Can the US and the EU Cooperate over Iraq?
Kevin Cooney (Assistant Professor of Political Science, Union University) and J. Sean Curtin (Fellow, GLOCOM and Asia Times)
Kevin Cooney: What is the potential cost to the EU if America fails in Iraq? Beyond the humanitarian cost for Iraq and the region in terms of refugees, etc. headed to Europe (and the US), what is the political price for Europe for failing to help out the US? -- Part of my point here is that the militants/bin Laden's lot have demonstrated that they see the US and Europe as the same no matter how much Europe sees itself as different. Europe's future in the region may be more tied to the US than it wants to believe. Japan/Asia's link to Iraq is more foggy as I am not entirely sure how the militants perceive the region as a whole. Japan is keeping its head as low as possible while still keeping "boots on the ground."
Sean Curtin: From discussing this issue with diplomats from several EU counties, my impression is that they would genuinely like the US to succeed, but most think such an outcome highly unlikely. Since European, Japanese and general world opinion was so strongly against invading Iraq, it is presently tremendously difficult for most European leaders to attempt to send troops or offer other assistance to US forces in Iraq. Humanitarian assistance is also proving hard because of the brutal murders and kidnapping of aid workers. The shocking daily atrocities committed in the country and the horrific level of violence only add to the sense that the entire enterprise is a bloody quagmire. Hopefully, the interim Iraqi elections scheduled for the end of January 2005 will be relatively successful and this will give EU leaders an opportunity to convince skeptical electorates that they must re-engage with US efforts in Iraq.
With regard to Osama bin-Laden, opinion polls conducted in various Europe countries overwhelming show that people do not believe there was any connection between bin-Laden and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. US investigations have also come to the same conclusion as well as proving that the tyrant did not possess any hidden weapons of mass destruction, the justification for the war.
In Europe, the Iraq War is generally seen as a distraction from the war on terror and something that has increased the level of terrorist activity rather than reduced it. Polling data also indicates that the war has seriously damaged America's image in the Arab world, making it even more difficult to operate in the region and especially hampering its efforts in Iraq. It is estimated that the US has spent US$148 billion on the Iraq mission as of December 2004.
Kevin Cooney: Given that it is in the EU's interests to see a peaceful resolution in Iraq, what can the EU do to ensure a successful out come in Iraq short of "boots on the ground" which is not politically possible? -- My point here is that those in Europe who opposed the war need to get past their opposition and stop hoping for the US to fail so they can say "I told you so!" It may be personally satisfying to see the US and Bush/Blair fail but what good does it do? Two wrongs don't make a right and the failure of Iraq in the end only hurts the Iraqi people who are the ones caught in the middle. Is it so bad if a term limited President Bush actually succeeds in Iraq? Bush is gone in four years, Europe need to think of the future and the future starts today.
Sean Curtin: It is unfair to characterize the majority of those in Europe who did not support the war as wanting the US to fail or neglecting the Iraqi people. Many who opposed the war felt that success in Iraq was an impossibility given the immense complexities of the country and general hatred of the US in the region. These seemingly insurmountable challenges were one of the reasons why President Bush's father did not invade and occupy Iraq when he had the opportunity to do so at the end of the previous Gulf War. At present, civil war, the breakup of the country, a new radical Islamic Republic or the return to some form of dictatorship are all potential outcomes for Iraq. Given these dire scenarios, most Europeans are actually hoping the US will beat the odds and help the Iraqi people establish a stable democracy. If the January polls are comparatively successful, it may be politically possible for EU leaders to offer more concrete assistance and better cooperate with the new Bush administration on Iraq policy.
Kevin Cooney: Can Europe get past Bush as President of the US and work with him? -- Democracy is a pain in the neck in that the person who wins is not always the one you want. The question is can a person/government opposed to Bush get past their opposition and work with him? History gives us a guide. The protests against Reagan and his policies in Europe were greater than the anti-Bush protests but in the end (2nd term) Europe came to accept Reagan and work with him. Reagan was much more likable than Bush and he had more conservatives in power in Europe than Bush does. However as Bush looks, like Reagan did, to establish his legacy he will probably mellow his views. Will Europe be willing to meet him half way?
Sean Curtin: I think it is important not to overemphasize the differences, in reality the US and the EU actually agree on the majority of issues. However, I would say that many Europeans who oppose President Bush do so out of a sincere belief that some of his global policies are fundamental wrong. For example, in Europe, and most of the world for that matter, the science behind global warming is accepted as fact, yet President Bush has stated on several occasions that there is no such thing as global warming and withdrawn the US from the Kyoto Protocol. Even Tony Blair finds himself completely at odds on this issue. Instead of addressing global issues which Europeans regard as vital and building a consensus, President Bush pursued a war which most believed was unjustified and acted in a unilateral manner. This has naturally made the President unpopular in Europe.
Kevin Cooney: Bush suffered in his democratic legitimacy because of the 2000 election in the eyes of the world. This time he won a clear mandate will he be given a 2nd chance? Can both sides look for ground to compromise and stay away from the emotional rhetoric?
Sean Curtin: Recent history clearly demonstrates that the public has a very short memory span, so President Bush could within a year easily improve his global image, if he so desired. Because most of the US military is currently bogged down in Iraq, it seems unlikely that the second Bush administration would be physically able to serious engage in another large-scale military enterprise. Thus the way the Bush administration handles other prominent international issues, like global warming, will probably shape European public opinion about the President's second term.