War Support Ebbs Worldwide
By Kevin Sullivan
MEXICO CITY -- It was a traditional altar for Mexico's Day of the Dead
observance, filled with flowers, candles and sweet bread laid out for
departed loved ones. Except this one also featured bagels and photos of New
York, and it sat next to the U.S. Embassy here as a show of solidarity with
the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Mexicans who showed up to inaugurate the display made clear their sympathy
for the dead in the United States. But they also made clear that sympathy
did not necessarily translate into support for the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
"I think the government of President Bush has gone too far; the war
frightens me," said Guadalupe Loaeza, a columnist and social commentator who
helped organize the altar display.
Such views seem to be increasingly widespread around the world. The initial
outburst of solidarity after Sept. 11 has frayed considerably as U.S.
warplanes bomb Afghanistan relentlessly for the fifth week running. This is
true not only in Arab and other Muslim countries, where the U.S. military
campaign has provoked popular outrage, but in other countries where people
feel less of a direct connection to the events.
In opinion polls and interviews in several countries in Africa, Asia, Latin
America and Europe, many people who said they were horrified by the Sept. 11
attacks added that the horror then does not justify the bombing of
Afghanistan now -- even if their governments continue to back the U.S.
campaign. In a war that Bush has described as a battle between good and
evil, many said it is not so simple.
A poll taken this week for France 3 television and France Info radio, for
instance, showed support among the French for the U.S. military campaign has
dropped to 51 percent, down from 66 percent shortly after the bombing began
Oct. 7. Support also has declined in Germany, where polls show more than 65
percent of respondents now want the U.S. attacks to end, and in Spain, where
a poll for Cadena SER radio showed 69 percent of those surveyed want the
bombing to stop.
Even in Britain, where Prime Minister Tony Blair has become a cheerleader
for the U.S. campaign, popular support for the bombing has begun to slip,
sinking from 74 percent soon after the attacks in Afghanistan began to 62
percent in a poll conducted last week.
The views of Xu Maomao, 31, a human resources manager in Beijing who
attended a candlelight vigil in late September to mourn the U.S. victims,
typify the evolution of public opinion in many countries: "I supported the
military strikes at first, but now I don't know what to say," she said. "I
keep hearing about the lack of electricity in Afghanistan, or civilians and
children being killed. But only once in a while is there anything about a
terrorist base being hit. With all that high technology, can't the United
States do better?"
The Chinese government still supports Washington, but popular support seems
to have weakened as more bombs have fallen. The government has offered
strong endorsement of the fight against terrorism and cautious support for
the U.S. military campaign, but it has done little to rally the public
behind the cause.
"I think the United States has been too harsh and unreasonable," said Tong
Zhifan, 22. "It's big and powerful, and it doesn't care how others feel. You
can't behave like that. Isn't that why America was attacked?"
In Russia, President Vladimir Putin's strong backing of the bombing campaign
muted most criticism at first. But in recent weeks, many Russians seem to
have developed doubts about the U.S. venture into a country known as the
Soviet Union's Vietnam. One poll this week found 46 percent of respondents
convinced that the United States will fail.
In the aftermath of Sept. 11, there were outpourings of public sympathy in
Moscow, including huge mounds of flowers, teddy bears and traditional
Russian icons piled up outside the U.S. Embassy. But that has not
necessarily translated into public support for the bombing.
With the new war in Afghanistan unfolding uncomfortably close to Russia's
southern border, concerns range from practical complaints about U.S.
military tactics to longer-term fears about the new American presence in
Russia's Central Asian sphere of influence. Some fear that the United States
will drop bombs, then walk away from Afghanistan, leaving Russia to deal
with a mess in its back yard.
"With every day, the Americans and the world public are increasingly
doubtful about the efficiency of U.S. actions," said Vladimir Lukin, deputy
speaker of the lower house of the Russian parliament. While Russia remains a
willing participant in the anti-terrorist alliance, he warned, "the
possibility of difficulties cropping up within the coalition itself is
growing because the U.S. does not offer what is usually called the light at
the end of the tunnel."
Misgivings are growing among close allies as well.
"The basic pro-American sentiment is still there, but there is growing
unease because of the reports of the women and the children being killed,"
said Tim Pat Coogan, a prominent Irish author and historian who lives in
Coogan said that many Irish think the United States did not give enough
thought to the long-term political future of Afghanistan before starting the
military campaign. "They seem to have bombed first and worried about the
political alliances afterward," he said.
"People here know that many of the scenes of horror and civilian casualties
are Taliban propaganda," Coogan said. "But we've heard so much about elite
troops and smart bombs and modern electronic devices -- where are they? The
Americans seem to be making a mess of their campaign. Sometimes it makes you
shake your head in despair and think of Vietnam."
Here in Mexico, an increasingly close U.S. ally and a country that has
traditionally stayed out of international disputes, President Vicente Fox is
walking a political tightrope by supporting the U.S. military effort. He and
his top advisers have been blasted by critics who say that Mexico should
support only peaceful, diplomatic solutions to international conflicts.
Pedro Reyes Linares, a leader of Mexican labor and community groups, said
the United States should have turned to international courts, not bombs. He
said the U.S. effort resulted from typical American impatience.
"It's clearly not a war between good and evil," he said. "The impression is
that there are other motives behind the war. It's not just hunting down the
terrorists, but achieving greater control in a strategic area with rich
resources, and the possibility of exploiting oil and minerals."
Criticism of the United States has even shown up on the radio in Mexican
folk songs known as <em>corridos</em>. One song, "The Mistake of the CIA,"
goes, in part: "They are looking for you, bin Laden, the terrorist that the
CIA trained, that was the biggest mistake of the American government."
Farther south, the media in Argentina and Brazil have focused increasingly
on civilian casualties in Afghanistan, fueling already strong anti-American
sentiment. Bin Laden has emerged as a symbol of anti-Americanism among
Brazil's leftist and anarchist youth. His photo now shows up at rallies
alongside local favorites such as Fidel Castro and Ernesto "Che" Guevara.
Members of two of the main soccer clubs in Rio de Janeiro have worn bin
Laden T-shirts to games and unfurled bin Laden flags when their team scored
a goal. Bin Laden has also become an underground hero among the street gangs
that rule Rio's hillside ghettos. Already resentful of the U.S. war on
drugs, they see bin Laden as a symbol of power and resistance to the United
States. The paper bags of cocaine selling for $1 each in Rio's ghettos have
bin Laden's image stamped on them and sport new names such as "Taliban
In South Africa, sympathy for the United States has turned to scorn with
reports of Afghan civilian casualties.
"I do not understand the arrogance of the Americans," said Siphiwe Moerane,
a graphics designer sitting in a Johannesburg coffee shop. "How do you wage
war against an entire country to get one man? We were all sorry to see the
loss of so many American lives on September 11. But why do Americans seem to
think that their lives are more valuable than lives outside their borders?
This is what makes people so angry at the U.S."
Many Africans, who empathize with Afghanistan's impoverished population,
also hear echoes of colonialism and racism in the U.S. and British attacks.
Many Africans still hold a grudge against the British for their colonial
role in Africa. And they recall bitterly Washington's support for such
despots as the late Mobutu Sese Seku of Zaire, warlords such as Angola's
Jonas Savimbi and South Africa's apartheid-era white-minority government.
"No one in his right mind can defend the gruesome murder of innocent
children and the elderly in pursuit of one man whose guilt cannot be proved
beyond doubt," Garth le Pere, director of the Institute for Global Dialogue,
told reporters in Johannesburg.
"It simply means that America has no regard for innocent lives lost in other
parts of the world," said Sipho Seepe, a South African political analyst.
"For them the concept of innocent lives lost applies to situations where
white and people of Western origin are involved. When it is black people's
lives or those of people of Indian origin, the concept does not apply."
Public support in Kenya for the U.S. campaign appears to be holding firm,
despite a demonstration in the heavily Muslim port city of Mombasa that
turned into a riot. That incident was at least matched in the public
consciousness by the unprecedented spectacle of President Daniel arap Moi
leading a march supporting the United States in the aftermath of the
attacks. And Kenyans still remember vividly the 1998 terrorist bombing of
the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi that killed 207 Kenyans and 12 Americans.
"I'm supporting it definitely, since the Americans are trying to attack the
terrorists, not Islam," said John Ngagna, 19, a student. "They're not
fighting the religion, they're fighting those responsible. Kenyans
Elsewhere as well, public support is still strong. In Canada, a poll last
week found that 74 percent of people surveyed support the war in
Afghanistan. Rudyard Griffiths, executive director of the Dominion
Institute, a Toronto charity that promotes the study of history in schools,
said Prime Minister Jean Chretien deserves much of the credit because he did
not raise false expectations of a short war.
"The result is, Canadians are more reconciled with complexities we entered
into," Griffiths said.
"I am proud to have such a close association with the United States," said
Joe Warmington, 36, a Canadian who writes a column for the Toronto Sun
called Night Scrawler. "I think we should be where Great Britain is; we
should be the first off the block."
In Japan, which has clung to pacifism since the U.S. atomic bombings of
Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II, polls show that most
people either support the bombing of Afghanistan or see it as unavoidable.
Support for military action has actually increased, from a range of 42 to 52
percent just before the airstrikes began to a range of 57 to 83 percent in
the past two weeks.
The popular prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, pushed for and won passage of
a bill on Oct. 29 allowing Japan to send its military outside the nation's
territorial waters to give logistical support to U.S. troops. Analysts
describe the government as eager to avoid a repeat of the Persian Gulf War
experience, when Japan was criticized for offering financial assistance but
little military support.
Asked about the bombing of Afghanistan, Yoshihito Nakagawa, a 46-year-old
architect, said Japan had to be involved and support the United States. "For
now, it's the only way," he said.
But Japan's deep pacifist streak is still evident. Yoshiaki Nagashima, 59,
dug out photographs of Afghanistan he took in 1978 and exhibited them this
week at a small gallery in Tokyo -- photos of children laughing and smiling.
When the airstrikes began, he said, "I felt the egotism of the superpower."
<em> Correspondents DeNeen L. Brown in Toronto, Anthony Faiola in Buenos
Aires, Susan B. Glasser in Moscow, Jon Jeter in Johannesburg, Philip P. Pan
in Beijing, Kathryn Tolbert in Tokyo and Karl Vick in Nairobi, and special
correspondent Sarah Delaney in Rome and researcher Laurie Freeman in Mexico
City, contributed to this report.</em>
"We have met the enemy and he is us."
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