The constant uncertainty over the situation in Iraq is wearing on everyone, but I feel I deserve special mention. In the morning I am an American speaking to Europeans and explaining the US position. In the afternoon, since I am known for spending time in suspicious places like Europe and talking to Frenchmen, I am called on to defend the European take on things. In the evening, I am at the nearest bar making vacuum-sounds over a large vodka/gin and tonic to recover.The 1 advantage of this bizarre middle position is that I have come to a deep understanding of the fundamental irrationality of both sides. It's not that I don't fully agree with one side [I believe Saddam is crazy and must be overthrown by invasion if need be] but I can't believe how lamely both sides state the issue. Part of the problem is the cultural differences on both sides. Example - if I wanted to spend an evening with a CEO discussing the history of the Mideast - I'd go to London or Frankfurt. Conversely, if I wanted to understand how something was actually made in the real world, particularly in science or economics, I would choose a CEO from Atlanta or Cleveland. [I wouldn't ask a Japanese CEO anything except to paint my house.] Let's start with the holes in the European case.Are the French Evil or just Very Annoying?Imagine a powerful country invading a small undeveloped country, one where tribalism was threatening to destroy it, overthrowing the elected leaders, and forcing it to a 'settlement' that it violently opposes. Further, imagine this happens without UNSC approval or any consultation with their neighbors. I'm not talking Iraq, I'm talking about the Ivory Coast where France is currently invading.Now, it's true that the French - Rene Descartes - have invented a technique and developed it over generations to hold two equally stupid and contradictory ideas in their heads at the same time for years, but for the rest of us it's hard to miss the stench of rank hypocrisy. France has shown repeatedly that it has no problem with unilateral military and nuclear actions as long as it is the French who are doing the acting.Equally deranged is the almost universal European notion that the US position is somehow related to Iraq's oil. This relates to the basic European's breathtaking ignorance of simple Economics. Since Europe has in many places simplified economic behavior for the average person to just learning where and how to cash your benefit check perhaps this is understandable. For those of us who work and grapple with reality daily, it is hard to overstate the idiocy of the 'No War for Oil' position. Let me try. The US is the world's largest oil importer. Supply is not an issue for the simple reason that anyone who controlled Iraq would produce and sell oil on the market - the country has no alternatives. The other US concern relating to energy is price. [Europeans - read the next part slowly: flash cards are available if necessary.] If the US wanted to insure the lowest price for the energy it imports, it would never have kept the sanctions regime in the first place, for the simple reason that if Iraq was producing at the levels it was capable of the world's supply of oil would be FAR greater than current demand. In other words, the price would fall sharply and the US and Japan would be the greatest beneficiaries. There is zero benefit to 'controlling' Iraqi oil, let alone spending $100 billion to achieve the task. None. Zero. Nada.So why do Europeans cling to the weird belief that oil is somehow behind the US attitude? Because the alternative is that they would have to wrestle with the US case on its merits, which they are loathe to do for many reasons. Let's examine the US side of the matter first.Powerful, Dominant, and a pain in the Butt.The problem with the US approach is not substance, but style. It's a little silly to say the French problem is a spinal deficit-calling people cowards for disagreeing with you is bad taste. Similarly, we could stop bringing up our efforts in WW1 and WW2. It's like a friend lending you $500 when you hit a tight spot and then bringing it up every time you meet - fairly soon you want to punch him in the nose.The emotional response of Americans to the 'European Betrayal' of the US in our hour of need isn't wrong, merely offbase. Yes, it's annoying that German political hacks are exploiting anti-American sentiment for short term gain. And it's a little tasteless to impose your opinion quite so strongly in a matter where the only casualties you will see are from drunks slipping in beer at Oktoberfest. And, yes, the French are really acting French this time. But 'betrayal' is too emotional a word to use right now. The US made a very bad job in explaining why war is necessary. We aren't in this to uphold the sanctity of UNSC resolutions. On their best days, we regard the UN as some kind of low-level global joke [which it is]. What the US should have stuck is the position that terrorists with state support [Taliban, etc] combined with dictatorships with active nuclear programs and WMD are simply an unacceptable risk to the US in a post Sept 11 world. What we failed to emphasize, giving much of the world a bad case of the runs, is that the Iraqi situation is unique, not War 1 in a series of 'pre-emptive' wars. And Rumsfeld can drop the macho BS anytime he wants - it's not helping.Similarly, we made an awful moral mistake by going along with inspections. If Iraq poses an unacceptable threat, it has endured ten years of sanctions to pursue more WMD, then what's the point of inspections? The intentions of the Iraqi regime are obvious. It's like claiming that you're being mugged and then asking bystanders what caliber the gun is. Even if inspectors cleared every WMD from Iraq, if Hussein remained in power the whole charade would simply begin from scratch. Gulliver and his 30 dwarves.Three months of inspections have had zero impact on Saddam while trashing relations with Europe and the US, divided Europe, and shredded NATO. How did we get in such a stupid position? First reason is history - with the demise of the USSR, the threat to Europe and its dependence on the US declined, while Europe was conducting a near-historical experiment in shared sovereignity. Conflict was inevitable, and certainly not the fault of any single politician.But Europe has been amazingly obtuse in combining aspiration with reality. Take Belgium. Clearly, its citizens are rabidly anti-war because they have been invaded and ravaged so many times in the last 300 years that being Belgian must feel less like citizenship and more like a license for meeting angry armed foreigners. But that does NOT excuse their opportunistic slant they are taking now. In the FT, the PM of Belgium said, "As long as Soviet divisions could reach the Rhine in 48 hours, we obviously had a blood brotherhood with our cousins overseas...As long as We Europeans feel threatened the use of war and weapons can be more or less justified." [emphasis added]. In other words, we're blood cousins when we need you, and if we need you again war is justifiable, but if YOU feel you are under threat than you can just screw off, pal. It's not surprising that Americans are not impressed by so-called European moral grandeur.Even more damaging is the French clear attempt to have the EU evolve as a clear counterweight to US influence, and one where they drive the car. This was demonstrated fairly brutally when Chirac told Eastern European countries that support the US that 'they had missed a great opportunity to shut up." That's the language of a man clearly having a nervous breakdown. Their NATO aid dispute with Turkey was similarly bizarre. No wonder a number of European countries decided to jump ship. The emerging Belgian-French hyperpower is clearly not a pole around which many countries want to circle. Now, clearly such a power would lead the world in making pleasing architectural structures on dinner plates with buttered legumes. I'm not sure, however, that such an achievement will be a future motor of world history. The heart of the problem is simple. No country has had the dominant position economically, militarily and culturally that the US enjoys. Simultaneously, no US administration in years as made it so brutally clear that it will act however, whenever, and wherever it chooses, and seems to occasionally regard consultation with some allies as an infringement of its rights.Countries like France, with their delusional belief in its role in the world, may find this particularly maddening, but public opinion in most of the world finds the prospect equally frightening. And it goes a long way to explaining the fetish -like respect for the UN, which is obviously a seriously flawed institution. Surely the US can't do what it wants, when it wants? Actually, in terms of sheer power it sure can. And in Iraq, it should. But in a post-Saddam world, do we really want to take action that affect the rest of the world without giving it any voice at all? Strength is a virtue. But so is humility. Anti-War and Anti-AmericanismUnfortunately, the one requirement necessary for the US to engage more fully with its allies-that those allies themselves act with some degree of moral clarity and seriousness- has not been met, even remotely. It was fascinating to see many of those involved in the peace marches claim that they were not against the 'American people' as opposed to the government, and they were not pro-Saddam, who is obviously a brutal dictator. They were merely for 'peace' because as Chirac put it, 'War is always an acknowledgement of failure."This isn't cowardice, it's abject cretinism. Firstly, the false distinction between 'American people' and the 'American gov't' or 'Bush,' a trope used for decades by those opposing US policy is utterly ridiculous. Can anyone really believe that the leaders of the US are imposed on a subdued population by space Aliens? Outright anti-Americanism is at least honest.Secondly, the argument that the Franco-German 'peace' position can be both critical of the US without in any way suggesting support for Saddam is absurd. In the context of the present debate on inspections, it is tactically moronic. Does the peace camp think showing a divided West, with at least one major country ruling out war regardless of the evidence is likely to convince Saddam to disarm rather than play for time or bomb his neighbors yet again? But the moral flaw in the European position is far greater than simple tactical stupidity.The willingness of Europeans to sanction the mass death of others rather than take effective action has been clear since the Balkan Wars. When Yugoslavia disintegrated [sparked by German recognition of an independent Croatia, which they were begged by their allies not to do] Europe made clear that it, along with the UN, would take responsibility that it regarded as its own backyard.So what happened? Serbian forces began 'ethnic cleansing' of the Bosnian Muslims. Concentration camps were set up in Europe for the first time in 50 years. Mass rapes and the murder of entire towns took place. Europe held urgent panel meetings at the UN. Sarajevo was bombed into oblivion. Europe's leaders consulted. By the time an exasperated US took action, Europe had sat on its hands while 250,000 people were exterminated in a civil war in which the Serbs were clearly acting with genocidal intent, and admitting it publicly.How is Iraq different? Saddam has killed, tortured or exiled almost 20% of the Iraqi population according to Human Rights Watch during his decades of power. He has used poison gas on his own people, and created an eco-disaster in the tidal marshes of the Euphrates River in order to destroy the Marsh Arabs--a 6,000 year-old civilization. There is not a single credible observer who does not believe that if the UN declares Saddam 'disarmed' and the US/UK flyovers and sanctions end that Saddam will not immediately convene a bloodbath in Kurdish Northern Iraq.So say the US is intervening on behalf of Mobil Oil. Why should anyone genuinely concerned about the Iraqi people care? Is it really credible that a US invasion will be worse for them than another 10 years of Saddam's loving care? The next objection, then, is that Saddam shouldn't be overthrown because the US should not be in a position to decide which leaders should go and that it's hypocritical when the US does overthrow Saddam but leaves other bloody dictators in power elsewhere. This is a brain seizure, not an argument. If there is one fire truck and three burning houses, does it matter why the fire truck stops at the first house rather than another? It certainly doesn't seem like a priority to the family inside the burning house. No one has ever claimed the US can or should be the world's policeman, and the intent to gain WMD seems a reasonable rationale for deciding when a particular psychopath is worth confronting. Frankly, Europe has shown itself unwilling to engage in any effort [apart from peacekeeping, where it does shoulder a load] that means using military power to confront emerging real world threats. This may not be cowardice, but it represents a misunderstanding of the nature of the world so extreme, and a fear of change so pervasive, that words like 'appeasement' don't even begin to express the moral vacuity at the heart of the 'peace' position. I would use the world 'collaboration' but that would be unfair to collaborators. At least they can claim they went about their unseemly business under the bootheel of Nazi occupation and overwhelming force. What is the German and French excuse?Anti-Americanism is little more than an unconscious, hysterical acknowledgment of the weakness and incoherence of the European position. All caricatures of President Bush as a 'cowboy', all the slings about US culture and behavior are as simplified and brain dead as any other form of bigotry. Europeans would hardly feel the need to emphasize their cultural superiority every 30 seconds if they were actually confident it was true. Self-evidently, a country does not become the dominant economic, scientific, cultural, and military power in the history of the known Universe by conforming to idiotic cartoon images of Europe's anti-Americanism. Name-calling is not an antidote to Europe's fear of change, worship of the status quo, and utter moral blindness. Nor is it a route to a revived Europe that the US can take seriously. Europe can have a voice in a world shaped by American predominance - it just can't be a constant high-pitched whine.
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