AS HE APPROACHES the starting line of war, Secretary of State Colin Powell hides his limp as best he can, boasting that the nagging groin pull of world opinion will not erupt into screaming pain down the track. Powell said on one talk show: ''Many people in the world, unfortunately, don't see the danger as clearly as I think we do, the Brits do, the Spaniards do, the Australians do, so many others do.''
On another show, Powell said: ''There are a number of nations in the world that are fully supporting our efforts, and you heard a number of them speak at the Security Council the other day: Spain, the United Kingdom, Bulgaria, Italy, Portugal, the newly independent nations of the former Soviet Union. So we need to knock down this idea that nobody is on our side and we're totally isolated.''
Powell is trying to knock down the idea that nobody is on our side because nobody is except for a handful of suppliant leaders who hope their genuflections will result in arms, trade, and untold favoritism. Just as President Bush blew off the 100,000 to 400,000 antiwar protesters in New York who came despite government suppression of a full march, Powell is the point man for telling the people of the world that their opinion does not matter, even though some of the biggest protests were in the very countries he cited.
In the February round of protests there were at least 750,000 demonstrators in London, 600,000 in Rome, 600,000 in Madrid, 500,000 in Barcelona, 200,000 in Sydney, and 80,000 in Lisbon. Several of the marches were the biggest in those cities since either World War II or Vietnam. In the case of London, it was the biggest antiwar rally in the nation's history.
The marchers spoke for the people. They had heard American leaders scream ''weapons of mass destruction'' for months. In this Internet, satellite, and cable TV age, they saw Powell's ''evidence'' at the UN at the same time we did and saw it just as well as we can. The globe is telling us that Powell and Bush have still not shown us enough bombs and chemicals to warrant killing thousands of people, many of whom will be children.
In a Gallup International poll of 41 nations last month, support for a unilateral invasion by the United States and its allies was virtually nonexistent -- in the single digits in most nations. Even with the support of the United Nations, war is not even close to popular. A UN-supported war garnered only 29 percent support in Portugal, 13 percent in Spain, 39 percent in the United Kingdom, 28 percent in Bulgaria, and 41 percent in Australia. Despite a new, brisk arms trade between the United States and Poland, 75 percent of the Polish people were against a US-led invasion.
The only nations where a UN-approved war reached 50 percent support in the Gallup International poll were the United States, the Netherlands, and New Zealand.
More recent polls show that little has changed. If anything, Washington's proposed aggression is putting off the world even more. In Britain, a Times newspaper poll this week found that Prime Minister Tony Blair's unwavering support of Bush has worked some small wonders of boosting support for a unilateral war from 11 percent to 19 percent. But much more important is that support for a UN-approved invasion has dropped from 62 percent last month to 52 percent. The percentage of the British public that did not believe that Bush and Blair have made a convincing case for war increased from 57 percent to 62 percent.
This week a major Italian newspaper poll found that 69 percent of Italians opposed war ''under any circumstances.'' Only 21 percent would support war even with UN approval. A Gallup poll at the beginning of March found that 62 percent of Bulgarians remained opposed to war and only 13 percent supported unilateral action.
Even in nations such as Australia and New Zealand, where Gallup or newspaper polls have shown that slim majorities of the people would support a UN-approved invasion, opposition to a unilateral strike was 71 percent in both.
The polls around the world show that the public is not naive about Saddam Hussein. Everyone understands him to be an evil despot. It is just that Bush, Blair, and their supplicants have not explained why Hussein is such an imminent threat that we have to devastate a nation to get him out.
Powell complained on the talk shows, ''I think people are not willing to face up to what we are willing to face up to.'' The rest of the world still wants to know just what are we facing. The rest of the world has no interest in joining us at the starting line of war when it sees more clearly than ourselves how badly we are limping.
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