Bombings hit unintended target: European opinion
A parliamentary vote in Berlin this week on whether to deploy German troops could trigger a political crisis.
HAMBURG, GERMANY — President George Bush's declaration in September, "Either you are with us or you are against us," has sown confusion and dissension among many Europeans.
"We are with the Americans and against terrorism, but we are also against war," says Alexandra Filipp, a bookshop owner in the northern German city of Hamburg. "We feel that our politicians are being forced to accept this war against their better judgment."
After Sept. 11, governments across the continent declared their support for American retaliation, but amid reports of civilian casualties from US bombing in Afghanistan, Europeans are questioning "America's war." Analysts now warn that antiwar sentiment in Europe could lead to fractures in the global antiterror coalition.
Public opposition to sending troops hovers at 50 percent or more in many European countries.
"This campaign is not going very well for the Americans," says Steve Garrett, professor of international policy at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. "Public support in Europe, even in Britain, is very shallow. I don't think it is sustainable, and if the bombing extends to other countries like Iraq, you will see opinion turn negative overnight."
Recent Gallup polls showed 32 out of 35 surveyed countries, including European NATO members, favoring a criminal-justice response over military retaliation. Only American and Israeli public opinion favored the military option.
Even in Britain, which has been the closest US ally, a majority now opts for a cease-fire. In Germany, the weekly Die Woche reports that 55 percent oppose "unconditional solidarity" with the United States and 60 percent are against involving German troops in ground operations in Afghanistan.
"In early October, two-thirds of Germans felt that the US had the right to wage war against Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden, but now they are asking for a cease-fire, because they disagree with the way the war is being fought," says Sabine Rosenbladt, deputy editor of Die Woche.
Germany has been extremely hesitant about engaging in military action since its disastrous defeat in World War II. In 1999, German troops were deployed abroad in a military action beyond peacekeeping for the first time in 50 years - in Kosovo. Today, the prospect of sending nearly 4,000 soldiers to assist US troops in the war on terror leaves many Germans wary.
A vote in the German parliament on whether to dispatch the troops is expected by Friday, and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is considering staking his political future on it by attaching a vote of confidence in his government. Schroeder has pledged "unbreakable support" for the American military retaliation, though some prominent members of his Social Democratic Party (SDP) disagree.
Critics say he has not sufficiently explained the goals of the bombing campaign to the German public. "The public has very little information about what the aims of this war are," says Hajo Funke, chair of Berlin's Otto-Suhr Institute for Political Science, "They fear that the death toll in the civilian population will be too high in a war without clear goals."
"The public is seeing a lot of disturbing pictures from Afghanistan, dead children, destroyed homes. We are told 6.5 million Afghans are in danger of starving to death and can't be helped because of the bombing," Ms. Rosenbladt says. On Tuesday, as Northern Alliance troops rolled into Kabul after a Taliban retreat from the city, UN relief agencies appealed to the alliance to ensure stability so that foreign aid workers could return to Afghanistan.
In other developments Tuesday, the Taliban's Pakistani supporters said the hardline Islamic movement will now wage a guerrilla war after withdrawing from Afghanistan's major cities to save the population from further US bombing.
Because of the impact on Afghan civilians, anti-war feelings are common in Germany. Young Hamburg professionals Britta Hoeper and Marco Di Sturini don't consider themselves anti-American.
"Of course, we are angry and sad that someone attacked the United States," Ms. Hoeper says. "But that doesn't mean we have to agree with everything the Americans do or say. We see that people are suffering and dying in Afghanistan, and most of them had nothing to do with what happened in New York."
Like many Germans, they fear that too much support for the US military policy could make Germany a terrorist target. "If you make war, you risk having it turn up on your doorstep," says Mr. Di Sturini.
Nana Petzet, a mother of two small children, worries about US prospects for success.
"I don't doubt that fundamentalist Islam is very dangerous and they hate our Western way of life," she says. "But even if they catch bin Laden, terrorism will not go away. Western countries must start to take the third world more seriously."