January 31, 2003

January 31, 2003 | Commentary on Europe

New versus Old Europe: the Growing Coalition Against Saddam

President Bush's State of the Union address to the American people was a damning indictment of the Iraqi regime. It was powerful, passionate and compelling. Even the most hardened critics of the Bush administration's foreign policy could not fail to have been moved by the President's graphic account of the brutalisation of the Iraqi people by Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. The President made it clear that this was not just a confrontation over weapons of mass destruction, but a battle between good and evil, between the free world and totalitarianism. A war against Iraq would be a war of liberation for the Iraqi people.

France, Germany and the 'Old Europe'

There were, as expected, howls of derision from some quarters in Europe, notably France and Germany, the 'Old Europe', as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld put it last week. This should come as no surprise from two nations whose policy on Iraq is morally bankrupt and devoid of real solutions. Both nations have shamelessly appeased the Iraqi regime for too long, with barely a whiff of criticism of the medieval barbarity of Saddam's rule. Numerous German companies helped to build up Iraq's chemical weapons capability, while French concerns have aggressively fought for oil and financial contracts worth billions of dollars.

Notions of good and evil have no real meaning to French and German strategists, who condescendingly mocked President Bush's infamous 'axis of evil' speech in 2002. However, such thinking is increasingly out of place in the 21st century, where the threshold of tolerance for totalitarian regimes is rapidly falling.

The French and the Germans were incensed by Rumsfeld's remarks, not just because they found them insulting, but because they were true. Rumsfeld had uttered the simple truth that Paris and Berlin no longer really matter in international affairs, outside the narrow confines of the United Nations (UN) Security Council. France and Germany are fading powers on the world stage with little real influence. Socialist in outlook, resistant to change, and Luddite in their thinking, the French and German governments are stuck in the past, and one that is far from glorious.

The French continue to cling to Gaullist delusions of grandeur, acting unilaterally (and destructively) in Africa, while hypocritically claiming to uphold the principle of multilateralism at the UN when it suits their own interests. Paris's arrogant posturing at the Security Council and its unequivocal condemnation of the US position on Iraq has generated considerable anger in Washington, where many in the administration feel that the Quai d'Orsay is doing its best to keep Saddam in power. At the same time, there is growing suspicion that France will dramatically shift its position at the last moment, once it becomes clear that the US will proceed with a regime change.

Chancellor Schröder and his Red-Green coalition have largely been written off as a lost cause by Washington. It is unlikely that US-German relations will ever fully recover from the Social Democrats' victorious but poisonous anti-American election campaign. The German government's adoption of a foreign policy based on militant pacifism combined with moral cowardice provides it with a convenient escape from its international obligations. Indeed, there is a danger that a new generation of Germans will be tarnished with the brush of appeasement and accused of failing to identify and confront totalitarianism.

Britain and the 'New Europe'

In contrast to Europe's continental 'powers', Great Britain has emerged unquestionably since 11 September 2001 as the world's second most important political, military and strategic power. This is precisely because Prime Minister Blair has stood 'shoulder to shoulder' with President Bush in the war against terrorism and the fight against rogue states. Blair is no mere poodle of his US counterpart. In many ways he has been the driving force behind the international condemnation of the Iraqi regime. The Anglo-US special relationship remains the cornerstone of US strategic thinking nearly sixty years after the end of the Second World War, and it is in Britain's vital national interest to remain as America's key ally.

The summit meeting between Bush and Blair will seal the fate of the Iraqi regime, and will decide the ultimate timing of an Iraq war. It is a reflection of the tremendous influence Britain wields in Washington that it is Blair, and not Schröder or Chirac, who has been invited to Camp David. In many ways, the British prime minister has held the key to building up an international coalition to confront Saddam Hussein. He brings with him to Washington the support of seven European allies: Italy, Spain, Poland, Hungary, Denmark, Portugal and the Czech Republic. The tide is beginning to turn against 'the Old Europe', and a New Europe, pro-American in outlook, and led by Britain, is starting to emerge.

There is every possibility that the people of Iraq will be liberated by a large, broad-based international coalition. The concept of America having to 'go it alone' in Iraq is a myth, an illusion conjured by the shrinking number of opponents to military action in Europe. Paris and Berlin face a stark choice in the weeks ahead. Either they can oppose military action against Iraq and remain an irrelevance on the world stage, or they can join in what will be one of the biggest alliances ever assembled to remove a dictatorship from power.

-Nile Gardineris visiting fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

Originally published on openDemocracy.net.

About the Author

Nile Gardiner, Ph.D. Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Related Issues: Europe