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British Anti-Americanism

Page 3 of 14

Even amongst some MPs who supported the war, this was in spite of antagonism towards George W. Bush and in some cases a deep disquiet about United States power in general. The Labour MP Oona King, who was a strong supporter of the war and by no means a knee-jerk anti-American, herself having American roots, stated that, perhaps displaying a certain confusion as to their respective roles, ‘the fact that Bush could be in agreement with me on anything is enough to make me reach for a bucket to puke into.’2 Michael Meacher, who was a minister in the Blair government during the war but was dismissed in June 2003, has since shown a more generalised antipathy towards American power. He has stated that while he still supported the war with Iraq because ‘getting rid of a murderous, barbarous, genocidal regime responsible for millions of death overrode everything else’, the real reason for the war was that ‘America wanted to establish a political and military platform in the Middle East. It saw a need for oil and of course it wished to support Israel.’ Meacher argued that an ‘aggressive and unilateralist America’ was threatening world peace and the future of the planet and that the world’s big problem is the power of the United States.3 He has also argued ‘that the “global war on terrorism” has the hallmarks of a political myth propagated to pave the way for a wholly different agenda – the US goal of world hegemony’.4 Meacher’s views, with the notable exception of his support for the war with Iraq, are a typical expression of contemporary British political anti-Americanism and its underlying themes, namely that America is too powerful and that it has imperialistic ambitions.

Outside of parliament many also opposed the war with Iraq vociferously. A public demonstration against the war on 15th February 2003, organised by the Stop The War Coalition, was the largest in the UK ever. Estimates for the number of demonstrators vary from 500,000 to 2 million.5 Whatever the exact numbers, the demonstration comfortably exceeded the 400,000 who participated in the previous, rather different largest march in the UK, that organised in 2002 by the Countryside Alliance, against plans to ban fox-hunting. Those taking part in the anti-war demonstration included members of far left groups one would expect to find at any such march. The numbers participating however show that the march drew many who did not fit into this stereotype: some were British Muslims, others what might best be described as ‘concerned liberals’, and also many school children. Many of the placards were anti-American and specifically anti-George W. Bush. Much of the opposition to the war on Iraq, both as manifested in parliament and on the streets, was motivated not merely by the rights and wrongs of disarming and removing Saddam Hussein. It was also motivated by antipathy to what some perceive as the excessive power of the USA and to opposition to US foreign policy in general and to the policies of George W. Bush in particular. This point has been well made by Michael Ignatieff, an influential liberal commentator and Harvard professor of human rights policy whose writings have been popular in the UK. Ignatieff has stated that: ‘The cynicism about American on the part of the left and many in Europe depressed me. For them there is nothing to discuss except US intentions. It was never about Iraq. All they want to talk about is the US.’6

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