It's not anti-Americanism that fuels Europe's anti-war posture
John de Boer (GLOCOM Platform)
When most pro-war analysts and decision-makers have tried to explain the rift between those governments who favor the option to go to war against Iraq now and those who don't, the answer has been anti-Americanism. This tendency to reduce the debate on the desirability of using force against Iraq to "evil" versus "good", "you are either with us or against us" notions is a flagrant misrepresentation of the rationale that backs anti-war sentiment. Nevertheless, as was quoted in yesterday's Washington Post, unnamed senior US officials (these days they always seem to be anonymous) continue to state that, "people in places like Paris and Berlin are going to have to start thinking what side they want to be on" (Karen DeYoung, 13 February). In response, Europeans in these and other capitals are interpreting unrelenting US criticism, most particularly those launched by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, as anti-Europeanism. Over the weekend, Timothy Garton Ash's article on the subject, originally published in the New York Review of Books, was featured in the Spanish daily El Pais under a legend that read, "in certain sectors of the United States there has always existed a sense of anti-Europeanism". The article then began with a statement made by some senior official in the State Department (again anonymous) claiming that, "I think they (the Europeans) have been mistaken in practically all those questions of international importance over the last twenty years" (translation: 9 February, El Pais).
In connection with these simplistic explanations, a massive media campaign is underway, promoted by the Bush administration and his pro-war allies in Europe. The message is uniform, we are a battleground, we are vulnerable, and unless we do something about Saddam Hussein now he will sponsor terrorists, who are already among us, with weapons of mass destruction. Threat condition designations have been increased to high risk in the US and "substantiated" by massive arrests in Italy, Britain and Spain (all pro-war US allies) of suspected al-Qa'ida members. The fact that most of the 28 suspects in Italy have been released, that Spanish authorities are struggling and have only until this afternoon (13 February) to produce evidence, and that British authorities are facing the same problem in London is all but forgotten. This combined with Osama bin-Laden's (still unconfirmed) latest call (11 February) for all Muslims to fight for Iraq were intended to convince public opinion of the "gathering threat" and the link between bin-Laden and Hussein and ultimately mobilize constituents in favor of military action with or without UN sanction.
However, this media blitz only seems to be working in the United States. According to a Washington Post / ABC News poll, 57 percent of US citizens backed an invasion of Iraq in the face of UN opposition as long as some US allies supported Washington ('the coalition of the willing'). 50 percent still supported an invasion even if the US had to go it alone (this was up from 37 percent in December 2002). Seven out of ten Americans found Powell's (US Sec. of State) speech at the UNSC convincing. In contrast, 86 percent of British citizens think UN inspectors need more time and 57 percent are not convinced that Powell has made a case for military action (see Julian Borger and Michael White, Guardian, 12 February). In Spain, some 70 percent oppose Bush's policies against Iraq (Eric Alterman, The Nation, 10 February). Incidentally, in Japan 79 percent said they oppose a US-led military attack on Iraq (Japan Times, 11 February).
These facts have led some analysts to conclude that Powell's speech was intended primarily for domestic consumption. Not only does the US need Congress' approval to go to war but history has proven that the US has failed in wars when levels of public support are low (Vietnam). In Britain and Spain the opposite is true. Prime Minister Blair does not need Parliamentary approval to go to war. The Prime Minister's war-making powers come from "royal-prerogative". According to the Guardian's Anne Perkins, this is an authority that allows government to bypass parliament on many major issues including the decision to go to war (12 February). In Spain, President Aznar has an absolute majority in congress and is not up for re-election. In practice, he has all the freedom to do as he pleases.
While Rumsfeld describes opposition exerted by the Franco-German alliance a "disgrace" (Paul Reynolds, BBC, 10 February) and UK Foreign Secretary Straw calls it a "recipe for procrastination and delay" (David Usborne & Co., Independent, 12 February) French and German governments are reflecting the will of their constituents and in the process resisting what is perceived as US bullying. When US President Bush makes comments such as, "it doesn't matter how high the obstacle is, we will deal with it because we represent the greatest country on the face of the earth" (Speech by George W. Bush, White Sulphur Springs, 09 February 2003, C-Span.org), most Europeans interpret this as US arrogance that intends to undermine the authority of the UN and ignore European and world public opinion.
Bush, Aznar and Blair's eyes are fixed on the opportunity that this moment in history presents, not only for the disposing of a brutal dictator in Iraq, but for re-organizing (re-colonizing?) the entire Middle East, sending a message to all states that seek to challenge US dominance with weapons of mass destruction, weakening the terrorist infrastructure and owning Iraqi oil. Those European's who oppose the use of force see the suffering of 12 million Iraqi children, massive death and destruction, the negative impact of a war on the economy, the further radicalization and proliferation of terrorism, and the demonization of Islam in general. The breach between those who are for and against war across the Atlantic is not so much about anti-Americanism or anti-Europeanism, rather it is really about opposing views as to what the consequences of war in Iraq will be both in the short and long-term. Those who support war think it will bring more security and prosperity while those who don't, argue that war will only lead to more insecurity and deprivation.
In conclusion, the key question that we need to ask ourselves in order to clear up all this confusion must be, who will become more secure and prosperous as a result of military action against Iraq? Will it be a select few or will it be, at minimum, the majority?
- Angus Roxburgh, "Europe's new gang resists US 'bullying'", BBC, 12 February 2003
- Paul Reynolds, "Iraq crisis provokes anger and confusion", BBC, 10 February 2003
- Julian Borger, Michael White, "US public backs Bush to go it alone", Guardian, 12 February 2003
- Anne Perkins, "Inquiry into Blair's war powers", Guardian, 12 February 2003
- Leonard Doyle, "Vulnerable but ignored: how catastrophe threatens 12 million children of Iraq", Independent, 12 February 2003
- David Usborne, Tony Paterson and Stephen Castle, "Mandate for war will fail predicts Germany", Independent, 12 February 2003
- Eric Alterman, "USA Oui! Bush Non!", The Nation, 10 February 2003
- Speech by George W. Bush, White Sulphur Springs, 09 February 2003, www.c-span.org