They piled into the streets last weekend. Their signs were colorful, their voices loud. Perhaps most importantly, they made their message known to a world television audience.
The scene of protesters wading down the streets of New York and chanting against a possible war in Iraq left a poignant image. Similar demonstrations were repeated in such places as Washington D.C. and London. During the past few months, a smaller version of the protests have occurred in Tampa, outside of MacDill Air Force Base.
Protesters were exercising their rights and making their opinions known. But many may have gone home wondering if their gathering had any effect on the leadership to which it was directed.
In the United States, protesters need no longer wonder what their leadership thinks of their actions. On Monday, the Associated Press quoted President George W. Bush’s response.
Bush said he would not be deterred by the protests, and that he “respectfully disagrees.” In addition, Bush said the size of the protest was “irrelevant.”
“Size of the protest, it’s like deciding, ‘Well, I’m going to decide policy based up on a focus group,'” Bush said. “The role of a leader is to decide policy based upon the security — in this case — security of the people.”
Bush’s comments may sound slightly dismissive of the protests. If that is indeed how he thinks, he has a good reason. Despite the actions of France and Germany, as well as weeks of protests, polls show most Americans are still in support of the president. As for the size of the protests, even if 5 million Americans were to take to the streets, that still leaves about 275 million sitting at home.
But protesters should take heart. Their collective voice was enough to get the president to take note. Presidential spokesman Ari Fleischer even felt the need to begin a press briefing by comparing last weekend’s protests to other such incidences in American history when protesters opposed administration decisions that turned out to be appropriate later. Examples he used included an anti-war protest before World War II.
The president needs to be careful. Sounding too insensitive toward protesters may only cause a more intense response. In addition, anti-war demonstrators in nations around the world seem to be looking for reasons to hate Bush.
But the issue may not just be the president’s views of the war. The administration seems worried about a possible vote on a U.N. Security Council resolution for war in Iraq. Support at the United Nations has already proven to be shaky, at best. U.N. members questioning U.S. policy toward Iraq may find themselves swayed by public opinion.
But, the United Nations may not matter. It may join NATO as another international organization powerless to stop an Iraqi conflict. Bush should be careful. Upsetting the international community could be dangerous, especially with North Korea becoming more threatening with each passing day.
However, the AP reported that Bush seems to be losing his patience. He said he would not set an ultimatum for Iraq to comply with U.S. demands.
“(It’s like extending) another, another, another last chance,” Bush said.