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One Year Later:  An Evolution of European Attitudes Toward US - 2002-08-30

The European attitude toward the United States in the wake of the September 11 attacks has changed from overwhelming sympathy to wariness and downright opposition to U.S. suggestions that its war on terrorism should be carried to Iraq. Europeans fear an attack on Iraq would break up the so-called coalition against terrorism, stir up more anti-Western anger in the Muslim world and draw new recruits for terrorism.

Immediately after September 11, Europeans poured into the streets of their cities and towns to show solidarity with an America under attack. The French newspaper Le Monde, not known for being pro-American, proclaimed "We are all Americans now."

There was also a flurry of activity on the practical side. NATO activated its never-before-invoked Article 5, which declares an attack on one ally to be an attack on all. European combat forces, aircraft and ships were sent to support the U.S. strike on Afghanistan.

What is more, the 15 European Union nations swiftly instituted a coordinated crackdown on suspected terrorists and their financial assets, and stepped up judicial cooperation with the United States. They agreed for the first time on a common definition of terrorism and a common arrest warrant to prevent suspected terrorists from evading arrest by crossing the European Union's largely unchecked internal borders.

One year later, transatlantic ties are frayed, and there is resentment at what many Europeans feel is an increasingly aggressive America.

Professor Jerome Sheridan, who heads American University's Brussels Center, says many Europeans are aghast at what they perceive to be the Bush administration's tendency to go it alone and ignore the concerns of other nations.

"It is just very contrary to the way Europeans do business," he said. "Europeans have a much more consensual political culture. The European Union for the past 50 years has bred a process of consensus, consultation and not taking any foreign policy actions without consultations with your neighbors. And the Bush Administration's behavior over the past six months has just flown in the face of all of that that the Europeans believe in."

Mr. Sheridan says the Bush administration's junking of the Kyoto Protocol on climate change, its imposition of tariffs on some foreign steel earlier this year, and its insistence on immunity for U.S. citizens from prosecution by the new International Criminal Court have aggravated the transatlantic divide.

But no issue has alarmed Europeans more than the constant talk in Washington about the need to overthrow Iraqi president Saddam Hussein through the use of military force.

European governments agree with the United States that Saddam Hussein is dangerous, but believe any Iraqi ambitions are under control for the moment. They fear a preemptive strike against Iraq would pour oil on the political fires already burning in the Middle East.

Professor Sheridan says European leaders feel that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian problem is far more urgent than attacking Iraq.

"The Europeans definitely perceive the root of the terrorism problem and Islamic fundamentalism in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he said. "And there is definitely a perception that nothing will change on the terror front, that nothing will change vis-a-vis the threats that the West faces unless the United States in particular gets a handle on the Israeli-Palestinian issue. As of this moment, the perception in Europe is that the administration is very biased toward the Israelis and the Palestinians are not going to get a fair shake."

Another analyst, Steven Everts, of London's Center for European Reform, says he has nothing against the United States using its overwhelming military power, as long as it is utilized judiciously. He says Europeans feel that the Bush Administration relies too much on the projection of military force in dealing with world problems, instead of using force in conjunction with diplomacy and economic assistance, what he calls "soft" security instruments.

"Europeans should point out that military force is absolutely necessary sometimes, and the Europeans should do more on hard security," Mr. Everts said. "But, at the same time, it does not help you to solve most of the dominant problems that the world faces today. You need a clever mixture of hard and soft security. And, at the moment, America is not providing that clever mixture."

There is widespread popular opposition in Europe to any American attack on Iraq, and European politicians have to pay attention to that sentiment. Recent polls show that three out of four people in Germany and France oppose an attack on Iraq, as do 60 percent of Britons.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder says his country will not take part in any such action. France insists an attack on Iraq can only be justified if it is endorsed by the U.N. Security Council.

And even Britain, Washington's main European ally, is trying to get the United Nations to set a deadline for Saddam Hussein to admit weapons inspectors, in an effort to exhaust all possible options short of war.

But Steven Everts of London's Center for European Reform, believes that if the hard-liners in Washington win out and the United States does attack Iraq, some European governments will refrain from actively opposing the U.S. action.

"If the hard-liners win, I think some European governments will oppose it," he said. "Some European governments will say "well, we understand the U.S. need to take action but we are not going to fight with it". And maybe one or two governments will also send troops."

If an attack does take place, one European policymaker says he fears Europe could be saddled with the burden of peacekeeping and reconstruction in a liberated Iraq, while U.S. companies grab lucrative oil contracts.

Part of VOA's series on the September 11 terror attacks.