Tuesday, August 06, 2002

The Euros on War...

With his hopes for re-election fading German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has decided to boost his appeal by taking up the anti-war standard. As the likelihood of an American attack on Iraq increases, Europe’s leaders are lining up to oppose military action. Once again they’re calling for a political and diplomatic solution.

Schroeder isn’t alone in opposing a military option. France’s Jacques Chirac too is on record against a war, and Tony Blair, under pressure from his own party, is questioning the wisdom of an attack.

Despite the rhetoric, I’m not convinced that Europe’s leaders won’t give some sort of tacit go-ahead to the US, even if they express doubts in public. On the whole, the Europeans are already providing support to the US war on terror, passing on intelligence reports to American security officials, and arresting the odd suspected terrorist here and there. For the most part this doesn’t arouse much anger among their voters as it’s relatively low key. Invading Iraq, however, would involve a major effort, embroiling Europeans in a war perceived to be in the sole interest of the US.

Once again, Europe bumps up against its own weakness and internal contradictions. The Europeans want to be world-class players on the international scene, but they don’t want to do the dirty work. Immersed in their Euroland project, they shrink from serious military engagement hoping to influence the world through international organizations and humanitarian assistance. But as long as real military threats exist, Europe has no hope of countering American predominance unless it too steps up to the plate and involves itself in military action.

But we shouldn’t assume that all Europeans live in a humanitarian fantasyland believing that mere aid and diplomacy can solve the world’s problems. Many Europeans are well aware of their own weakness, and it’s this group that often most opposes American intervention in Iraq. Indeed, what these people most fear is American success in bringing down Saddam and installing a government friendly to the US. We need to remember here that the Europeans have, over the last two decades, witnessed how effective the US can be when it’s determined to carry out a military effort. Amazing successes in Grenada, in the first Gulf War, in Kosovo and in Afghanistan demonstrated how quickly and forcefully America can act when it asserts itself.

European companies are heavily invested in Iran and, as with France, sympathetic to Iraq. Should the US successfully eliminate Saddam, the US will become the dominant player in the region, while Europe will be sidelined both diplomatically and economically. This would be a devastating blow as Europe itself would suffer on the financial front while losing key allies in the region. Nothing scares the European elite more than American success in the Middle East.

For these reasons, Europeans are quick to point up the dangers involved in taking on Iraq. They speak constantly of a great conflagration in the region and the rise of the “Muslim Street.” While these are real concerns, we have to we wary when the Europeans voice them. Thus far, Europe has constantly overestimated its own potential (the Balkans) and underestimated that of the US (Afghanistan).

The Europeans are doing what weak nations do. On the one hand they push humanitarian and multilateral solution; on the other, they constantly overplay the difficulties of military engagement. The US has to be aware that much of this is a game, and I suspect many in the Bush administration are.

It’s also important to remember that any rift that might develop between the US and Europe over the Middle East won’t last long. Europe needs the US, and will need it even more if America succeeds in the Middle East. The real difficulty for the US would occur if an attack on Iraq was bungled and turned into a disaster. This would reinforce the European position and put the US on the defensive, and would hearten those who want to see a purely EU military force.

Fortunately for the US, its best ally in the region (better than most Europeans in fact) is also the most powerful nation in the region: Israel. Cooperation from Israel will be key to rebuilding the Middle East and dealing with any new moderate Arab or Iranian governments. The ball is in the American court. The most regretful thing about Europe, however, is that its current crop of leaders are just politicians, there isn’t a real statesman in the whole bunch. If there were, he or she might disagree with the US about an attack, but it would be based upon more than grandstanding and sarcasm. As it stands, that’s not the case. Too bad for Europe.

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