Number 50              January 26 - February 1, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines

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'European street' says 'no' to U.S. war on Iraq; 
Canadians call U.S. international 'bully'

By Edward M. Gomez
SF Gate

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"Mr. Bush has not made clear why a war against Iraq is necessary,"
Toronto's Globe and Mail asserted this week, repeating a criticism that the United States has been hearing for months from foes and allies alike around the world.

Washington cannot even expect its normally cooperative northern neighbor to instantly fall into lockstep with its policies and plans, according to the editorial; now, more than a year into George W. Bush's war on terrorism, "67 percent of Canadians think the United States is 'starting to act like a bully with the rest of the world.'" (Maclean's)

At the same time, Ottawa appears officially ambivalent with regard to Washington's proposed war against Iraq. In a year-end interview, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, reflecting popular attitudes, said, "If the United Nations says there shouldn't be war, we in Canada never went to war without the authorization of the United Nations." (Montreal Gazette)

More recently, though, Canadian Defense Minister John McCallum met with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. Afterward, McCallum said (as reported in the Montreal Gazette), "Some may say we're doing it only with a U.N. mandate. We're saying we much prefer that, but we may do it otherwise."

If the Ottawa government's position sounds fuzzy and indecisive, it is. "And so," the Globe and Mail concluded, after Rumsfeld and McCallum's meeting, "Canada's position on Iraq is spelled out a little more clearly, but with no more impact: We'll definitely wage war if the United Nations deems it necessary, and maybe too if it doesn't. We will, in other words, likely go with pretty much whatever the United States sets out to achieve."

Maclean's echoed that sense of resignation to geopolitical reality. "We need the U.S. far more than they need us -- and policies are often easier to change than perceptions," the newsmagazine's editor said.

Still, as editorials and newspaper chat boards across Canada continue to show, Canadians remain dramatically divided in their allegiance to Bush's America and its war-making aims. A Montreal Gazette commentator put it plainly: "There are two issues for Canada to consider: Is joining the Americans the right thing to do, and do we have the means to do it?"  

* * * *  

France's Le Monde, taking the pulse of the continent in one of its most forceful editorials since the terrorist events of September 2001, has emphatically stated, "Europeans say, 'No.' No to a war against Iraq in the current state of affairs."

Noting that European opinion "perhaps will not weigh heavily in the United States' decision" to go to war, the authoritative French daily nevertheless insisted that the nearly 60 percent of Britons and more than 70 percent of French citizens, along with large numbers of other Europeans who oppose a war, "cannot be ignored." The "European street," Le Monde observed, has chosen the path of peace-making recommended by Pope John Paul II.

This attitude is not an expression of anti-Americanism, the newspaper explained. Instead, it reflects Europeans' strong belief that "the burden of proof" that Saddam Hussein is hoarding an arsenal of weapons he would use to attack the United States in particular or the West in general "rests on George W. Bush." The tough editorial demanded that Bush show the world whatever evidence he may have to support his claims.

"If Washington judges it possible to 'contain' Pyongyang by means of diplomacy, isn't it conceivable to do the same with Baghdad?" Le Monde asked. "If the United States justly stigmatizes a regime as cruel as that of Saddam Hussein, why treat with velvet gloves the much more criminal tyranny of [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-Il?" 

* * * *  

"What is worse: visiting your son at a cemetery, or visiting your husband in jail?" That's the question Canada's National Post asked as a pretrial hearing got under way this week at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

The purpose of the proceedings: to determine whether the case of two U.S. Air Force pilots who face criminal charges for dropping a laser-guided bomb on Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan last April will advance to a full military court-martial. American pilots Maj. Harry Schmidt and Maj. William Umbach's "friendly fire" debacle killed four Canadian paratroopers who were conducting a training exercise, and injured eight others.

Canadian news media called attention to the way Barksdale Air Force Base officials had carefully separated the relatives and friends of the American pilots who attended the pretrial hearing from those of the dead Canadians. They put the two groups of visitors in separate rooms in which closed-circuit televisions showed the proceedings.

"I'm angry at the events that transpired ... but I'm not really angry at them per se,"
a Canadian solider who lost his hearing in the April bombing accident told the Globe and Mail. "It was just stupidity, and it should never have happened, but it's not like they set out to do us harm." The mother of a soldier who was killed said, "We're hoping to get some answers -- I just want to ask why it happened."

Some remarks made by relatives of the American pilots have made it sound as though the U.S. Air Force majors are -- or should be regarded as -- victims. Of the prospect of her husband being found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, Schmidt's wife, Lisa, said, "The tragedy would be that our sons would not have their dad. I think of [our son] Tucker at a school event, and everybody has their dad there, and a little friend says, 'Tucker, where's your dad?' And he says, 'He's in jail for the rest of his life.'" (National Post)

Lisa Schmidt also said, "I find it very difficult when people want to compare our grief and sorrow and struggle with theirs, because it's so personal. [The dead Canadian soldiers' families] have the ultimate grief and the ultimate sorrow, and I totally acknowledge that, and I'm so sorry for it. But you also cannot put a level on what we're going through."

2003 SF Gate

January 16, 2003


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