The decision by George W. Bush to launch a preemptive military strike against Iraq brought angry protests from apprehensive governments around the world.

As would be expected, the sternest rebukes came from members of the United Nations Security Council who forced the United States, Great Britain and Spain to withdraw a resolution that would have placed the UN stamp of approval on war with Iraq. The resolution was withdrawn when it became obvious that, despite threats of recrimination and offers of reward, none of the “Middle Countries” – Mexico, Chile, Guinea, Cameroon, Angola and Pakistan – would support it, leaving the council divided 11-4 against the resolution.

In what might be referred to as an emerging “anti-war axis,” countries around the world have criticized the U.S. for arrogant exploitation of its status as “the world’s only superpower.”

France, Germany and Russia – countries that fought the hardest to extend weapons inspections – accused the U.S. of launching a war that is unnecessary and illegitimate.

France, publicly blamed by the U.S. and Britain for defeating the resolution, retaliated with a blistering statement. “This is a serious decision because the disarmament of Iraq is taking place and the [UN] inspections have shown this is a credible way of disarming a country. Iraq does not represent an immediate threat that would justify an immediate war,” French President Jacques Chirac said, adding that Spain, the U.S. and Britain were resorting to force “despite the clearly expressed will of the international community.”

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder agreed there was no reason to break off the disarmament process. “My question has been and remains: does the scale of the threat from the Iraqi dictator justify the launch of a war that will certainly bring death to thousands of innocent men, women and children? My answer has been, and remains: No.”

Schroeder said he is “deeply moved” by the fact that his attitude is shared by the overwhelming majority of German people, and also by a majority of the Security Council and the world’s peoples.

In a speech to parliament before Bush’s Monday night ultimatum, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned war “would be a mistake with the most serious consequences … leading to the destabilization of the international situation as a whole.”

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan called the U.S. decision to junk diplomacy in favor of war “a sad day for everybody,” while a Vatican spokesperson said those who decided that all peaceful means are exhausted assume a grave responsibility before God and history. Canada joined the “anti-war axis” on St. Patrick’s Day when Prime Minister Jean Chretien told the House of Commons that country would not participate “if military action proceeds” without the support of the Security Council. Recent public opinion polls show a majority of Canadians oppose war without a second resolution.

Both British Prime Minister Tony Blair, considered by many members of his own Labor Party as a Bush toady, and Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, who hosted the March 16 meeting between Britain, Spain and the U.S., had to beat back parliamentary challenges this week. Although he won the battle, the vote showed that Blair is continuing to loose support among Labor Party members of the House of Commons.

On March 18 the State Department released a list of 30 countries it claims make up a “Coalition for the Immediate Disarmament of Iraq.”

In addition to Spain, Portugal, Britain and the United States, the list includes countries of eastern Europe like Slovakia and former republics of the Soviet Union such as Latvia and Azerbaijan. But even in these countries, governments are acting in the face of overwhelming public opposition.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told reporters 15 other countries were supporting the “coalition” although none wished to be named publicly. Spain has said it will not send troops to Iraq, while only Australia has agreed to send troops, limiting the size of its contingent to 2,000.

A poll of more than 5,000 people in nine countries conducted by the highly respected Pew Research Center the week of March 10-17 shows that the number of people with a favorable view of the United States has plummeted in the past six months.

According to the Pew poll, public opposition to war with Iraq ranges from 65 percent in Portugal to 86 percent in Britain, while only 21 percent of Bulgarians and 30 percent of Estonians support military action. Only in Rumania does the number of people supporting war with Iraq exceed the number opposing it.

Gideon Rose of the Council on Foreign Relations said the issue for much of the world is not so much disarming Saddam as how the U.S. is using its power. “It’s up to the United States to dissipate this worry,” he said. “It has to demonstrate that its power will be used within some kind of limits.”

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Fred Gaboury
Fred Gaboury

Fred Gaboury was a member of the Editorial Board of the print edition of  People’s Weekly World/Nuestro Mundo and wrote frequently on economic, labor and political issues. Gaboury died in 2004. Here is a small selection of Fred’s significant writings: Eight days in May Birmingham and the struggle for civil rights; Remembering the Rev. James Orange; Memphis 1968: We remember; June 19, 1953: The murder of the Rosenbergs; World Bank and International Monetary Fund strangle economies of Third World countries