Demonstrators deserve Bush’s respect

So what does “anti-Americanism” mean anyway? After weeks of foreign opposition to the George W. Bush administration’s designs for Iraq, this question must be on the minds of millions of Americans. Or at least it should be. After all, the sentiment of the global citizenry is often categorized by political leaders and the media as “anti-American.” Last weekend, the issue came to the forefront when millions of people throughout the world protested a possible U.S.-led war against Iraq.

But was this protest “anti-American?”

People from cities around the world participated in individual demonstrations ranging in size from the hundreds to a million. In London alone, an estimated 750,000 marched against their government’s support of the Bush administration. Stateside, hundreds of thousands of Americans took to the streets to express their views. And just like the Europeans, Asians, Middle Easterners, South Africans, and many others, the American protesters were diverse in background, income and ideology. Christians, Muslims, Libertarians, Feminists and parents of American soldiers, to name a few, voiced their objections to the seeming inevitability of war.

However, unlike the antiwar movement of the Vietnam Era, which was largely comprised of college students and activists, these marches contained a remarkable diversity of people. Some were pacifists, others simply wished for U.N. approval of any war. It was a showing of far more than just fringe groups and the organization necessary to pull-off a synchronized, worldwide protest was impressive.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration largely dismissed the concerns of the protesters. Responding to questions from reporters on Tuesday, Bush said: “Size of protest, it’s like deciding, ‘Well I’m going to decide policy based up on a focus group.’ The role of a leader is to decide policy based upon the security – in this case – security of the people.”

While foreign policy has never been dictated by popular sentiment, it seems the administration is not taking seriously the wide variety of Americans and people around the world who participated in this protest. By responding in such a manner, the Bush administration belittles the political awareness of most of these protest movements. Had these movements been similar to those during the Vietnam era, such a response might have been appropriate. However, the protesters are global in scope, more organized and most importantly, a fairly representative cross section of the entirety of American society. They are not a trivial “focus group,” as he implies. The indifferent response indicates Bush has little concern for the voices of his dissenting constituents. It also reveals again the cavalier streak of an administration that dismissed opposing views from France and Germany as remnants of an “old Europe.”

Polls show only narrow support among Americans for war. A majority opposes an attack by the United States alone. Many are apprehensive. The rebuke of other perspectives does not help ease the anxiety, it merely highlights the administration’s apparent single-mindedness. As war nears, the administration must pay attention to this legitimate opposing voice and treat it with the respect it deserves, not as a mere fringe group.