Wars, of course, unify us in a common purpose, and this was no less true of the Cold War than of any other. There were differences of opinion within the Western alliance throughout the Cold War period, but the common threat from the Soviet Union, formidable in armaments and subversive in intent, kept those differences in check and well below the level of open rancor. After the Soviet collapse, the various partners in the alliance were under less restraint. The amity fostered by decades of cooperation continued, but there were fundamental differences of philosophy and approach just waiting to be exposed by some triggering event. In September 2001 that event arrived.
It is a commonplace among opponents of the recent war in Iraq that by invading that country, the U.S. administration squandered the worldwide sympathy and goodwill America had enjoyed after September 11. Elizabeth Pond’s book, which is a careful analysis of the widening rift between America and Europe from 2001 to mid-2003, shows that matters are not quite so simple.
Ms. Pond argues that the rift between the United States and her European allies opened up when the Bush administration decided, soon after September 11, that the diplomatic-managerial approach to failed states was no longer appropriate; that these states presented too much potential danger to the civilized world to be left in despotic squalor; and that the Middle East in particular needed some dramatic intervention to jolt the region towards rational, constitutional government, or at the very least to teach it a lesson.
This decision came crashing up against the conviction, widespread in Europe, and especially strong in Germany, that the system of benign neglect practiced towards the Arab world since the Suez fiasco of 1956 would be sufficient, with perhaps some diplomatic tweaking, to contain the kinds of threats illustrated by the September 11 attacks. America’s willingness to use raw power to change the entire situation was shocking to Europeans. While generally, and not altogether incorrectly, represented as a manifestation of anti-Americanism, this reaction was informed in part by pro-American feelings: by the recollection, particularly strong in Germany, of the tireless and selfless efforts on the part of the Truman and Eisenhower administrations to restore a law-based international order after the nightmare of World War II.
Watching their mentors in democracy scupper the very paradigm of international law in favor of raw power in the twenty-first century, as it seemed to many, was traumatic, especially for the Germans. “Everything I believe in regarding peace, freedom, and respect for law, I have learned from the Americans — and so have all my German colleagues,” commented Humboldt University law professor Ingolf Pernice sadly as the Iraq war that he opposed broke out.
This was not mere pacifism. It is true that the Social Democratic Party of Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, in power since 1998, has strong pacifist leanings. As Ms. Pond reminds us, though, Mr. Schröder and his foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, sent German troops on peacekeeping missions into Kosovo and East Timor and even, in the teeth of fierce opposition from the German parliament, joined the fighting in Afghanistan alongside British and American units in 2002. By early 2003, she reports, Germany had some 10,000 servicepeople deployed abroad, “a number second only to the U.S. superpower.”
The author plays down the contribution made by simple anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism to the current ructions. Neither, she tells us — quoting some opinion polls — is as strong as Americans think. Nor is religion as great an issue as many on the American Right suppose: “Certainly in the case of Germany, quite a few leading politicians, including Christian Democratic and Christian Social Union MPs and Social Democratic president Johannes Rau, are no less devout Christians than President Bush.” The real division, according to Ms. Pond, is between proponents of stasis and proponents of (in her view) chaos: between those who think the Middle East is best left alone, and those who think it needs some forceful help in escaping from its millennial attachment to government by gangster-despots like Saddam, Gadhafi, Arafat, Assad père et fils, and the rest of that grisly crew.
The author herself is clearly, though not obtrusively, on the left of that division. Some of her incidental comments on U.S. affairs might have been lifted from New York Times editorials. The policy of “tax cuts for the rich,” she tells us, “reflected long-time Republican orthodoxy. … To critics and fans alike they seemed to be designed to create a future financial crisis that could be solved only by cutting social entitlements.” She twice tells us, in disapproving tones, that the Sharon government in Israel has a policy of killing three Arab terrorists for every dead Israeli. I have never heard of this policy, but given the demographics of the Middle East it does not seem an unreasonable one.
Again, in speaking of President Bush’s remarks in Cracow on May 31 last year (the author incorrectly says “June”), she gives the impression that the object of the president’s exercise was to further widen disagreement between “old” and “new” Europe: “Implicit too was a smirk about America’s surprise coup in awarding fledgling NATO member Poland the command of a third multinational sector in Iraq.” Ah, what would a report of a Bush speech be without some reference to a smirk?
In any case, this slight coloring of disapproval leaves one wondering how seriously one should take the author’s other insights. The key issue in the Iraq war, it seems to me, is the degree to which the administration believes its own rhetoric about bringing democracy to the Middle East. Completely, says Ms. Pond. The Europeans, she notes, would have been happier if they could discern some cynicism beneath the Bush team’s crusading zeal. They saw none, only “a Manichean perception of good and evil.” Those childish Americans, so obsessed with their outdated moral categories! So unlike us worldly Europeans, who can perceive a hundred different shades of gray!
I don’t myself believe this picture, though. When I contemplate Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and George W. Bush, the phrase “naïve moralizers” is not the one that first leaps to mind. If, following the pullout our administration seems determined on, Iraq should lapse into anarchy, I doubt much sleep will be lost in Washington. The despots of the world will have been taught a useful lesson: that if they make themselves a serious nuisance to us, we will go and smash up their regimes and humiliate their leaders. The satisfaction of having delivered a punitive lesson is the least we should hope for, and we can hope for more. For the American people at large, however, the knowledge that we ended the career of Saddam Hussein and woke his fellow despots from their dreams of invulnerability may be sufficient justification for the war of 2003.