America's War and Europe's Future

It would be surprising if the United States and the rest of the rather unfortunately named "coalition of the willing" were not already involved in military action against Iraq at the time of publication of this issue of Quadrant. At the time of writing it is clear that the patience of the United States with the United Nations Security Council  has almost been exhausted, and that certainly France has no intention of ever conceding that military action either by the US along with Britain and Australia or with the consent of the permanent members of the Security Council would ever be acceptable. France is adamantly in favour of a continuation of the cycle of ineffectual inspection and shell games played by the Iraqi dictatorship.

The US has been equally adamant in its determination to act to enforce disarmament and regime change on Iraq, knowing that every day of further delay is likely to increase the dangers of the action and the infliction of greater damage on civilians, as well as huge costs to the US. It is of course absurd to blame the US for the inevitable civilian casualties just as it is to blame Israel for casualties occurring when it acts against Palestinian terrorists -- when the essence of the strategy of both the Palestinian terrorists and the Iraqi dictatorship is to embed their activities in places where they are surrounded by civilians who thereby become hostages.

The outcome of the war to disarm Iraq is not uncertain, but its course and length must be; even more uncertainty surrounds the impact of the war on the region. The greatest of the risks being taken, however, and essentially as a result of the behaviour of the French, is that it might signal the end of the UN system as it exists, a major rupture between the US and Europe, and even the possible disintegration of the European Union as it has been brought into being. There can be good and strong arguments presented against the French position. But already there has crept in a note of hysteria, with France being subjected to all kinds of abuse ranging from charges of cowardice, hopes of financial benefit, the dishonesty of its President to childish epithets like "cheese eating surrender monkeys". This is coming from the supporters of President Bush's policies. It all sounds rather familiar. In 1995 there was a similar campaign of abuse directed at France and all things French in Australia, when the resumption of French nuclear testing in the Pacific was announced. Back then it was coming from the same kind of people who are now marching for Saddam and denouncing the overbearing and bullying approach of the Americans. One would hope that at least a few of them might remember what they were saying nearly eight years ago, and feel slightly uncomfortable that the virulent outbreak of their suppressed racism they then directed against France now seems to be shared by the rightwing militarists of America.

But far from being embarrassed the earnest people who were shaking their fists against France and now are shaking them (or, in the case of some women, other parts of their bodies) against America seem to have no sense of shame at the way in which their opinions seem to be formed instantaneously on the basis of a few naïve ideas disseminated by their favoured leaders. On the contrary, they proudly and fiercely adhere to such ideas, only to quietly jettison them when the fashions change, as they have in their evaluation of French policy. The same President Jacques Chirac who was going to poison us all with his fallout has now become a hero for the marchers all over the world  which would hardly matter to him except for his domestic audience. In France he has reduced the Left to a mob of handfed sheep, so delighted are they that, first of all, he saved them from the enormous fright they got when the extremist Le Pen pushed the socialists aside and took second place in the initial poll for the presidential elections, and now he has inflamed the visceral anti-Americanism of the European Left, an emotion which it shares with the fascist Right of Europe. (It is no accident that much of Le Pen's support in France comes from those districts which used to loyally vote Communist.)

Much of this is purely cynical-realist politics. Like Paul Keating in Australia, Chirac has twigged to the fact that you can do anything to the Left so long as you tell them what they want to hear. They are far more interested in repeating slogans than in effective policy. So long as Chirac was able to distinguish between domestic political manipulation and international policy his declared position did not matter. But his actions and positions with respect to Europe are in fact more worrying than his grandstanding against America (and the fact that he is prepared to use armed force in Côte d'Ivoire shows how little his Iraq policy is grounded in principles of peace). Chirac has made it pretty clear that France sees itself in partnership with Germany as the dominant force in the European Union. His irritable dismissal of the fact that many present and candidate members of the EU do not agree with him is one indication of that. But the policy dates back to De Gaulle, who never wanted British membership of what has become the EU, who forged the alliance with newly democratic Germany, who left NATO rather than accept American influence in Europe, and developed his own nuclear force while playing footsie with the USSR. France has always enjoyed supping with the devil. Even so De Gaulle never lost sight of the importance of America's role in Europe.

The policy has often worked greatly to the advantage of France. But this time it risks not only destroying what shreds of authority still cling to the United Nations, but also disruption and chaos within the EU. The ultimate outcome of the American-led strike against Iraq could well be far more harmful to Europe than to the Middle Eastern countries other than Iraq. While nobody in his right minds is in favour of war if there be any acceptable alternative, the various anti-war protests have been worrying for their lack of rationality. Women baring their all for Saddam are clearly indulging in some strange manifestation of their collective unconscious, if they are not merely trying to exploit the prurience of the media. Perhaps the next stage will be an application to the Australia Council for grants for such events as some kind of installation art. The strippers of Kings Cross might then take an interest. It is difficult to see just how such behaviour might lessen the chances of war. Indeed, it seems simply to encourage both Saddam Hussein and the Islamic terrorists who see it as yet further proof of the need to destroy liberal democracy. It is also intriguing to note the generational imbalance of most of the marches, which give very much an impression of a Children's Crusade led by baby-boomer greybeards, with the generation in between, the crucial 20-45 year-old group, notably absent whatever their reservations. The school teachers, especially, are encouraging their naïve charges to believe that some kind of reenactment of the anti-Vietnam War campaign is either relevant or possible.

However, little attention has been given by either side of the debate to the impact of a successful outcome from the point of view of the protestors. This would have been a cessation by the US of its drive to war, with or without the endorsement of the UN Security Council. But if, without having achieved any satisfactory disarmament by Iraq, America should have decided to pull back its armed forces and abandon its policies what would happen to America, and to the Middle East?

There is an increasing tendency amongst the anti-American forces to describe the US as being like Rome, trying to dominate the whole world. One great difference between the American "empire" and the Roman is that far from imposing greater and greater tributary burdens on their empire, the Americans have expended huge amounts in subsidising and protecting it. Its large deficit on the current account of its balance of payments has a hugely beneficial impact on the economies of the rest of the world, which in effect finances the deficit by continuing to invest in the US economy.

There certainly are analogies with Rome to be drawn, but are the people who thus condemn US hegemony really willing to see the kind of consequences which followed the fall of the Roman Empire? Are they willing to inflict on the world what the Barbarians, the Visigoths and all the other challengers of Roman power did, destroying civilisation for many years? Of course to suggest this is to court the easy accusation of hyperbole -- but it is clear that, as usual, the progressives like the barbarians seek destruction rather than reform. Their slogan is "there has to be a better way", but they cannot specify anything more than pious hopes.

The more important question is what an abandonment of America's present self-appointed role as policeman of the world would involve. Initially it would be a huge setback to the causes of human rights all over the world -- for no real advance has come without the willingness of the US to act as it did in Serbia. The European Union has shown that while it will preach human rights to everyone it will never act to bring about a real improvement. The real danger is a return to US isolationism. If it were to withdraw its support for Israel there would be a nuclear bloodbath in the Middle East, as Israel would inevitably be driven to use its nuclear weapons in the face of a concerted Arab assault. If it were to withdraw from all the areas of danger all over the world it would untie the hands of all the warlords and dictators everywhere, no longer needing to look over their shoulders at American power. The truth is that there is only one power which can and will act as the world's policeman, and if the policeman loses interest a Pandora's Box of international unlawfulness will be opened. It would be the end of any nuclear non-proliferation agreement. Only America can credibly threaten those who would become nuclear powers and dissuade governments who have little hesitation in selling technology to rogue states and terrorists.

An isolationist America would also mean a catastrophic increase in world poverty, since there would no longer be any brake on the protectionist demands of American business and unions. We could forget about even the access to agricultural markets in the US that we already have. The French wine industry would be destroyed as its major market was closed to it, and all those developing countries which have achieved rapid rises in living standards by exporting to the US would collapse. A world depression far worse than that precipitated by US protectionism in the 30s would bring down governments and democracies all over the world. One has to wonder what the anti-American campaign to save Iraq from liberation really wants to achieve. Perhaps the baby-boomers facing aging and death just want to ensure that nothing better follows them.

But even if the US, despite the opposition of the chattering classes of the world and in particular of the Franco-German axis, should manage to carry off its invasion and liberation of Iraq without an excess of civilian damage and emerge as clear winner not only of the  war but of the moral argument, the fallout for Europe would only have just begun. Already the Franco-German axis has decided that the vital budget deficit constraints of the European Monetary System are no longer strict -- in a word, they are bringing the future of the common currency system, the Euro, into doubt. If the Euro collapses it will be such a blow that much of the EU system would be taken with it. In any case, the insistence by the French that they can use their Security Council permanent membership as a playing card independent of any EU diplomacy is fatally undermining the future of any such diplomacy. The French veto is a relic of the Second World War, and will not survive any reconstruction of the international system, while their insistence on it will block any proper role for the EU Commission as the source of European diplomacy. That is, the French and their German allies will destroy the European Union by their insistence on dominating it.

The EU in defense and diplomacy has in any case for fifty years been essentially a creature of the United States. A triumphal outcome for the US from the Iraqi situation will be a disaster for the EU since it will inevitably be accompanied by vengefulness. How many US troops will be left in Germany after the conclusion of the war? Not one, if the US has any sense. This vital contribution to the prosperity, even if no longer the safety, of the German economy will be lost. Equally, when the US withdraws its support in money and matériel for NATO, what will happen to the European security system? Most importantly, how are the smaller and newer members or candidates for the EU going to react when they see the idea of a EU diplomacy in tatters, as a result of the determination of France and Germany to dominate, the Euro staggering towards collapse back into national monetary units, and an angry if not hostile United States facing them across the Atlantic? All talk of progression towards a true federation of Europe would come to an end. The only remaining task of the EU would be to bring the Franco-German axis to heel. In this it will almost certainly fail, and the grand project of post WWII Europe will crumble into dust.

And what of Islam? The best hope is that the forces of reform might reemerge. But whatever the future of the Islamic countries, we can be sure that Europe's role will be marginal.

Padraic McGuinness . Quadrant  editorial . April . 2003

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