U.S. plan to invade Iraq raises alarms: Europeans fear

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Jul 23, 2002, 7:21:28 PM7/23/02
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U.S. plan to invade Iraq raises alarms
Patrick E. Tyler The New York Times
Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Europeans fear consequences of war

LONDON The last thing Europe wants is to be accused of going wobbly on
Iraq. But the American talk of overthrowing Saddam Hussein by military
force is raising alarms in European governments. They are saying that any
American miscalculation could undermine the international coalition that
is fighting against terrorism, and the broad-based diplomacy needed to
solve the crisis between Israel and the Palestinians.

They also fear that a drive against Iraq would drive a wedge between
Britain and the rest of Europe. A French official said in an interview in
Paris that some of President George W. Bush's conservative aides had
become "obsessed about Iraq, while we are obsessed about achieving peace"
between Israelis and Palestinians. "The important thing is to build a
coalition for peace in the Middle East," he said, "not to build a
coalition for war in Iraq."

Washington's increasing talk of "regime change" is hindering diplomatic
strategies to press Saddam to open his country again to United Nations
inspectors searching for weapons of mass destruction, the French official
said.

In Britain, a newspaper reported that Prime Minister Tony Blair was
preparing for a significant call-up of military reserves in the fall and
that he had pulled an armored division out of training exercises so it
could be made available for special deployment his year.

In the House of Commons, Blair said that Britain had gathered extensive
evidence that "Saddam Hussein is still trying to develop weapons of mass
destruction," and he said that Britain would publish the evidence "at the
appropriate time."

Last fall, the British government published the first detailed report
that Osama bin Laden was directly linked to the Sept. 11 attacks on the
United States, thus laying down an important predicate for the war in
Afghanistan.

There is agreement in European capitals that Saddam's government is
dangerous and may need to be confronted one day. But any agreement breaks
down over strategic priorities in the Middle East, which Europeans
consider neighboring territory for trade and security. With America the
lone superpower, they are ever prickly over any hint that the United
States is ignoring their views or assuming, as one German official said,
"that we are Euro wimps" when it comes to the use of force.

The European Union's top security official, Javier Solana, warned in
an interview of a "self-fulfilling prophecy" of war against Iraq. "If
Saddam Hussein thinks that this option is inexorable, why would he yield
to inspectors?" Solana said.

He said it would be "very, very difficult" to sustain allied support
for an assault against Iraq unless progress was first made toward creating
a Palestinian state.

The debate with Washington reminded The Economist magazine of Winston
Churchill's confidence that, "You can always rely on America to do the
right thing, once it has exhausted the alternatives." The right thing, for
Europe, is to concentrate first on getting Israelis and Palestinians to
desist in a conflict that is roiling emotions and shaking governments
across the Arab world.

One European leader said King Abdullah II of Jordan came to him "in
tears" over recent reports that the Americans were thinking of attacking
Iraq from Jordanian air bases, at a time when Arab frustration with the
lack of progress on the peace front is soaring.

Besides the Middle East, Europeans point out that it is critical to
achieve some stability in Afghanistan, where Western intervention has
destroyed the Taliban, but has not assured that the interim government of
Hamid Karzai will succeed as a stable replacement.

"There is a lot of understanding of U.S. impatience vis-a-vis Iraq,"
said an adviser to Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany. "At the same
time there is a tremendous amount of concern about anything that would
destabilize the situation in the Middle East," the adviser said. "Things
are bad enough now, and we don't need to worsen them." European leaders,
as well as most Arab states, have welcomed the meetings just held by Arab
foreign ministers and Western governments on how to improve security for
Israel against suicide bombers while at the same time moving toward
negotiations that would realize the vision of a Palestinian state within
three years. Yet this American-backed initiative is barely a first step
and will require months of intensive diplomacy to generate real progress,
officials said.

"The timing is very narrow to get something going that changes the
attitudes of Arab leaders and public opinion in the region," Solana said,
especially if the United States wants to consider a military campaign in
Iraq this winter.

There is also the question of the Palestinian elections in January,
Solana said. Would they take place during a buildup for war in Iraq and
under Israeli occupation? "It's going to be very difficult to have
elections under these conditions," he said. Interviews with officials in
London, Paris and Berlin revealed striking agreement that the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict represents the highest priority for Western
governments, not only to end the carnage, but also to strengthen Western
credibility in the face of the appeal of militant Muslims, who are
exploiting the plight of the Palestinians to increase support for
violence.

Blair's government, the United States' closest ally, distanced itself
from Bush's call for the removal of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat,
saying that it would do business with whomever the Palestinians elect.

A senior British official suggested that the United States should push
harder for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians because
otherwise "it may not be possible" to build support for action in Iraq.

"We need to get the show back on the road," the official said, adding
that "American energy" was essential to create the basis for new
negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. Britain, too, has
distinguished its position on a change of government in Iraq from the Bush
administration's. "We believe that regime change is desirable, but ending
the threat of weapons of mass destruction is our objective - getting the
inspectors back in," the British official said.

As for a possible military campaign, the official continued,
"Obviously, planning is going on." He said that European criticism of
Britain's support for American military intervention would not affect
British policy.

"Nobody wants to go into a war, but sometimes you can't avoid it," the
official said. "We'll look after our own interests and if others are not
as resolute as us, then they're not, but we are not going to change our
position because of it." Britain's determination to remain shoulder to
shoulder with the United States still leaves major questions hanging over
the prospect of any campaign in Iraq.

In London, Paris and Berlin, the fundamental questions posed to
Washington have been the same:

Who would guarantee the territorial integrity of Iraq after a war?

What government would replace Saddam Hussein's?

Is America prepared to invade and occupy Iraq for a decade or more to
protect a successor government from subversion and attack from Iraq's
neighbors, Iran and Syria?

Who would pay for the war?

"The questions have been asked, but the answers have not been given,"
a French official said. Germany's foreign minister, Joschka Fischer,
said, "We will be directly hurt if there would be a miscalculation." In
an interview, Fischer expressed doubt that Saddam represented a strategic
threat to Western security. But in the end, he said, "it is a decision of
the United States. I mean this will have results for all of us, but first
of all it is a debate in the United States. It is not a debate here, not a
decision here."

But there was also a palpable strain of disappointment in Berlin over
the failure of the United States to include its allies in that debate.
As Schroeder's adviser said, "After Sept. 11, we had the feeling there
would be a more multilateral approach" to international affairs by the
Bush administration. But more recently, "We have been seeing a very
assertive administration on the move in so many areas that people on this
side of the Atlantic come to question whether really there is a new
approach."
======================

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