EU-US clash over Iraq
John de Boer (University of Tokyo & GLOCOM Platform)
As more US troops move into position, the gulf between US and European opinion vis-a-vis Iraq continues to expand.
As though they were justifying Javier Solana's (the EU High Representative for a Common Foreign and Security Policy) warnings against US "imperialism" (see Europe Report #38), tens of thousands of Europeans mobilized across the continent this week to voice their objection to a war in Iraq. Meanwhile, on the political front, the French President Jacques Chirac and the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder confirmed a united stance against an attack when the matter comes up in the UN Security Council (France is a permanent member and Germany will assume non-permanent membership in February).
Contrary to the Bush administration's wish, which insists that a decision be made in a "matter of weeks", the dominant position across Europe continues to stress that all options be exercised in order to "prevent" the use of force. European newspapers and magazines reflected this sentiment by headlining with titles such as "Europe and the US confront each other over Iraq" (El Pais) and "No War for Oil" (Der Speigel). Meanwhile, British popular opposition to their government's support for the US has become increasingly evident with some sources claiming that only 13% of British citizens feel a war in Iraq is justified (InDex.com).
From the US point of view, European opposition to the use of force is weakening the "coalition" against Saddam Hussein and his bid to acquire weapons of mass destruction. According to the International Herald Tribune, Bush views the European position as a "betrayal" (IHT, 20 January). However, for European's the possible war in Iraq does not seem to be motivated by the desire to rid the world of "evil" as Bush has argued, but rather by the US desire to control the flow of oil from the Middle East and to spread its influence in the region. From the European perspective, a war would be about oil and power. In essence, and as Edward Said argued in the Al-Ahram Weekly ("An unacceptable helplessness", 16-22 January), the US design is equivalent to the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1920, which divided the region into British and French imperial control.
It is because there exists no justification for a war that the German Chancellor declared that his country would neither "participate nor pay" for military action against Iraq (21 January). As leading French officials have been quoted in Japanese newspapers as saying, the legitimacy of any military action against Iraq would be "questioned" if the US decides to take unilateral action (Asahi Shimbun, 23 January).
Javier Solana pleaded last week (EU Report #38) that Europe desired US "leadership" and not US "imperialism". Unfortunately, it is the latter which seems to be prevailing. Even in Japan, the notion of an imperialist US has gained popular attention with the leading Asahi Shimbun publishing a series entitled "The true image of the new empire" (Shin Teikoku no Jitsujzo). Thus far, this series has featured US unilateralism in relation to Iraq, the Kyoto Protocol, the International Criminal Court, the Anti-mine Treaty and has depicted President Bush as motivated more by religious conviction and private interest than by intellectual capacity or international peace and security.
Which brings me back to an increasingly persuasive argument introduced by Francis Fukuyama and reiterated by Vincente Verdu in his article published by the El Pais this past weekend entitled "The Clash of the Occident". The argument goes that the main clash we will witness will not be between Islam and the West or between the Orient and the Occident, as Samuel Huntington insisted, but within the Occident itself and between Europe and the US in particular. Verdu claims that the US, which used to be admired for its Wilsonian principles and attractive popular culture, has "transformed itself into a terrible imperial power". Unlike Wilson whose leadership qualities were characterized by his intellectual capacity, Europeans view Bush as lacking any intellectual ability whatsoever. As was pointed out in the Asahi Shimbun series, Europeans interpret his action as motivated solely by a premature religious persuasion that sees everything in terms of "good" versus "evil".
According to Verdu, Europeans view the US as arrogant, ignorant and indifferent. An arrogance that provoked US Vice-President Cheney to say in 2002 that, "the world is in our hands"; an ignorance that pushed the Times in June 2001 to state that the barbarian was Javier Solana and not Bush; and an indifference that causes the US to routinely ignore EU opinion under the justification that "Europeans themselves don't know who their President is".
As US pressure on Iraq continues to mount, Europeans are increasingly beginning to question why the US continues to insist on the use of force. The conclusion that many have arrived at is that no justification for a war exists. With the preliminary report of UN inspectors in Iraq due this week, the debate between Europe and the US will likely heat up. Europe will call for more time, more debate and more inspections, while the US will claim that Iraq is not cooperating and that force is the only realistic option. In that sense, the issue of Iraq is not only about the future of Saddam Hussein but also a test of US-EU relations. Will Bush and his team resort to unilateral action and assert its imperialist interests or will it respect the will of others in the international community? These next couple of weeks will likely produce at least preliminary answers as to whether or not Francis Fukuyama and Vincente Verdu are right in suggesting that the clash will occur within the Occident.
- "Iraqu kougeki hantai senmei ni" (Opposition to an attack against Iraq becomes clearer), Asahi Shimbun, 23 January 2003
- Brian Knowlton, "People rally across globe to protest a possible war", The International Herald Tribune, 20 January 2003
- Steve R. Weisman, "Matter of weeks on Iraq", The International Herald Tribune, 20 January 2003
- Berna G. Harbour, "Europe and the US Confront over Iraq", El Pais, 19 January 2003
- Vincente Verdu, "The clash of the Occident", El Pais, 19 January 2003