Irish anti-American protests get serious

    In a glorious display of poetic justice, much of Ireland’s rising anti-Americanism faced enormous backlash this week, brought on by the very people who inspired the hatred towards the United States.

    In the past month, Shannon Airport, just outside Limerick, has been the seat of a controversy that has headlined the Irish newspapers nearly every day. U.S. aircraft bearing hundreds of troops bound for the Middle East have stopped in Shannon to refuel. Because these troops were in fatigues, undoubtedly flying for military purposes, many Irish joined the outcry that the United States was violating Ireland’s constitutionally enforced neutrality.

    With the anger rising because of the silence from Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, protesters set up enormous tents on the perimeter of the airport and held large rallies to show their disgust at both the Irish and American governments. One Catholic protest group vowed to become human shields for the people of Iraq because its government, in silent collusion with the United States, was not listening to them.

    Because of Ahern’s refusal to show reason for letting U.S. military aircraft refuel in Shannon, the protesters began to gain public support and soon the newspaper editorials were filled to the brim with articles about tyrannical American bullies.

    That has all changed this week because, like many mindless mobs, eventually the anger consumes its hosts and they go too far. In this case, five protesters cut through the fences and attacked an American plane with pickaxes and shovels. The damage to the aircraft was significant enough to ground the plane. The damage to one aircraft alone could not be reason enough for abandoning anti-Americanism, but the attacks came less than a week after “”peace”” protesters attempted to attack a garda (an Irish police officer) and an American plane but were stopped. Also in the same week, a reporter stepped through protester-created holes in the gates and walked all the way to the runway unhindered, bringing the airport’s horrific security to the public eye.

    These relatively minor activities all occurring in the same week caused a major commotion in the Parliament. Travelers of all political beliefs now realized that it was completely unsafe to travel out of Shannon if even “”peaceful”” protesters could easily attack a plane.

    Ahern obviously saw this as a brilliant political moment to seize. Being silent for over a month on why U.S. fatigues could be seen in a neutral country, this would be the one moment when he could explain his position without damaging his popularity. With the public realizing that the peace protesters are much angrier than intelligent, Ahern could win their trust by being a much-needed voice of reason.

    Ahern rightly attacked them as hypocrites for waving peace signs and then using violence to spread their agenda. Many politicians, including opposition party members from Fianna Gael, joined in Ahern’s condemnation. Not surprisingly, the Socialist and Labour parties — even Michael Higgins, the Labour Party politician who accused the United States of having a foreign policy filled with hate — were quiet on the issue.

    Ahern’s speech, given at an exposition on space exploration only a few days after the Columbia disaster, was perfectly timed and worded. The first Irish astronaut, a vibrant, appealing young woman, has been hired by NASA to go on a space mission by next year. She will, of course, be flying with the American crew. Thus, with signs at the peace camps saying “”I love Iraq, bomb Texas,”” sympathy for America was turned into anger towards the insensitive peaceniks out at Shannon.

    Regardless, Ahern’s cunning, for which he is infamous in Ireland, has paid off again. With Irish public support behind him, he could now explain why the U.S. military planes have been refueling in Shannon.

    Shannon Airport relies heavily on refueling. Including the U.S. military aircraft, 40 percent of Shannon’s profits come from it. After the attacks, several American companies threatened to reroute their commercial and industrial aircraft through Britain or other nearby airports. One American company, World Airways, canceled 17 flights through Shannon because it couldn’t be sure of the security. If the government were to get rid of U.S. refueling, military or not, Shannon’s precarious economic situation would collapse resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs.

    Ahern was not going to risk that degree of economic turmoil. He made it clear that Ireland was still neutral and was backed by many instances of Irish constitutional exceptions that allowed foreign military personnel inside Ireland. Thus, after over a month of waiting, Ahern declared that U.S. planes would be allowed to land in Shannon, with or without military personnel. This time, the Irish public has mostly agreed.

    In fact, the support was enough that Ahern then denounced Ireland’s police force for being unable to protect the airport. He sent over 150 Irish soldiers to protect Shannon’s perimeter. The press, originally giving nods of support to the protesters, were now hounding the peace camps over their extremism and pointing out that there is more military now — because of them — rather than less. With this media intensity, the peace camp decided to disband. All the organizations tore down their tents and went home. Their reasons, given by the various camp leaders, were that they wanted to avoid the press looking down on them. They disbanded because, in the words of one protester, “”We want to make sure that the public eye stays on the unjust war.””

    This is ridiculous. It was because of the violence of extreme protesters that the press even turned their eye against them, and it was because of the horrendous reputation the peace camps were accumulating that they were forced to disband. To the protesters’ credit, they did the right thing. Had they stayed out any longer, Ireland’s support for the protest would have dropped to nil. By dropping out, people will be against any extreme protesting, but still may be against the war. These protesters show exactly what happens when a group of angry and largely uninformed people let emotional rhetoric get the best of them.

    Ahern’s superb timing could be decried as exploitative political maneuvering, but in the scope of global politics, it was merely intelligent thinking — something the protesters have failed to produce. In fact, compared to the protesters, Ahern can be seen as noble. Regardless, this is a breath of fresh air to the Americans living in Ireland.

    Now the peaceniks are the bad guys. It should have been that way all along, because the protesters verbally assaulted any American they saw. Thankfully, Ireland’s public is finally starting to see the protesters’ blatant double standard. For the Americans who continually face aggression in light of events they have no control over, it is about damn time.

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