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Americans' support for war divided on party lines

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American citizens living in Switzerland tend to be split on party lines over the merits of war against Iraq.

This content was published on February 12, 2003 - 13:09

But hawkish Republicans and dovish Democrats alike are keeping a low profile in the face of growing anti-American sentiment.

For Robert Race, a member of Republicans Abroad in Geneva, the United States is the only nation willing and prepared to take pre-emptive action against Saddam Hussein.

"This is a part of the war on terror," he told swissinfo. "And Bush seems to have discovered the hard way that terrorism is not restricted to borders or issues of sovereignty."

Race says US military action is necessary to set an example for the rest of the world. "Somebody's got to step in and make some preventative moves and I think the US is the only one in that position."

"Mr N" - a Midwestern Republican who asked not to be identified - shares Race's view.

"It would be dreaming to imagine that Iraq is going to disarm," he told swissinfo. "I think there is a need for something to be done and I support the Bush administration's decision to go forward with this."

Threat

Race is convinced that Saddam is a threat to world security.

"I'm worried about Saddam's ability to make trouble... away from his own region and away from his own interests," he told swissinfo, "by giving safe harbour, technology, products, and services to those people who want, and are clearly capable, of using them to a tremendously detrimental effect."

By contrast, most Democrats and independents seem unconvinced that war is necessary. And they are strongly opposed to US military action without the backing of the United Nations Security Council.

"I am opposed to American unilateralism and imperialism," said Keri Lijinsky, a Democrat from Maryland. "The US has not been targeted by Saddam so why should we target him now?"

No reason for war

"I don't think there's any reason we should go to war," she told swissinfo, "and certainly not alone."

John Silvin, an Independent who has been living in Geneva for the past two decades, agrees that Washington should get UN approval before launching an attack on Iraq.

"War must be the absolute, ultimate decision," he told swissinfo. "And I do not see or believe that there has been a justifiable case to go militarily against Iraq.

"I'm not in favour of it and I would prefer to see a more peaceful resolution," he added. "But if we are indeed headed to war I think it should be with the agreement of the UN Security Council."

Anti-US sentiment

Anecdotal evidence suggests that opposition to military action in Europe has contributed to widespread anti-US sentiment, putting many Americans on edge.

A recent poll by the German-language magazine, "Die Weltwoche" showed that only two per cent of Swiss backed a war without a UN mandate. Some 57 per cent of respondents added that they had either a poor or very poor view of Americans.

"In the US, I think it's very easy to get wrapped up in American patriotism and rallying behind the flag," said Lijinsky. "But over here, I feel alone and vulnerable because people ask me all the time how I could support this war... and I don't.

"So I can sympathise with the anti-American mood to a certain extent... But I can also be easily offended by what someone says about my country and I just wish we weren't all stereotyped as bullies."

US opposition

Silvin says he, too, can understand why anti-American sentiment is growing.

"Unfortunately, it hasn't been proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Saddam does indeed possess weapons of mass destruction," he said.

"If that were the case, I think a number of people would be convinced that some sort of military action against Iraq is justified."

Meanwhile, Race believes many Americans abroad are keeping a low profile because of the general negativity towards the US.

"I think they're much less willing to stand up because they get beaten down so much by everyone around them and by the local press," he said.

But Mr N is unfazed by the rising anti-war rhetoric and believes it's simply a matter of time before the tide will change.

"I think people will eventually wake up and recognise that the policies of the US are intended to promote peace, to combat threats to its own security and to protect the security of its allies."

swissinfo, Anna Nelson in Geneva

Key facts

Americans in Switzerland seem to be split on party lines over war against Iraq.
swissinfo found Republicans convinced that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to world security.
Democrats and independents tend to oppose war, particularly without UN backing.
Rising anti-US sentiment in Europe has unnerved many American expats.

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