Yesterday's anti-American rallies in London failed in their goal to inspire leftists around the world to keep up the battle against the governments of Bush and Blair. Although Stop The War (STW), the coalition formally behind the protests, estimated 200,000 people took part in the rallies, Scotland Yard offered a more conservative estimate: 70,000, just over one-third of STW's figure. Moreover, most of those who attended had probably not heard of the attack on that morning's twin explosions in Istanbul, which claimed the life of British Consul-General Roger Short before setting out for the protest. No clear-headed Briton would be in the streets protesting against his own government after that very government had just come under attack. Hence, even these numbers are artificially high.
All of this begs the question, “What if they gave a protest and nobody came?” What if Stop The War and its coalition of disaffected socialists and Islamists organized a huge protest against the state visit of President George W. Bush and the protest got neither the numbers nor the media coverage STW had confidently predicted?
There was a curious, fin-de-siecle air about the Stop The War coalition rallies in London on Wednesday and Thursday. It was as though the time for protests had faded away, like love beads and lava lamps.
Why did the protests fail? It seems that the organizers, blinded by their own hatred of America, vastly overrated British disaffection with both America and Bush.
The protesters’ first encounter with bad news came via a poll published by none other than the Bush-bashing radical socialist newspaper The Guardian. The poll revealed that only 15 percent of British voters think that the U.S. is an “evil empire.” The number is far too high, but nowhere near what the Hate America Left of England anticipated. Worse, even the left-wingers who answered this poll demonstrated surprisingly warm feelings toward both America and George W. Bush. Forty-three percent of respondents said they welcomed Bush’s visit. To no one’s surprise, 71 percent of Conservative voters said that America was a force for good in the world, but nearly as many Labour voters – 66 percent – agreed with them.
Wednesday’s meager protests, on the first full day of the state visit, did not ignite much passion. BBC reporters stationed at key points around the main areas targeted by protesters found themselves struggling to fill air time. One reporter stationed on the main road up to the Palace, The Mall, said, “It is pretty low-key here. Not that many people, not that much excitement.”
A reporter looking for excitement on the South Bank reported only around 400 people had gathered to “join the alternative state procession . . . the first official protest of the day.” A journalist stationed outside Buckingham Palace at 12 noon reported a “crowd” of 600 noisy but good-natured protesters.
One aging protester, a 61-year-old woman, got an early start Wednesday by hanging an American flag upside down on the gates of Buckingham Palace before climbing a little way up the railings and clinging there under the watchful eye of a couple of London bobbies, who left her alone. After a while, she climbed back down again and went away.
If this was the best the capital city could do on the first day of the visit, it didn’t bode well for Thursday, the day of the main protest. Stop The War estimated some 200,000 people took part in anti-American demonstrations, many of them middle class. Official sources – those without a partisan axe to grind – tell a different story. Scotland Yard estimated 70,000 people. However, London’s Metropolitan Police figured the number of participants at only 30,000, nearly none of whom were middle class. In other words, not only did Stop the War overestimate its crowd by between 130,000 and 170,000 people, but the middle classes occupied themselves as they usually do, by going to work. Thus, the protests were pulled off by the usual suspects: leftist malcontents, Islamists, a few college students up for a laugh, full-time protesters and unemployed losers, the typical flotsam and jetsam that finds itself with spare time and a grudge to bear during the day in the middle of the work week. They were joined by truant schoolchildren, whose teachers looked the other way, and a few retirees -- at least, STW claims there were retirees present.
The big event of the day was the toppling of an 18-foot-tall statue of George W. Bush, a re-enactment of the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad. This hideous mockery of Iraq’s liberation substituted for meaningful protest or dialogue.
The failure of predicted numbers to materialize was partly due to the overestimation of British resentment at the Bush visit. Most people actually supported the President’s trip. Second, there was the parallel of the terrorist threat, underlined by the attack on Istanbul during Bush’s visit.
Originally, 5,000 policemen and unknown numbers of British secret servicemen were scheduled to guard the capital during the visit. But that was increased to 14,000 three days ago, when the Ministry of Defence put Britain on its second-highest terrorist alert. They had detected an increase in chatter from an al-Qaeda cell in Northern Africa, which many assumed were plotting terrorist outrages in London.
However, now it now seems clear their target was the British consulate in Istanbul, attacked yesterday morning. The terrorists managed to kill at least 26 people in the consulate, including the British Consul-General, and created scenes of bloody mayhem on surrounding streets and at the nearby Turkish headquarters of British-owned HSBC, the largest bank in the world. The strategically timed Istanbul bombings provided a graphic reminder, on the day of the scheduled “antiwar” rally, of exactly why we fought the Iraqi war, and why we may have more wars yet to fight.
The Stop The War rally failed. The world has moved on, only too aware of the very real threat the West faces from terrorists. The War on Terrorism is here to stay until Western democracy prevails.