INTERNATIONAL: Letter From America - Bush faces uphill struggle over the war no one wants

The US government's attempts to gain public support for military action against Iraq smack of desperate attempts to market a war no one wants, writes US commentator Paul Holmes.

When New Yorkers were advised last week to go out and buy duct tape so they could seal windows and doors in case of a chemical or biological attack on their apartment buildings, my first thought - given this administration's record on ethical issues - was that either President Bush or Vice-President Cheney must have bought a ton of shares in a duct tape firm.

How else to explain the fact that we were being issued advice that appeared to have been lifted straight from the 1950s, when schoolchildren were taught to hide under their desks to protect themselves from a nuclear blast?

The duct tape issue is a small one, except that it seems typical of the administration's increasingly desperate attempts to market a war no one wants.

It is becoming difficult not to believe the administration is pumping out terror alerts in an attempt to create a siege mentality, a wartime atmosphere to get people so scared or so angry they will support whatever the White House decides to do to Iraq.

Bush, US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and US Secretary of State Colin Powell have made every conceivable argument to win support. They point to Iraq's flouting of UN resolutions, although they appear to have conveniently forgotten that Israel has defied the UN just as steadfastly and for even longer. They talk of the suffering of the Iraqis, although Amnesty International can point to dozens of countries with human rights records at least as awful as Saddam Hussein's. They warn of an imminent danger because of Saddam's supposed ties to Al-Qa'eda, while ignoring North Korea as it builds nuclear weapons.

Under the circumstances, in the absence of any clear articulation of the values that are driving US foreign policy, you can't blame Americans for suspecting some unspoken motive for Bush's enthusiasm for war. That suspicion manifested itself last week in demonstrations around the US.

And the domestic opposition is nothing compared to what's happening on the international front, with a million or more people recently marching in the UK against the Government - the US's largest ally.

History has taught us that it is almost impossible to fight a war without the support of the population. Americans will of course rally around troops when fighting begins, but supporting our fighting men and women and giving a free ride to those who sent them there are two very different things.

The administration needs to make a much more compelling case for war if it wants public opinion on its side.

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