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Steve Weissman: Don't Count On Europe In Iraq

Don't Count On Europe In Iraq

By Steve Weissman
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Thursday 16 September 2004

Should John Kerry become America's next president, most Europeans will rejoice. According to recent polls, the Democratic candidate has overwhelming support here in the Old World. Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who continues to pay a huge political price for his loyalty to George W. Bush, would find Mr. Kerry far easier to understand and work with. In Europe, nuance is not a nasty word.

The bigger question is how well Kerry understands Twenty-first Century Europe. More than most in American political life, he has the education, personal experience, and language skills to learn what he needs to know. But, at least so far, neither he nor any other current American leader, Democrat or Republican, seems to comprehend the that increasingly divides Europeans from the United States.

In part, blame Mr. Bush, who has bull-headedly tried to go-it-alone in Iraq and on a dozen other global issues. No American president has done greater damage to our traditional alliance with Europe. But the gap runs far deeper.

From the glory days of World War II and the post-war Marshall Plan, an earlier generation of American statesmen graciously tipped their hats to their European colleagues, listened to their concerns, and engaged in give-and-take to build a workable Cold War consensus. Through the CIA and front groups like the Congress for Cultural Freedom, Washington also subsidized European newspapers and magazines, helped shape Europe's political agenda, and secretly bought leading politicians, intellectuals, and union bosses.

One way or the other, America led, while Western Europe - except for the Gaullist French - generally fell into line. We had the wealth and power; they were the junior partners. For better or worse, that was how the North Atlantic alliance worked.

Not any longer. Once the Soviet Union collapsed and the European Union became a major economic power, the Europeans increasingly expected to be treated as equals - hesitantly at first, and still without any clear idea of where they want to go. No surprise, American leaders found the new assertiveness hard to accept. I'll never forget hearing former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger harrumph furiously on TV when the the United States failed to get United Nations approval to invade Iraq. It was bad enough that our French allies opposed us, Kissinger exploded. But, far worse, they actively persuaded other nations to vote against us. This he found intolerable. America's allies had to follow America's leadership, or at least stand quietly to the side, as most of them did on Vietnam.

To make matters worse, the Europeans came of age at a moment in history when Americans, whether Democrat or Republican, were growing increasingly intoxicated with being the world's only remaining super-power, the greatest force in world history, and - in Madeleine Albright's telling phrase - the indispensable nation.

"If we have to use force, it is because we are America," she said. "We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future."

Forget George W. Bush puffing himself up, or even Dick Cheney playing hyper-nationalistic chicken-hawk. The heart-felt words came from Bill Clinton's Ambassador to the United Nations, and then Secretary of State, and she was talking in 1998 about using force against Saddam Hussein.

America standing tall? America seeing further into the future? In rapidly growing numbers, Europeans no longer buy our claim to undisputed leadership - especially not after Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, Najaf and Fallujah, Halliburton and Bechtel.

How, then, can Kerry expect the Europeans to send their sons and daughters to die in a no-win colonial war that most of them never wanted us to fight? In a word, he can't, and he surely knows it. The best he can hope for is some token support, which he would likely get.

Without massive Eruopean troops to replace Americans, President Kerry would face a terrible choice, which Gen. William Odom ­ the Army's former intelligence chief and Ronald Reagan's Director of the National Security Agency - summed up back in April. Iraq is an unwinnable war, he told Nightline and the Wall Street Journal. "It's time to get out."

"We have failed," the conservative general declared. "The issue is how high a price we're going to pay.... Less, by getting out sooner, or more, by getting out later?"

For all the talk of American democracy, voters will have little say in making the choice. Caught up in what they see as the electoral imperative of a can-do spirit, neither major party has even raised the question, while a vote for Ralph Nader, who has, will only help Mr. Bush. Nor have many major media or opinion leaders shown the courage to face the enormity of Mr. Bush's blunder. That will come, though not soon enough to save far too much useless slaughter, as U.S. troops continue to make a bad situation even worse.

Still, our votes can make a huge difference throughout the Middle East. Bush seems all-too-ready to escalate his gung-ho crusade, with his neo-conservative advisors - "those f---ing crazies," as Secretary of State of State Colin Powell reportedly called them - publicly urging attacks on neighboring Iran. What a joy it would be in November to send the neo-cons back to their private lives, where they have only themselves to abuse.

With an independent anti-war movement watching his every move if he wins, President Kerry would find it extremely painful even to consider expanding the conflict. However reluctantly, he will have to recognize the wisdom of Gen. Odom's observation, as most of our European allies already have.

Lose sooner, or lose bigger later.


A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he writes for t r u t h o u t.

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