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Sunday, February 16, 2003 - 11:51 AM Permanent link for Why France & Germany Oppose Iraqi Intervention
Why France & Germany Oppose Iraqi Intervention

I spent some time on a biz trip in Sweden/France/UK/Germany surrounded by OpEds, news reports, European co-workers & customers.   After more than a couple conversations with the "European street", I wanted to document a few meta observations/theories on the roots of US / (Old) European differences in opinion.    (My own personal view on the subject -- decidedly pro-Intervention -- is here)

To keep the discussion simple/manageable, I'm explicitly committing the sin of bucketing "Europe" into a single blob.  My observations are most apropos to "European Left / Peace Protestors" or, "Old Europe"

1) The Rights of Sovereignty

Perhaps one of the most interesting divides between the US and Old Europe is around the inviolability of the nation.  Ralph Peters recently described the desendency of our present notions of Sovereignty from the days of princes & kings.   The kings of yesteryear, in lieu of democracy, partially maintained their tenuous mandates via the recognition they received from other heads of state.  Henry was King over the populace not just because he controlled the military (the stick) but also because he was viewed as the proper representative of England within the other Courts of Europe (the carrot).  

The other courts, in a classic case of Network Effect, reciprocally helped sustain their legitimacy with their subjects by holding court with Henry.  Mugabe being invited to hold "court" with French officials therefore echoes this function for both parties just as the Henry's, Louis', and Romanov's greeting each other in the ages ago.

Once recognized by the court, there is a very long benefit of the doubt for the honor & motivations of the players.   Saddam is a President of a Nation, Bush is a President of a Nation, and Chirac is the President of a Nation.   The three therefore, are prima facie equal.  To doubt the equality of one is to reciprocally bring into question your legitimacy.   The French asked, for example, that Saddam pass a law banning WMD.  He complied and the French were incrementally satisifed.   Seriously.

I think a lot of folks on this side of the Atlantic don't recognize how absolutely Europeans view tend to see this -- in part because our nation was 'constructed' whereas their nations were 'inherited'.   Telling another "nation" that they need to change regimes, to them, is sorta like saying to someone "we've decided you need to change your lastname."   (France and the Ivory Coast, of course being a prominent counter example;  I think the general trend still holds though)

Of course, within the EU, sovereignty in the traditional sense is being eaten away by European powers vis a vis each other.   However, this is a voluntary submission to a greater technocracy that still adheres to group identities rather than forceful liberation of a people from the bounds of a sovereign. 

2) The Attractiveness of Stability

Most Americans (myself included) simply cannot appreciate the lingering psychological, social, & cultural impact on French/Germans of devastating world wars fought on local soil.  They have a heightened respect for stability embedded deep within their national psyches.   This desire for stability at the geopolitical level also has analogues with stability at cultural (the French cultural ministry behemoth) and economic levels (trade, work & union rules).  

In many respects, Old Europe is far more willing than the US to tradeoff dynamism in exchange for the predictably (at least rhetorically) of the present.  European demographic patterns further this preference.

A strong sense of national sovereignty, of course, becomes a critical element in pushing forward Stability amongst peers of the court.

One needs to mix in just a tad of cultural relativism and it's easy to see why a solution that disarms Saddam but leaves him in power is perfectly acceptable to the majority of Europeans while many in the US simply see disarmament as the proximate casus belli for deeper intervention.   The US sees another "Noriega in Panama", Europe sees another "Ferdinand in Sarajevo."

For the idealistic Foriegn Policy Right in the US, it is precisely the last 40 years of stability in the Mid-East which led to 9/11 and they see this trendline dangerously close to intersection in the near future with cheaper and more easily available WMD.

3) The European Way

Europe has built up 50 years of faith under the American military shield in their ability to settle / resolve differences vis a vis each other in the language of judges, international law, and diplomats.   They believe that their longer / deeper experience & history can and rightly should be applied to the international scene.   It's particularly no accident that the 2 nations who have most adeptly steered the EU (France & Germany) are also the ones with the most faith in diplomatic solutions for steering Iraq.

I don't think the primary motivation a thinly veiled power grab (although it is a contributing motive) but rather this is their deep, honest-to-God underlying belief.

The European Left has historically been enamored with technocratic approaches to problems.   The process & architecture of the process is as central as the results.  There's a deep belief in the existence of a "right, peaceful way" that merely needs to be found & faithfully implemented

The problem with this, is that they simply have lost their understanding of how much of a Hobbesian jungle the rest of the world is.  It systematically delays their ability to recognize when force must be applied (witness Kosovo).   Perhaps more sinisterly, it makes them scared to after-the-fact acknowledge that force helped solve a problem because of precedent it may create for future force usage

4) Post Modernism

Europe is the birth place of the Post Modernist / anti-enlightentment ethos.   The US, by contrast, is currently the strongest adherent of the enlightenment ethos.    Brashness, moral certainty, promotion of the individual even to the expense of "society" aren't just found within the American individual character but within it's foriegn policy as well.  Our "simplisme" is a direct result of this.  It's why we're easily able to see a distinction between "Iraq, the regime" and "Iraq, the people" while France/Germany merely see "Iraq."

Old Europe doesn't like the idea of one group, let alone an entire nation being able to judge the merits of another group / nation.   The external assertion of views considered "universal" positively gives them the heeby-jeebies.   We see "proselytization of democracy", they see "imperialism".  Not only because it violates sovereignty but also because calls for moral judgement of one group by another. 

This post modernism allows them to adhere to an intellectual double standard of extending all the benefits of a liberal democratic world order (e.g. the UN) to crappy little dictatorships that don't even consider extending these benefits to their citizens.

A great article from David Brooks captures some of this:

What they distrust about America and Israel is that these countries represent a particularly aggressive and, to them, unbalanced strain of bourgeois ambition. No European would ever acknowledge the category, but America and Israel are heroic bourgeois nations. The Israelis are driven by passionate Zionism to build their homeland and make it rich and powerful. Americans are driven by our Puritan sense of calling, the deeply held belief that we Americans have a special mission to spread our way of life around the globe. It is precisely this heroic element of ordinary life that Europeans lack and distrust.

...Their passions have been quieted. Their intellectual guides have taught them that business is ignoble and striving is vulgar. Their history has caused them to renounce military valor (good thing, too) and to regard their own relative decline as a sign of greater maturity and wisdom.

Let's not forget that many on the European left have latent socialist sympathies  (would French 35-hr work week legislation ever happen here?).  The US is world's largest affront to this.  This is why the thousands of casualties from an US-led Iraqi intervention politically matter more to the European street than the 100's of K casualties and M's of refugees Saddam has created.    Saddam's strength isn't a threat to their philosophy in the same way American strength is.

5) Might makes Wrong

The flip side of the European way & Post Modernism is a deep belief that might is axiomatically wrong.   Both economic and military might are independent of virtue and are usually inversely related.   The weak must be protected from the strong.  By contrast, most Americans (in no small part due to possessing both economic and military might) are much more comfortable recognizing the underlying "virtues" which lead to economic / military strength.  

One side sees a monolithic, heavy handed military, while on our side, we're infatuated with the tales of 4-12 man teams on the ground in Afghanistan orchestrating precision bombing.   We see collections of empowered highly individual soldiers operating within a system, they see a military-industrial system crushing the will of the individual.  Muscular, foriegn policy idealism is confused with muscular, foriegn policy nationalism/imperialism.

The same observations apply economically.   Might and success weren't secured virtuously but rather through some underhanded conniving.  Hollywood is pulling secret strings to infiltrate youth culture and keep French films from being funded.   McDonald's & Starbucks have paid off some corrupt politico to get their real estate.  Microsoft... well, let's not go there  ;-)

This aversion to might provides fuel to the power-grab conspiracy theories -- that the war is about a bid to secure more oil or as Fareed Zakaria reported, the whispers even in supposedly level headed Switzerland that the CIA orchestrated the WTC attack.

6) America is a target for a reason

Finally, many in Europe see themselves as the island as sanity / reason between the US on one side and the Muslim world on the other.   If new attacks happen to the US, it's the result of not heeding Old Europe's recommendations on policy towards the Arab world.   I could be guilty of simplisme if I were to reduce to "you've brought it on yourselves" but even in Olde Europe, there is more to picture than that.

It's more "the only reason we'd ever be considered a target is because we're so close to you as it is"


All of this indicates that there is much more to this than just a question of what to do about Iraq & how to do it.  A UN mandate is almost completely a secondary afterthought - an outcome rather than the goal.   I'll close with a quote from Fareed Zakaria's current Newsweek column:

     Many diplomats have downplayed Western divisions over Iraq. The Atlantic alliance is always in trouble, like a marriage, quipped Colin Powell at Davos. But this time it’s different. In the past, both Americans and Europeans were tied together in a common struggle against Soviet communism. Suez, Vietnam, Pershing missiles, Grenada—all were issues where there was tactical disagreement. On the big strategic issue, everyone in the West saw eye to eye.
        Iraq has proved a breaking issue not because of wide disagreements about it. The West doesn’t disagree fundamentally on Iraq. But the debate is not really about Iraq, it’s about the United States. Many in Europe worry more about America than Iraq. For them Iraq is a tactical issue. The strategic issue is what are they going to do about America, the dominating power in the world today.

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