Broad support of the U.S. after 9/11 has since faded over Iraq

World view shifted from `sympathy to resentment'

September 11, 2005|By Todd Richissin | Todd Richissin,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

LONDON - A day after hijackers plowed airplanes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and then into a farmer's field in rural Pennsylvania, the reaction by most of the world was summed up neatly by a single headline.

The headline, on the front page of the French newspaper Le Monde, was this: "We are all Americans."

In only four words, Le Monde managed to convey several messages: of empathy, of solidarity and of strength.

It was not only newspapers that expressed support for the United States. Virtually every government in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas stood firmly on Washington's side, and prime ministers and presidents did so with the popular support of vast majorities of the people they governed.

How long ago that seems.

Four years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the good will that flowed toward the United States, generated by the deaths of the 2,986 people, is long gone.

"Sadly, my job in Washington in essence became covering how all that support for America evaporated - and worse, how the world went from sympathy to resentment," said Patrick Jarreau, who became Le Monde's Washington bureau chief shortly before the attacks and now is a deputy editor at the newspaper's headquarters in Paris.

The change in attitude, Europeans say, is explained by one word: Iraq.

The rise and fall of support for the United States showed that the rest of the world will support a war if the justification for it is clear. Europe backed the United States attacking Afghanistan and targeting Osama bin Laden and his top al-Qaida officers - the people responsible for the attacks.

But not Iraq

The war in Iraq was different.

The invasion there not only cost the United States the support it had gained but has also driven the number of people who say they resent the United States skyward.

The most notable change in the four years since the attacks, according to David Baker, a professor of political science at Great Britain's University of Warwick, is how thin its usefulness as a political tool has worn so soon.

"The United States has been using 9/11 to argue everything and anything while the world has moved on since four years ago because they've seen some pretty big stuff happen that they don't see as even remotely connected to 9/11," said Baker. "The biggest example of that, of course, is Iraq."

Much of the world has been unable to see any logic for the war in Iraq. That is best exemplified by Britain, the closest ally of the United States.

Polls here before the invasion of Afghanistan found nearly 70 percent of Britons favoring military action there. The invasion of Iraq, in contrast, was favored by only 26 percent of the country.

"People know that Osama was in Afghanistan and know he was responsible for Sept. 11, and they were all in favor of going there and getting him," said Sir Robert Worcester, founder of MORI, Britain's leading polling organization, and a political analyst. "People also know that Iraq had nothing to do with Sept. 11, and they weren't convinced [Saddam Hussein] was a pending threat, so they weren't in favor of going there and getting him."

Since the attacks against the United States, bombings blamed on Islamic extremists have killed scores of people in Bali, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Yemen and Morocco.

The transportation systems of Madrid and London have both been bombed.

The French headline

At Le Monde, an explanation of how "We are all Americans" became a front-page headline may be instructive in explaining why support for the United States was so strong after it was attacked, why the country retained that support after one war and then saw a second war kill it.

By the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, editors at Le Monde had discussed possibilities for a headline to put atop a front page editorial. The editors asked a few reporters for their thoughts.

The editorial began, "In this tragic moment, when words seem so inadequate to express the shock people feel, the first thing that comes to mind is this: We are all Americans! We are all New Yorkers, just as surely as John F. Kennedy declared himself to be a Berliner in 1962 when he visited Berlin."

Staff members recall that one proposed headline, "We are all New Yorkers," was rejected not only because it was too narrow geographically but also because it was judged a message merely of sympathy for a city - for a place.

They thought that the gravity of the attacks called for a message that said more.

Finally, consensus was reached that there could be no better headline than "We are all Americans," that in only four words it conveyed the message that the attacks on the United States were attacks on the values shared by France and most of the world.

"We had a sense of solidarity because it was almost as if France had been attacked," recalled Jarreau, who was consulted about the headline.

"It was as if there had been an attack on Western democracy, our freedom, liberties, our free-market way of running the economy and, as we would say, our secular principles, our right to live in a society not ruled by religion," he added.

Another Le Monde editor, Alain Frachon, said that, perhaps, support for the United States vanished as suddenly as it appeared, and that there should be no mystery why.

"People supported the United States in such numbers, I believe, because of the complete shock of the attacks, the gratuitous, brutal aggression," he said this week.

"Americans may not see it, but many people see the U.S. in Iraq in a similar light."

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