The U.S. and Iraq: the view from Britain

L By Andrea Sloneker

lONDON – Being an American in London has made me aware of many things. There is no such thing as “English Cuisine.” Everything is overpriced and football is considered a religion.

But joking aside, my eyes have been opened to a whole new perspective, especially on international affairs. In a country where international news is as available as national news, I have been flooded with international discussion in school and at work.

At no point was this more apparent than on the anniversary of Sept. 11. My new American flatmates and I went to a memorial service to remember the lives lost one year ago. As I walked toward St. Paul’s church, I was moved by the sheer number of people lining the streets. We stood there, outside the church, listening to the service over the huge speakers propped in front. It was overwhelming, yet very warming to be so far away from home and still feel sympathy and support from people I did not even know. I left the service feeling a new bond with the people of London.

In the following days, I scoured British newspapers and started interviewing people about how they view the United States in light of a possible war with Iraq.

Jonathan Rix, a 41-year-old writer from West Sussex, said that he is not always against war. “However,” he said, “(possible) war with Iraq is riddled with hypocrisy.” He said there is a difference between the morality of the war and the political need and drive behind war.

I found many Britons shared this view. Many feel war on Iraq would be a war supporting a series of lies, lies that have no moral grounds or justification. Others feel that, politically, war on Iraq is something the United States and Britain must do because Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is a danger to the international society. This does not mean, however, that the United States, Britain and Iraq are not fundamentally wrong for what they are doing or how they are handling the situation.

What brings war on Iraq so close to home for many Britons is the way Prime Minister Tony Blair has been handling the situation. “Blair is trying to make the United States do this in a way that is marketable to the rest of the world,” Rix said. He has been making obvious efforts to attach Britain to the United States, give them support and gain support for the United States from other countries as well. But there is something to be said for Blair’s seemingly overambitious efforts.

According to many, Blair made a political error by aligning too closely with the United States. The London press has blamed Blair for abandoning his country and domestic issues by courting the U.S. government. This viewpoint has led to strikes, large debates and threatens Blair’s success in the near future. Issues such as Northern Ireland and peace settlements, education and health care issues, entry into the European Union have been pushed aside to focus on what appears to Britons to be the U.S. need for oil and support for big business. Mike Fosdal, a 50 year-old lecturer from Oxford University, said, “It is noticeable that (Blair) has dedicated himself to foreign affairs,” leading to a general anti-U.S. government sentiment that makes much of Britain against war on Iraq.

To be sure, the sentiment is anti-U.S. government, not anti-American. As I interviewed people and approached them about this sensitive topic, I expected to find an anti-American feeling and to be treated poorly. But in reality, it was the exact opposite. Although many Britons think that war is an inevitable political solution or do not agree with war at all, they have not let their own distresses about war and their prime minister’s attachment to the United States affect how they look at Americans. “I have a love affair with Americans, my admiration for them has increased since Sept. 11 and how they have matured through this tragedy,” Fosdal said. Many of my interviews ended with the same clarification. No one wanted me to walk away from our discussion with a feeling of guilt, blame or a sense of dislike. Instead, they told me over and over, “It’s not you, it’s your government.” And in general, although many people are anti-war, they still feel that Hussein is a tyrant who needs to be removed.

Andrea Sloneker is a University senior majoring in communication studies. Send letters to the editor to [email protected]