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Don't Panic

What do the British think of our war on terror and our plans to invade Iraq?


LONDON -- As someone with the unique ability to stare into people's souls, I can tell you with certainty that the British people are about as interested in foreign policy as Americans are. In other words, not very.

It mostly puts them to sleep. Using a highly scientific method of polling (i.e. flipping through newspapers each morning while eating cookies, which the Brits adorably refer to as biscuits), I learned that kidnapping, education woes and soccer (which the Brits adorably call football) get more news coverage here than either the War On TerrorTM or "Gulf War 2: The Phantom Menace." The recent deaths of two British soldiers in Afghanistan didn't even make the front pages of the papers here. In contrast, one-fourth of the front page of today's Evening Standard is devoted to former "Absolutely Fabulous" star Joanna Lumley's campaign to have a footbridge built across the Thames as a tribute to the late Princess Diana.

The biggest foreign policy story in the U.K. right now is the debate over if and to what extent the United Kingdom will participate in any U.S. military action to topple Saddam Hussein. The U.K. has been the America's primary ally since 9-11, providing both military force used in Afghanistan and, perhaps just as importantly, acting as our political liaison with Europe. At times, Prime Minister Tony Blair (the Brits don't have a president, they have a prime minister. Pretty cool, eh?) has been a far more eloquent spokesman for our foreign policy (at least to Europeans) than President Bush has.

A lot of European leaders and newspaper writers are put off by Bush's comic book, good-versus-evil talk. They view our Texas toughie as a cowboy whose Iraq policy is invade first, ask questions later. The whole "spending August on my ranch" thing probably doesn't help either.

Despite full British support for the war in Afghanistan and for "Gulf War 1: First Blood," it's far from certain that they'd back another invasion. Though Blair is trying to gather support for a war against Iraq, many prominent politicians are lining themselves up firmly against one. The preposterously named Lord Wright of Richmond, the U.K.'s top diplomat during the Gulf War 1, recently told newspapers that he thinks another invasion of Iraq would be a "costly mistake." And much, if not most of Blair's own Labour Party (Labour is what Brits call their Democrats, isn't that adorable?) is opposed to any action in Iraq. Blair is enduring heavy criticism from all sides for preventing a debate in Parliament over Iraq. (Parliament's what they call their Congress. Cute, huh?) He wouldn't stifle debate if he thought it would help the pro- invasion cause.

Before we get all mopey about the U.K. not liking us anymore, let's remember that their debate on Iraq is similar to our own. In addition to Democrats' fears about invading Iraq, we've also got senior military officials and none other than Brent Scowcroft (National Security Adviser during Gulf War 1) are speaking out against invasion. Scowcroft warned that an invasion of Iraq might lead, in his words, to "Armageddon." Of course, considering that Armageddon is the decisive biblical battle between Good and Evil, Bush might view Scowcroft's statements as support.

The safe money is on the British government backing an invasion of Iraq, a group of British politicians and intellectuals complaining about it, and the rest of Britain sleeping through it.

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