How appropriate that U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has introduced bumbling French Inspector Clouseau into the U.S. spat with anti-war NATO members. The diplomatic barbs being hurled between the pro-and anti-war camps is rapidly descending into a farce that must be playing very well in Baghdad. Before a shot has been fired in anger, NATO’s credibility and European unity are neck and neck to be the first casualties of war.
President George W. Bush’s administration, with little domestic opposition, can continue to push for a military solution to disarm Iraq with the luxury of a sizeable consensus in favor of conflict. An endorsement of Bush’s stance among European leaders, by contrast, represent a huge political gamble. For a skeptical Europe, only a quick and decisive NATO victory with CNN footage of huge arsenals of anthrax and other horrors of the modern age being uncovered will unequivocally vindicate the need for conflict.
A lengthy and expensive campaign accompanied by prime-time images of Iraqi civilian casualties and the sight of body bags coming home, however, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi et al., might as well start looking for a publisher for their memoirs.
As frustrated as Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Powell are with France and Germany, these countries are, in their position on Iraq, doing what governments are elected to do — represent the majority position. It was only last summer that German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s successful election campaign platform included a pledge that German forces would not join an American-led attack on Iraq.
But public opinion is something that the so-called “Gang of Eight,” the eight European leaders of Britain, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Czech Republic, Hungary, Denmark and Poland who announced their support of Bush’s stance on Iraq in an open letter, are studiously ignoring.
The support for Bush by Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Anzar, for example, flies in the face of opinion within Spain, where polls suggest a majority against unsanctioned military action. Also, more than 40 percent of people would still oppose military action against Iraq even if it were authorized by the United Nations.
But Anzar’s position seems comfortable in comparison with that of British Blair. With divisions within his-left-of center Parliamentary Labour Party and reportedly even divisions within his own cabinet, a drawn-out conflict in Iraq with mounting British casualties is likely to be disastrous for Bush’s staunchest ally.
Blair is undoubtedly fighting for his political life. In a bid to sway public opinion in Britain, the beleaguered prime minister appeared on a BBC current affairs program last week face-to-face with skeptical members of the British public who accused him of being “Bush’s poodle.” Up to half a million people are expected to participate in anti-war demonstration in London on Saturday.
Try as Blair and other European leaders might, they are simply unable to bludgeon their electorate into supporting this conflict. In the European media, where news programs, such as “The Road to Baghdad,” scramble to sign up retired generals to enthuse over military hardware, the necessity of intervention in Iraq is still the burning topic of the day.
Rumsfeld told European media that France, Germany and Belgium, in their blocking of a NATO resolution to ship defensive equipment to Turkey, “will be judged by their own people and the other members of the alliance.” But it is the “Gang of Eight” that should fear the judgment of their own people. If Blair, Berlusconi and Anzar end up paying the highest price for disregarding the opinions of their electorate, “Old Europe” may just become “Wise Europe,” as well.
Chris O’Donnel is a sophomore majoring in mass communications.