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COUNTY CLARE, IRELAND.
While US opinion polls show George W Bush and his Iraq policy slowly re-gaining public approval, something even more miraculous is happening in Europe: Bush’s reputation has crept slightly off rock-bottom and the anti-war movement is a shadow of its former self.
This depressing state of affairs comes at the end of a month in which the US president has deliberately, in the words of his Dublin ambassador, "focussed on Europe". From the commemorative trips to Rome and Normandy in early June through the Georgia G8 laugh-in to this weekend’s affairs with the EU and NATO in Ireland and Istanbul, Dubya has been happy to hobnob with Europeans, Old and New.
They, in turn, have been helping to dot i’s and cross t’s on Iraq’s sham sovereignty package, a welcome distraction from the reality of slaughter, of torture, and of the internal divisions that were slicing up his administration a few short weeks ago.
Counterpunch readers know different about what Bush, Bremer and Negroponte really have in mind for Iraq, but even sceptical, liberal Europeans can be heard voicing satisfaction that Bush has had to "come crawling back to the UN" and has ceded "real power" to an Iraqi government.
The sorry spectacle of deception, capitulation, rationalisation and realpolitik should at least momentarily silence those who suggest the EU is ready to act as a substantial counterweight to US power. But its more immediately pertinent effect just now is on middle-ground Americans, swing voters: That dangerous unilateralist Bush? Must have been another guy. There he is chatting to Paris-Match and getting a clap on the back from Chirac. He’s a regular John Kerry. (Kerry’s own mealy-mouthed foreign-policy prescriptions are effectively nullified by Bush’s latest Atlanticist posturing.)
It’s had its effect in Ireland too. A couple of months ago it might have been expected that the Bush visit would bring out protesters in their tens of thousands, at least. The numbers on Friday evening and Saturday morning will be nothing close to that, with some protesters trying to get near Shannon Airport (where 10,000 US troops go through every month and Dubya is due to land) and others hoping to hold the largest possible demonstration more than 100 miles away in Dublin. The criminalisation of protest, the banning of posters, the shutting down of a Brooklyn-sized chunk of the Clare countryside around the airport and the luxury castle where Bush and EU leaders will meet all these things also have an impact on the likelihood of massive protest. (What’s here will of course be passionate and creative and a little nervous about the police and US-security response.)
But frankly, it’s getting harder to persuade people that Bush is still worth shouting about, that the EU and UN are not reining him in but providing cover for him in an election year. I hope I’m wrong about the prospects for protest, but it’s more likely to be the Turks rather than the Irish who give Dubya the reception he deserves.
HARRY BROWNE is a journalist and lecturer in the school of media at Dublin Institute of Technology: firstname.lastname@example.org