Articles

Hard Jobs Require U.S. Power

Los Angeles Times, 20 April, 2003

LONDON -- I heard a neoconservative joke recently.

A Frenchman, a German and an American were all facing a firing squad in Africa and each was given a final wish.

The Frenchman asked to sing the 'Marseillaise'; the German asked to give a lecture on the use of force and international law. The American said: 'Please, please shoot me first. I don't want to have to hear that lecture -- or that song.'

The split between the United States and some important European nations that has developed over Iraq threatens the Atlantic alliance, one of the most successful in history. It is very serious. European nations meeting in Athens last week tried to put a brave face on the U.S.-British victory in Iraq. But the French, Germans and others are chagrined to be proved so wrong. As Prime Minister Tony Blair said recently, there will have to be a reckoning.

Perhaps this was a disaster waiting to happen.

During the Cold War, you Americans and we Europeans had a common project -- the containment of the Soviet Union. It was a long and exhausting war, but it succeeded. And with the Soviet collapse, the U.S. became the strongest power in the world.

Inevitably, the gap between Europe and the United States grew. When the European Union and the U.S. split over how to deal with the fall of Yugoslavia and the consequent conflicts in the Balkans, the entire NATO agreement seemed in jeopardy. One EU dignitary declared that the 'Hour of Europe' had come -- but it ultimately went without Europe distinguishing itself.

In the Balkans, all Europe could do was introduce United Nations peacekeepers, who did indeed save lives but could do nothing to save the situation. The conflicts were ended only when the Clinton administration finally went in and applied force.

Kosovo marked the first time the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as such had undertaken military action. The effort succeeded in driving the Serbs from Kosovo, but it exposed serious imbalances in the alliance. The U.S. flew the overwhelming majority of the conflict's missions and dropped almost all the precision-guided munitions.

In all, some 200,000 people died in the Balkans on Europe's watch. It was America that stopped that. In 2001, it was only America that could have liberated Afghanistan from the Taliban.

The results in Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan are not perfect. But all those areas are better off than they were, and only the U.S. could have made those changes. Tony Blair understands that; many other European leaders do not.

The newly articulated notion of preemption raises both fears and hackles in Europe. But surely everyone would agree that it would have been better if the U.S. had preempted 9/11 by confronting Al Qaeda and the Taliban before September 2001. There was ample cause. Osama bin Laden had destroyed two U.S. embassies in Africa, killing hundreds of people; he had blown up American barracks in Saudi Arabia; he had declared a jihad on the U.S.; he had blown up the U.S. destroyer Cole, killing 17 American sailors in Aden harbor. Was this not enough?

If the U.S. had acted earlier to destroy Bin Laden's bases in Afghanistan, the 3,000 people who died on Sept. 11 might still be alive.

And consider Israel's 1981 attack on the fast breeder nuclear reactor that then-French Prime Minister Jacques Chirac had sold to his friend Saddam Hussein. The Israelis struck at that moment not because the reactor was about to produce a nuclear weapon but because fuel was about to be inserted into the reactor, and once that was done it would have been impossible to destroy the reactor without spreading radioactive material in a populated area. Would anyone today say that was a wrong move?

The U.S. has power and is, not surprisingly, inclined to use it. European states now have very little power. Their inability to act seems to have led to an abhorrence of action.

As neoconservative thinkers Robert Kagan, Richard Perle and others have pointed out, many European politicians now prefer a system of internationally agreed rules that treat all nations as more or leequal. That is predictable and understandable. Europeans have no alternative. We are weak and we do not wish to make the sacrifices to be stronger.

Europe's attitude about the Iraq war has been a mixture of hypocrisy, delusion and disgrace. European leaders talk of the EU now being a 'counterweight' to the United States. Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, says: 'I do not despair. Some of us profoundly disagree with [President] Bush. But it may push the European Union to become much more of an actor in the world. We have an obligation to do so.' Tell that to the Marines in Basra and Baghdad.

But things are changing. Last week the European Union agreed to expand in 2004 from 15 countries to 25, with many of the new members coming from what used to be the Soviet bloc. Not for nothing did Donald Rumsfeld distinguish between 'new' and 'old' Europe. The 'new Europeans' understand the real importance of the U.S. and its role in their liberation. As Blair said recently, if you include those members, the majority of the new EU is in favor of this difficult venture in Iraq.

This new political reality is what so worries the French. On Feb. 17, Chirac castigated EU applicants from Eastern Europe for their support of the Anglo-American position. They were 'infantile,' he said. 'These countries have not been very well-behaved and [are] rather reckleof the danger of aligning themselves too rapidly with the American position. They missed a great opportunity to keep quiet.' (A Czech politician wryly noted that the remark reminded him of how his country was treated by Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev.)

I do not want to pretend that everything that the United States has done has been right. The manner and methods of this administration sometimes are counterproductive. But that in no way justifies the shameleattacks on the U.S. by Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and other European officials.

Fouad Ajami, director of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies, noted recently: 'It is the fate of great powers that provide order to do so against the background of a world that takes the protection while it bemoans the heavy hand of the protector.'

Europeans don't have to accept the neoconservative doctrine -- though it seems to have served Iraq well so far. They don't have to love Bush (although they should not underestimate him). What they should remember is that the U.S. has always been and remains today the only country that has the capability to defend and expand the liberal democratic world. Europe can never replace it. And if it tries to hobble it, Europe will undermine -- if not destroy -- its own security.

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