Some in Europe uneasy about U.S. talk of war

Despite wide support, many say United States should work with allies

February 20, 2002|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

THE HAGUE, Netherlands - Hans Franse considers himself a friend of America. But the 62-year-old Dutch choirmaster and writer has grown increasingly unsure about American policies in the global war against terrorism.

Franse favors a united front to root out terrorism but fears that America seeks to go it alone. He is definitely not a fan of President Bush, not after the president grouped Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the so-called "axis of evil."

"He is a fool," Franse says. "We have a saying here, `who is sowing wind, he will harvest a storm.' I don't think you should threaten things."

In the Netherlands, as in other Western European states, there is unease with American words and potential actions in the fight against terrorism.

Europeans are anxious to know where the war is headed, what role Europe can play and what resources other than American military muscle can be used in the struggle.

"There was very strong support for America immediately after the September 11 attacks," says Marc Leijendekker, editorial page editor for NRC Handelsblad newspaper. "At the moment, there is not that much criticism for what the U.S. is doing or intending to do. But there are question marks."

Amsterdam, the capital, may reflect the Dutch zest for good living, but The Hague, with its tidy trams and elegant old-world style, provides a more refined view of the country.

The Hague is a place with an American-designed city hall - a bright white building with a soaring atrium that lets in the winter light. Some citizens like the dash of muscular American architecture. Others don't and call it "The Ice Palace." Either way, there is a Dutch imprint outside, as hundreds of bicycles are parked on the pavement.

Unlike the French, who often revel in taking America to task, the Dutch usually level their criticism with care; in the 1980s they were at the center of nuclear protests that swept the continent. In that era, another American president, Ronald Reagan, shook up the Europeans with his own brand of rhetoric when he labeled the Soviet Union the "evil empire."

"Look at the youth here, everyone wants to be American," says Bart Geeve, a 40-year-old physiotherapist who nods in the direction of skateboarders wearing baggy jeans and performing riding tricks in a courtyard.

The impulse to support the United States is strong, he says.

"Americans should do something," he says of the effort to track down those responsible for the terrorist attacks. "But they can't go to war with everybody."

Military backing

The Dutch government has backed the United States in the conflict, sending 221 military personnel to Afghanistan to assist with security, and providing ships and contributing AWACS aircraft that were moved from Europe to the United States.

A foreign ministry spokesman said the country is "in line with the efforts and intentions of the Americans," adding that Bush's State of the Union address was "just a further presentation of what we already knew."

Many strongly support the U.S. efforts against terrorism.

"I didn't see it as a problem, America bombing Afghanistan," says Eric van der Zwart, who runs an art store in the busy shopping district. "The Americans know what they're doing. At least, I expect they do. Bush is a strong personality, especially the way he speaks."

Even those who support U.S. actions are sometimes uncomfortable with the way Americans have embraced the war effort. For instance, at the America Today store, filled with blue jeans and breakfast cereal, the staff is dismissive of some of the wares brought out after the attacks. On a display in front of the cash register are miniature replicas of the Statue of Liberty, New York City license plates and stuffed toys depicting bears in New York fire department uniforms.

"How can people make money on this?" one worker says. "Most people don't want to think about the war anymore."

"Legitimate concerns"

But the Dutch political elite are continuing to consider the implications of the war and what role Europe could play.

Bert Koenders, the foreign affairs spokesman for the country's Labor Party, says the United States has "legitimate concerns" about its safety but that he would prefer to see the country act more in concert with its European allies. The Dutch, like many in Europe, like to see international problems addressed in international forums, such as the United Nations or NATO.

"America feels itself more vulnerable," Koenders says. "Many of us in Europe are more used to this vulnerability of living with acts of violence and terrorism. The world is a dangerous place, but you can also be blind to a broad agenda on development, on international cooperation, to bring these problems to an end."

Rob de Wijk, of the International Institute for International Affairs, has spoken with many European politicians and says he hasn't met one in favor of an attack against Iraq.

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