Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Europeans are overwhelmingly against a potential U.S. military attack to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions

By James G. Neuger for Bloomberg

Europeans are overwhelmingly against a potential U.S. military attack to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions and are tiring of the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, a survey showed.

Americans are more willing to contemplate the use of force against Iran and remain in favor of the Afghan war, according to a poll released today by the German Marshall Fund of the United States and the Italian foundation Compagnia di San Paolo.

``Europeans are very skittish about the possibility of even maintaining the option of using military force,'' John K. Glenn, director of foreign policy at the German Marshall Fund, said in an interview from Washington.

While blaming President George W. Bush and the Iraq war for much of the foreign-policy discord between the U.S. and Europe, the survey's authors concluded that the gulf is likely to persist after Bush leaves the White House in 2009.

Europeans, led by Germans, are increasingly worried about terrorism and the menace of Islamic radicalism -- sharing many of the preoccupations Americans confronted in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Views diverge when it comes to dealing with threats. Only 18 percent of Europeans would back possible use of force against Iran in case diplomacy fails to dismantle the Islamic republic's nuclear program, compared to 47 percent of Americans.

Bush has refused to take the military option off the table, as the U.S. presses for stiffer United Nations sanctions to force Iran to halt uranium enrichment. The nuclear activities continue, though at a slower pace, the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency said last month.

European Skepticism

Europeans voiced skepticism about Afghanistan, where European and American forces are fighting side-by-side under NATO's mantle to beat back the resurgent Taliban, the radical Islamic movement chased from power by the U.S. in 2001.

U.S., British, Canadian and Dutch troops are doing the bulk of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's fighting against the Taliban, which is relying increasingly on suicide attacks in population centers.

Only 31 percent of Europeans back the military campaign against the Taliban, with opposition highest in France, Germany, Italy and Spain -- four countries that are keeping their troops in quieter sectors of Afghanistan.

``What it shows is just how cautious the European publics are today, after the last four years, after what we've seen in Iraq, after what we've seen in Afghanistan,'' Glenn said.

Only Britain, with 6,500 troops in active combat in southern Afghanistan, generated a bare majority in favor of the war, with 51 percent approval. Support in the Netherlands, the second European country in a frontline role, was at 45 percent.

Broad U.S. Support

While Bush and Democrats in Congress clash over how long to keep American forces in Iraq, the U.S. role in Afghanistan commands broad public support. Some 68 percent of Americans back the fight against the Taliban. The U.S. has 23,000 troops in Afghanistan, out of total allied forces of close to 50,000.

Europeans warmed to the Afghan mission when asked whether they favored putting troops in a non-combat role. Sixty-six percent endorsed using the military to help with economic rebuilding.

Germans are at the forefront in doubting the intentions of Russia under President Vladimir Putin, expressing concern about the weakening of democracy in Russia and Putin's attempt to assert greater influence over former Soviet satellites in eastern Europe.


Europeans Blame Bush

Bush's foreign policy attracted disapproval ratings of 77 percent from Europeans and 60 percent of Americans. Some 34 percent of Europeans blamed Bush himself and 38 percent blamed the U.S. management of the Iraq war for the deterioration in the trans-Atlantic climate. Only 4 percent named the treatment of terrorism suspects at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The mainstream European view -- echoed by 46 percent of people polled -- is that the 2008 presidential election will have little impact on U.S.-European ties.

``Europeans are starting to wonder whether the factors that are driving the drift apart in relations are more enduring than personality,'' Glenn said.

The survey of 13,000 people was conducted in the U.S., Germany, France, Britain, Italy, Poland, Turkey and six other European countries between June 4 and June 23. The margin of error is 3 percentage points.

To contact the reporter on this story: James G. Neuger in Brussels at jneuger@bloomberg.net