It may be too early to know how George W Bush’s state visit to London, the first ever by a US President, will playback in Peoria. But it seems that part of the America media, focusing on sporadic anti-American demonstrations in London, has decided to present it as a symbol of “global anger against the United States.”
What has happened in London in the past few days, however, is more complex.
To be sure, London has witnessed a series of demonstrations in the past week or so. None, however, attracted more than a few hundred people, although the “final bouquet”, fired at Trafalgar Square yesterday, brought together some 100,000 people according to the organisers.
Nevertheless, these demonstrations have been used as the basis for a variety of strange claims and arguments.
One claim is that the United States is now “extremely unpopular” even in Britain, its oldest and most steadfast ally.
That, however, is not what the latest polls show. One poll, conducted for the liberal-left daily The Guardian on the eve of Bush’s visit, reveals a different picture. It shows that 62 per cent of the Brits regard the US as “generally speaking a force for good, not evil, in the world.” Only 15 per cent agree with the suggestion that the US is an “evil empire”.
The same poll shows that opposition to the war against terrorism has fallen by12 per cent since September. Today a majority of British voters, 51 per cent, believe that the war is justified.
Even the claim that Bush is “hated by a majority of the Brits” is proved false. The American leader is welcomed by 43 per cent of those polled as opposed to 36 per cent who say they would rather he had stayed home.
The polls results are backed by direct observation and anecdotal evidence. Anyone who toured the streets of London around Buckingham Palace, where the Bush couple were staying, could easily see that the anti-Americans were not the only ones in evidence.
As for the British media, the Bush visit reflected the traditional left-right divides.
The centrist and right-leaning papers welcomed Bush and ran editorials and columns endorsing the aims of the war on terrorism.
The left-leaning papers used the visit as a fresh occasion to denounce intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq. But even then the left-leaning segments of the British media manifested some unease.
There are two reasons fort this.
The first is that the anti-American demonstrations of recent days in London represent a bizarre alliance between the remnants of Marxist-Leninist left and militant Islamist groups. Many soft-left Brits are still uncomfortable with the idea of an alliance with reactionary Islamists who oppress women, massacre religious and other minorities, and bring God into the people’s bedrooms.
The second reason for unease on the part of the soft-left is that it is hard to build a case for the return of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein to power. The playwright Harold Pinter, still bitter about the demise of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein, has described Bush and Blair as “ two war criminals” who “drink blood” at their tea-party. But how many are likely to take him seriously?
The placards claiming that Bush and Blair are “burning babies in Baghdad” are unlikely to do any better. The anti-US demonstrations of the past few days in London are unlikely to have a lasting impact on Anglo-American relations. Once the dust has settled Bush’s visit may well be remembered for two things only.
The first is the speech Bush made at Whitehall in which he repeated his earlier linkage between US national security and the spread of democracy in the Middle East with greater clarity. It is interesting that much of the British media decided to treat it as nothing more than a clever speech to impress an audience of foreign policy buffs.
And yet the idea that the democratic nations cannot be safe for as long as there are tyrannies that sponsor and shelter terrorism is beginning to attract the attention of the average British voter. The slogan “war against terrorism” told only half the story. Bush’s idea of putting the spread of democracy top of the agenda, tells the other half. Now the average British voter knows that he is not asked to fight only “against” something but also “ for “ something. This is a position that the traditional anti-American forces of the totalitarian left, and their new Islamist allies, would find increasingly hard to challenge.
The second thing that the Bush visit is likely to be remembered for is that it helped draw a clear distinction between two visions of the world.
One vision belongs to those who blame the Western democracies for all the ills of mankind and hate the United States for a variety of reasons. These are people who never protested when Saddam Hussein was filling all those mass graves in Iraq or when the Taliban were massacring the Hazara in Bamiyan. You will never see them demanding the release of political prisoners in Cuba itself but find them crying their hearts out for the Al Qaeda operatives held in Guntanamo Bay.
Another vision is defended by those who believe that fighting against tyranny ad terror is the fundamental political duty of all human beings, and that the most noble principles are ultimately meaningless unless defended by force if and when necessary.
The Marxist-Islamist alliance may well have done all of us a service this week in London. It has put the fight between open societies and their enemies into focus.
Amir Taheri is an Iranian author of 10 books on the Middle East and Islam. He's reachable through www.benadorassociates.com.