Iraq And The Trans-atlantic Rift

Written by Subhash Agrawal | Updated: Feb 13 2003, 05:30am hrs
Irrespective of whether there will be war in Iraq, and when, it is now certain that Saddam Husseins days are numbered. The US has ratcheted up the stakes and rhetoric so high that it is too late for any compromise or alternate measure. There is no way that America can stay as an influential actor in the Middle East in future without a visible demonstration of its intent in Iraq, not after forcing a war resolution through the Senate and House of Representatives and after pressing a near-war resolution through the United Nations. And there is just no way the Bush administration can face the electorate again in 2004 with Saddam still in power, no matter how much he is contained and defanged. Whatever the real motive for this display of might in the face of logic some people say its not oil, but Israel the fact is that the whole war exercise has reached critical mass through an amalgam of mission creep, ego and advice gone astray.

Saddam is definitely on his way out, into exile or perhaps worse. But he may have left some unwitting legacies, such as a large anti-war movement in western countries reminiscent of the Vietnam era, a resuscitated Greens movement across Europe, sharpened and even confused ideological polarisation within the US, and images of a bad-tempered and vindictive country instead of a large-hearted society full of good humour and affability. Donald Rumsfeld is the defining American public persona of the day, not Steve Martin or Jay Leno.

A few months ago, the Christian Science Monitor carried out a global opinion survey on American image abroad. The results overwhelmingly suggested how the US is widely perceived as arrogant and reckless. Anti-Americanism is no longer a fringe emotion but a mainstream current in many western countries. The fact that Bush may be propelling America to being unloved and resented long into the future has a few people very worried, but Americans remain largely oblivious to these opinion trends. There still exists a wide chasm between how the world views US foreign policy and interventions, and how Americans do. Perhaps this results from the popular depiction of the overseas American, whether in Hollywood movies or in wider US culture, as a man with a just job to do and not as an aggressor or a pawn in a larger cynical game.

But Saddams biggest bequest may be the fissure he has created in the most enduring relationship of all. The rift between US and Europe, and within Europe, is no longer a figment of imagination but very visible and potentially serious. Chirac versus Blair, Schroeder versus Bush, Prodi versus Berlusconi, Aznar versus Solana. Poor Turkey is squeezed in all this, its chance of early European Union admission now set back by a few years. Never before has any country vetoed US-backed measures in Nato (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation), prompting the US to declare its willingness to go outside of Nato if necessary. Donald Rumsfeld has insulted Germany by lumping it with Cuba and Libya among countries that wont do anything to help disarm Iraq.

All these are radical developments, given that Nato was always the lynchpin of American hold and strategy in Europe, and Germany was always the most loyal ally.

The US media is now swelling with content going well beyond mere criticism. One ex-US Ambassador has suggested that it is time to pull out of Nato and let Western Europe defend itself. Thomas Friedman has suggested that France be kicked off the Security Council and replaced by India. In an op-ed in USA Today, Germanys Nazi past and Americas generous help in transforming the country are mentioned as a precursor to outrage over German ingratitude. In another prominent piece, French President Chiracs special relationship with Saddam is given a conspiratorial halo. Meanwhile, in Europe, there is an equally outraged reaction. The United States of America has gone mad by John le Carre in The Times of London recalls memories of the worst excesses of McCarthyism.

On both sides of the Atlantic, senior and otherwise sensible people are spouting words such as neurosis, conspiracy, pig-headedness, hypocrisy and cowardice; even the word rogue. Never before has trans-Atlantic rhetoric been so crude, insulting and far-fetched. And so interesting for the rest of us.

The author is an analyst of Indian political and business trends and the editor of India Focus, a political risk report for international investors