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Get serious

Teresa Fralish | Monday, March 22, 2004

ROME – Rainbow “Pace” (peace) flags flooded the streets of central Rome Saturday. Italians, from old women to students to families with young children, marched for hours to demand peace and voice opposition to the Iraq War.Quite literally, half the city – “tens of thousands” according to The New York Times – was out in the street. Italians are outraged. One year after the first troops marched in Iraq, their dissent seems to have diminished little. Like Spain’s José María Aznar, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi backed the Iraq War despite strong public opposition. The Iraq War – whether you supported it or not – happened. And America, whether it wanted it or not, now has a responsibility to ensure that it leaves the Iraqis with a stable political system, not a breeding ground for political unrest and terrorism. To simply pull troops out now, like many Europeans claim they want, undoubtedly represents a dangerous course. Doing so would almost certainly lead to further political collapse in the country and probably a return to the authoritarianism of the Saddam Hussein era. That is why recent developments in Spain are so alarming. In the face of Europe’s largest terrorist attack ever, the Spanish voted in a government that promises it will pull Spain’s troops from Iraq and pursue markedly cooler relations with America. Spain’s government seriously mishandled information in the immediate aftermath of the Madrid bombings, prompting the electorate to respond with outrage. It is hard to criticize the Spanish people as they attempt to cope with tragedy. But their electoral response can, and will be, interpreted as a major capitulation to al-Qaeda. Terrorists will learn that they can force Western governments to acquiesce to their aims – if they kill enough people. Clearly Bush and European leaders agree that terrorism represents a major threat to global peace – they just disagree on how to stop it. Europeans by and large perceive President George W. Bush as a gallivanting cowboy and American foreign policy as reckless and unilateral. But in their calls for immediate troop withdrawals, Europeans sadly fail to grasp the importance of developing a stable political system in Iraq, and the commitment this requires.However, for far too long, the current American administration – namely Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney – has persisted in the myth that they can thumb their nose at European views without paying any consequences. Madrid demonstrates that they cannot. Bush and company have failed to grasp the crucial importance of presenting a truly united front to terrorists. American diplomacy can do better than this. First, Bush, through advisers like Colin Powell, must make a real attempt to explain current policy on Iraq and terrorism to the Europeans. After the deaths of at least 200 innocent people, European leaders will undoubtedly get serious in their attempts to fight terrorism and present a united front. It’s time the Bush administration did the same.