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Friends and Enemies 

"This will sound to some people like an anti-American column. It is not meant to be. As the writer, I assert that it is not. I'm the one who knows. . . That my disclaimer is necessary, however, is a commentary on (America's) diminished state of consultative democracy. . . .A loyalty test --are you pro- or anti-American? -- has become the obligatory standard against which deductions are made about anything written on American foreign policy."

These words aren't mine, although I agree with every one of them. They were written by British columnist Hugo Young in the wake of President Bush's State of the Union speech. This event was, in many Britons' eyes, distressingly redolent of America's current hubris, a combination of triumphalism and trepidation that stifles dissent. If you're not with the President in these times of trial, then you're not a patriot.

Many observers from friendly countries feel a deep sense of disappointment -- even anger -- at America's self-aggrandizing attitude which is slowly but surely eroding the sympathy and support engendered by the heinous attacks of last September. Bush's jingoistic cheerleading smacks of the same national egotism that was so common in Britain during the heyday of empire, when one Briton was thought worthy of 10 foreigners, and military force was regularly used as government policy. That 19th century arrogance was wrong then, and it's doubly or triply wrong now, as global economics shrinks the world to a hornets' nest of conflicting ideologies.

By his ill-considered and bellicose remarks concerning an "axis of evil," Bush has, at a stroke, put back the cause of moderates in Iran by a decade and alienated European allies, simply to satisfy the bloodlust of his evangelical right wing. Britain and NATO, America's staunchest friends, have expressed serious reservations about ill-considered American foreign policy, echoing Madeleine Albright's assertion that the President has "lost his mind."

Jack Straw, the British Foreign Secretary, reflected growing European dismay at Washington's hard line when he suggested, with polite but deep disapproval, that Bush's address was "best understood by the fact that there are mid-term congressional elections coming up in November."

Being lectured to by John McCain at a recent international security conference doesn't help, either. McCain scolded NATO partners for dedicating smaller proportions of their GNP to defense compared to the massive amounts spent by America. McCain is a hero, but if his sense of history extended further than Vietnam he would understand that such high proportions of government spending in Europe on guns, planes, ships and missiles would return that continent to levels of militarism that it has vowed never to repeat after two decimating wars. By contrast, Bush is set to plunge America back into deep deficit spending to create the greatest arsenal of weapons ever seen on the face of the globe. No wonder even friendly countries are troubled by Bush's unilateralist warmongering, where the opinions of allies count for nothing, and America's blitzkrieg may be unleashed at any target of opportunity.

Bush's supporters, however, are loud in their praise of their presidential hero, responding to his simplified message: America is good and righteous; anybody who isn't with us is by definition against us. The conservative mindset revels in the simplification of complex issues to dogmatic dialectics -- good and evil; right and wrong -- and to European observers, the State of the Union address was an ominously jingoistic love-fest, an event stage-managed to shape public opinion.

Two questions emerge from across the Atlantic. Are most Americans really so blind to global politics that they share Bush's monochromatic worldview? Or are they simply manipulated into swallowing the message of Big Brother George from ubiquitous TV screens?

"Other voices," notes Hugo Young, "are not terribly interesting (to Americans) especially European voices that bring up the priority of a Middle East peace process being resumed."

Two news items regarding the Middle East from BBC World News illustrate the complexity America's leaders want to ignore. The first was an interview with the mother of the first-ever Palestinian woman suicide bomber. Far from grieving, this middle-aged lady glowed with pride at her daughter's action, extolling her patriotism. Other Palestinian mothers expressed the hope that their daughters, too, will kill themselves and Israelis in a similar manner.

Against this horrific determination and commitment to a cause, Israel can't win. When mothers urge their daughters to blow themselves to bits for their country, the Jewish state can't ever kill enough Palestinians to extinguish the patriotic fervor of that thwarted nation.

The other film clip showed Israeli soldiers terrorizing an unarmed Palestinian walking to work. Hitting him with their rifles, these young Jewish men in uniform looked to all the world like stormtroopers beating a terrified Jew in the Warsaw ghetto.

To millions of Arabs, it is Israel who is the terrorist state, killing and repressing Palestinians, invading their land and keeping them from their ancestral territory with tanks and helicopter gunships.

Peace is only possible if Washington pressures Israel to evacuate the occupied Palestinian lands, and then forces both sides to the peace table with threats of massive economic and political sanctions. But instead of pushing peace talks that could defuse the threat of terrorism, Bush and his hawks want to start new wars that can only make things worse.

US officials have bluntly told their allies to get on board the Stars and Stripes war machine or shut up. Bush apparently believes America doesn't need friends; it can go it alone. By Bush's warped logic, if Britain continues to foster better relations with Iran, Tony Blair could be accused of aiding and abetting terrorists. When you make enemies of your best friends, you're in real deep trouble. But only a true friend will tell you the truths you don't want to hear. *

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