Current Events

U.S. and Europe Alienated?

In last Wednesday’s Today Show, a new poll was discussed. 8,000 people outside the U.S. had been questioned, and the results were quite alarming. According to the poll, only 37% of the French and only 38% of the German peoples view the politics of the United States in a favorable light. 82% of the French and 69% of the German peoples believe that the governments of the United States and Great Britain lied about the existence of weapons of mass destruction prior to the Iraq war (which began one year ago this Saturday, March 20).

Many commentators feel that a change in U.S. administration will also change the negative European feelings and create a more friendly relationship between those two power blocs. However, this assessment may prove too optimistic, even if a change were to occur. Most Europeans have not forgotten that the Democratic challenger of Mr. Bush, Senator John Kerry, voted for U.S. intervention in Iraq, and that he recently stated that he did not regret his vote.

Some commentators have recently shared their belief that many Europeans are not just anti-Bush, but anti-American. The widening rift between the two power blocs can also be seen in a recent development, dealing with the sharing of air data. Reuters reported on March 18, 2004, that “Key EU lawmakers dealt a blow to Washington’s air security strategy Thursday by rejecting a U.S.-EU accord on handing over passengers’ personal details. Citing civil rights concerns, the European Parliament’s civil liberties committee voted by a large majority to condemn the European Commission for agreeing to pass on data, such as credit card numbers and phone numbers, which Washington says it needs to spot potential terrorists… The committee asked the Commission to change its decision or face a legal challenge in the EU’s top court, the European Court of Justice. The full parliament will vote at the end of the month on whether it supports its committee’s view. The parliament’s opinion has no legal force, but the Commission will find it difficult to ignore such a strong political signal from the EU’s elected assembly, officials said.”

Does Terror Bring Europe Together?

As A.P. reported on March 15, “the European Union will hold high-level security talks on Friday [at EU headquarters in Brussels] to assess what additional anti-terrorism measures to take in the wake of the bombings in Madrid.” The countries will be discussing a “solidarity clause” committing nations to help each other in response to terror attacks, the appointment of a special EU official to coordinate counterterrorism operations in Europe, and improved intelligence sharing.

Israel and Palestine

Recent events have proven, once again, that the road map to peace between Israelis and Palestinians is currently nothing more than a concept of wishful thinking. As AP reported on March 15, “Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Monday ruled out peace negotiations with the Palestinians, charging they were doing nothing to stop attacks against Israelis.” Sharon made those statements, following Sunday’s double suicide bombings in the Israeli port of Ashdod, which killed 10 people. Subsequently, Israel retaliated by firing missiles at two suspected Hamas weapons workshops in Gaza City, causing some damage, but no injuries. USA Today added:

“Sunday’s bombing was the fourth attack carried out jointly by Al Aqsa and Hamas in recent weeks… Palestinian Cabinet minister Saeb Erekat condemned Sunday’s attack on behalf of the Palestinian Authority and expressed regret that Israel canceled the summit” with the Palestinians, which had been scheduled for last Tuesday.

Iraq — now!

ABCNEWS published on March 14 a report on Iraq — almost one year after the war began. It titled its report, “Where Things Stand.”

Five teams of reporters from ABCNEWS, the BBC and TIME magazine assessed the situation. Here is their finding:

“By nearly every quantifiable measure, the situation has improved since before the war… However, the one exception — security — also happens to be the yardstick that Iraqis say matters most. Iraqis by a wide margin express optimism for the future — and believe democracy can take hold; they are less certain that the country is ready for elections.

“Any credit or praise for the U.S. is heavily tempered; roughly 8 in 10 Iraqis told us the Americans have not kept their promises — and they frequently told our reporters they blame the United States for problems in their lives. Traffic and other transportation problems have become a major concern. In central Iraq, people ranked this their second-highest priority. Interestingly, two seminal events since our last visit — the capture of Saddam Hussein and the announcement of a political handover on June 30 — get limited attention. And even when Iraqis acknowledge and appreciate progress, they do not necessarily credit the United States for the change. One year later, attitudes toward the U.S. are fraught with contradictions. Many people who cheered the capture of Saddam Hussein are deplored by the ‘humiliating’ way it was carried out. Iraqis often say they do not like seeing U.S. soldiers on their streets — but many would also agree with the crude assessment a 66-year-old tailor in Kut gave the TIME magazine’s Terry Mc Carthy: ‘If the Americans leave now, everyone will start eating each other.'”

But even with the Americans in Iraq, bloodshed continues. Reuters reported on March 18, 2004:

“At least seven civilians were killed in two separate bomb and gun attacks in Iraq on Thursday, doubling the death toll in a bloody 24 hours as U.S. forces prepared to mark the first anniversary of their invasion. A British military spokesman in Basra said four Iraqis were killed in an explosion outside the southern city’s Mirbabd Hotel. A child was one of at least two people wounded, witnesses said. The Basra attack came less than a day after a suicide car bomber killed seven people, including a British engineer, at a hotel in Baghdad [the Mount Lebanon hotel] on Wednesday evening. U.S. officials blamed that attack on Muslim militants, possibly linked to al Qaeda. Three employees of a U.S.-funded television station were shot dead at Baquba, northeast of the capital, and two Iraqis, including a child, died in fighting between guerrillas and U.S. troops in another restive town, Falluja… On Wednesday, two U.S. soldiers had also been killed in separate mortar attacks.Troops are on alert for an increase in violence ahead of Saturday’s anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion on March 20 last year which toppled Saddam Hussein… The bloodshed marred a U.S. campaign ahead of the invasion anniversary to stress progress made in the year since the war.”

Haider — a Dragon?

An interesting comparison was made last week in Austria’s magazine “Profil,” in regard to Joerg Haider’s sweeping election victory. The magazine stated: “[Austrian Chancellor] Schuessel’s favorite… thesis that he had become the ‘dragon slayer,’ that is the conqueror of Joerg Haider, became history last Sunday. The dragon is alive.”

Are Gay Rights Civil Rights?

This interesting question was asked in an article by ABCNEWS, published on March 13. The article quoted several black ministers claiming that “gay rights” have nothing to do with “civil rights” — that it is “offensive” to make such a comparison. Bishop Gilbert Thompson of Atlanta was quoted as saying: “I was born black. I was born male. Homosexuals are not born, they’re made. They don’t qualify.”

The article continued: “For many African Americans, who began the civil rights movement in the black churches of the conservative South, gay and lesbian Americans are people of poor behavior.” Pastor Garland Hunt of Atlanta stated: “Same-sex marriage has nothing to do with civil rights, this is an issue of morality.”

Spain’s Uncertain Future

Momentous events are occurring in Spain! Following the worst terror attack in Spain’s history, which killed over 200 and injured over 1,500 people in Thursday’s train bombings, the Spanish government was ousted by the voters Sunday and replaced by a new Socialist leader. The main causes for this startling development and the “protest vote” were (1) the support by the former Spanish government of the Iraq war, (2) the terror attack that was perceived as having been launched by al-Qaeda in direct consequence of the support of the war, and (3) the perceived inept and dishonest handling by the former Spanish government of the aftermath of the terror attack in Spain, by initially denying any involvement of al-Qaeda and blaming instead the armed Basque separist group ETA for the train bombings.

The new Spanish leader, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, already pledged to withdraw 1,300 Spanish troops from Iraq by June 30, if the United Nations does not assume control of the peacekeeping operation in Iraq by that time.

The European press treated the defeat of the Spanish government as a terrible blow for President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair. As Bild Online commented, “they must now fear that other nations will follow Spain’s example.” Spiegel Online added that “Zapatero’s announcement constitutes a late victory for the anti-war movement, which could become problematic for the United States — as well as for the rest of the world.” The magazine stated that Poland, which has now become more and more isolated in Europe, was asked to replace Spain’s military position in Iraq, but that Poland may not be able to do so. It speculated that the United States will try to send in more troops, which may prove to be “problematic in the long run.”

AFP reported on March 15 that “Britain stuck to its tough line on terrorism as Prime Minister Tony Blair sought to take the electoral humiliation of his best European ally on Iraq in his stride… The verdict of Spain’s voters is unlikely to shake Blair’s conviction, shared with Bush, that pre-emptive action might need to be taken to deal with the twin menace of rogue states and global terrorists.”

Another remarkable consequence of the new leadership in Spain may be a closer alliance between France, Germany and Spain. As Der Spiegel Online reported on March 15, Spain’s new leader stated that he will no longer oppose a European constitution. This means that Poland is becoming isolated in Europe on this issue as well.

Realizing this fact, Poland might be trying to strengthen its ties with continental Europe. A.P. reported on March 18, 2004, about remarks by Poland’s President Aleksander Kwasniewski to the effect that Poland was “misled” about the threat from Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. The article continued: “The remarks… were his first hint of such criticism at the United States and Britain.”

President Bush quickly congratulated the new leader of Spain, Zapatero, on his victory. Zapatero later said that he will listen to President Bush’s viewpoints, but that he will not change his position on Iraq.

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