WHAT DOES yesterday's horrifying arson attack on a South Korean subway train have to do with Saturday's anti-war protests by several million people around the world? Just this: If a mentally unbalanced man can kill upwards of 100 people with nothing more than a drink container full of flammable liquid, then maybe the Bush administration's obsession with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction is a little misplaced. An attack on that same subway train with nerve agents would probably not have killed any more people than the arson did.
There are, in other words, all sorts of garden-variety tools of death available to terrorists. So how does Washington justify a war because Saddam Hussein has - or probably has - a store of more exotic killers on hand?
Estimates of those who protested in Sydney and Rome and London and New York and scores of other cities place the number at between 6 and 7 million. People turned out for any number of reasons, but it's fair to say that the underlying issue is the disconnect between the threat - biological and chemical weapons in Iraq - and the proposed solution - a military invasion.
If a madman can kill me on the bus tomorrow with a hand grenade, or a homemade firebomb, why should I go to war over a vial of anthrax in Baghdad? That's not, perhaps, an unanswerable question, but it's the question that's driving world opinion.
In London, where a million marchers turned out for the largest protest in memory, and where new polls show public opinion more sharply against war than ever, Prime Minister Tony Blair is facing what could be a crucial moment in the history of his nation - and certainly in his own career. He seems to be in less of a rush to war. How will that play out in his dealings with the White House? President Bush said yesterday that he won't be swayed by anti-war protests; but he might be swayed by doubts at No. 10 Downing Street, where his only truly reliable ally resides.
The United States and Britain are preparing a new United Nations resolution designed to create a cover for action against Iraq. French President Jacques Chirac, who delivered an astonishingly insulting diatribe against those European nations that have refrained from rallying to his banner, has said France will oppose it.
Mr. Chirac does seem content to destroy European and trans-Atlantic amity if that's what it takes to derail Mr. Bush - but Saturday's demonstrations proved that he has a sizable share of world opinion on his side.
How long can the White House ignore that?