Tuesday, September 03, 2002

Will We or Won’t We?

I’m back after spending some time in Canada away from my adopted European home. An American invasion of Iraq remains a hot topic here, especially in German ahead of the September 22 election.

According to an article in the Financial Times, support for an invasion in Europe is quietly gaining strength. This is more or less as expected. Though Europe’s governments – most of which are now right of centre and friendlier to the US than their leftist predecessors – continue to call for more diplomatic efforts and UN support for an invasion, when the time comes, Europe will be more or less on side.

Even now, Colin Powell is busy making the case that something definitive must be done. While Powell is often derided by American hawks and conservatives, it’s worth remembering that he has a useful role to play in Europe and in other parts of the world. His appearance as a moderate in the Bush administration makes gives him a substantial amount of credibility on the continent. Europe’s governments will listen to Powell. And, in the end, it is his job as Secretary of State to make the diplomatic case – it’s up to Secretary Rumsfeld to rattle the sabres.

Though the Europeans might frustrate Americans, the US has to remember that Europe is fundamentally conservative in some respects. Europeans will generally favor the status quo until forced into action. Similarly, they love the ins and outs of diplomatic protocol. In this respect, Europeans are not that different from the American State Department.

At this point, the only real holdout appears to be Germany. As I’ve noted earlier, this has more to do with Schroeder’s efforts to get re-elected than any clear policy position. The problem Schroeder faces is that his staunch anti-militarist views – which themselves derive more from his foreign minister Joschka Fischer than his own convictions – are now increasingly at odds with most of his fellow foreign ministers. Even if he defeats Stoiber in this month’s elections, we’re likely to see a softening in his government’s position in order to present a more solid European front.

As for France, apart from statements by President Chirac opposing action, the French government has said little on the issue. But it appears French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin is privately moving away from strong opposition to a more supportive British position.

Here again, it’s important to remember that the European push to gain UN sanction is largely a function of Europe’s own position as regards the US. Europe remains military weak compared to the Americans. As a result, many European governments feel their best bet in international politics is to extol international bodies. The more powerful the US appears nationally and the weaker the Europeans become, the more they rely on international organizations in the hopes of maintaining a presence on the world stage. Despite all their talk about international law and humanitarianism, when it comes right down to it, Europe is making a rational power calculation based on its own weakness. The danger of such a calculation of course being that when you’re playing with people like Saddam Hussein, one slip could be deadly.

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