Europeans predominantly oppose military action in Iraq, as Yale students know from regularly reading the news. On Wednesday afternoon, this European anti-war sentiment came to campus in the form of Matthew Engel, a Washington correspondent for The Guardian, a British daily newspaper.
Approximately 40 students, professors and members of the public crowded into the Saybrook College Master’s house to hear Engel discuss the differences between American and European perspectives on a possible war in Iraq. Engel spoke about the cultural experience of living and working in Washington, D.C., as a foreign journalist and examined the many reasons Americans and Europeans feel so differently about a possible war to disarm Saddam Hussein.
Engel explained that while most Americans and Europeans agree that Hussein is a brutal dictator, they differ in their tactics for dealing with him. Engel said while Americans think Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction is reason enough for military intervention, Europeans do not believe that a war is necessary unless Hussein actually plans to use his weapons.
“Saddam could have used biological weapons in 1991, but he didn’t,” Engel said. “I don’t feel that he has the intent.”
But Engel acknowledged that many Americans, including President George W. Bush, believe that Hussein does intend to use his weapons. While most Americans want to support their president, the rest of the world feels differently, Engel said.
“In online opinion polls, when asked ‘Who is the biggest threat — George Bush, Kim Jong Il [Premier of North Korea], or Saddam Hussein, Bush wins by the margins Saddam normally wins elections by,” Engel said.
Engel blamed this dissatisfaction on America’s bellicose foreign policy, which he said was reliant on bribery and bullying to achieve its desired results.
“The image America projects is a rather selfish one,” Engel said. “They say ‘Do as you’re told,’ and instead of a coalition of the willing, they build a coalition of the suddenly acquiescent [with bribery].”
Engel’s first day on the job as a Guardian correspondent was Sept. 11, 2001, and he described how America and Europe have slowly drifted apart since that unifying day.
Now, Engel explained, he receives almost as much hate mail from Americans as he does compliments.
“Half [of my e-mails] say things like ‘I am an American, you are an idiot, enough said’ and ‘Go home,'” Engel said.
When Engel opened up the floor to questions, John Elias ’03 asked whether or not British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s stance on Iraq would stand up to the weight of opinion within his own Labor Party.
Engel said that while Blair was doing damage to his position within the Labor Party, he would probably survive this round.
“I don’t think there’s a serious threat of [enough Labor members of Parliament] voting against it,” Engel said. “It does, however, represent a loosening of bonds [within the Labor Party]. This may well be seen as the beginning of the end of Tony Blair.”
Engel also fielded some less serious questions. Duncan Hinkle ’05 asked Engel about his experiences as a foreign journalist in different regions of the United States.
“Being a foreigner is a novelty in America,” Engel said. “I met people in the Dakotas who had very rarely spoken with anyone from another country. It’s quite true in a place like that or parts of the South that being a foreign journalist is a hard concept to grasp, whereas in Washington we are just another nuisance.”