A Lesson for Europe

Article published on Jan. 19, 2004
community published
Article published on Jan. 19, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Wolfowitz and friends, ‘Neo’ not Conservative, want to democratise the Middle East. Why Europe must accept the challenge.

The 21st century will be another American one. Whatever the costs (military that is). This was the substance of the message from a band of retired politicians and out of fashion intellectuals. Remember? Clinton had just been voted in for a second term, the ‘new economy’ was already driving Wall Street crazy, and no one had started talking about ‘just’ wars (Kosovo, Lewinski etc). It was 1997, and people like Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Norman Podhoretz and Jeb Bush were already accusing the saxophonist from Arkansas of irresponsibility: there are too many threats to America and the world on the horizon, they warned, to start talking about ‘game over’. This is not the end of history. We need a new farsighted vision to support the United States’ global leadership. If not, it will be too late.

The Real Madrid of international politics

Five years and three wars later and the White House has a new tenant, someone who doesn’t give a damn about the ‘third way’ or Europe; about chemical attacks or the Ground Zero dead. The theme of his ‘era’ is not peace but war (on terrorism if you please). And together his team of advisers and right-hand men who march alongside him make up the class of ’97: the Neo-conservatives. ‘Neocons’ to their friends.

But who are these Neocons? Are they really so bad? And, above all, why, as Capezzone explains elsewhere in this issue, has old Europe disowned them with so much resentment? The answer is easy. For the intelligentsia of ‘casa nostra’ the problem is not so much wanting to construct a ‘new American century’ because there seem to us to be so many alternatives that it doesn’t really appear to be the case. Rather, unfortunately, the fact that the Cheney-Rumsfeld gang – which is always seen to be potting without the knowledge of ‘Junior’, the naive President – wants to ‘export democracy’. This is the bone of contention. But do you realise what this means? How presumptuous! Talking about ‘exporting democracy’ as if it were a market. Ignoring cultural diversity. Mocking –mocking – extremely precious local customs like Nigerian stoning, the veil (which we then proceed to ban at home), Chinese torture or, better still, the death penalty. Long live multipolarism!

In reality, the Neoconservatives are the team to beat, not only because they hold, in large part, the reins of American foreign policy, but also because they currently express the only true global vision of international relations that is not content with the status quo. There are light years between realism and Kissinger. For the Neocons, September 11th demonstrated that Washington can no longer support unruly dictators who, by oppressing their own people, indirectly unleash a malcontent that too often feeds terrorism (Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia). The Neocons are not Conservative. Really. Historically they come from the liberal American Right. And some of them have even worked for Democrat leaders.

The sickness of multipolarism

It is therefore only right for Europe to accept the challenge and, above all, to speak its mind (and to act) over the Neocon’s main aim: democracy in the Middle East. But the reality of our Middle East policy is different and it often goes hand in hand with cynicism and opportunism. Jacques Chirac applauding respect for human rights by Ben Ali’s regime? One thing is certain: Tunisian political prisoners will not forget. Brussels promoting ‘critical dialogue’ with Iran in order to get its hands on the Ayatollahs’ oil? Let’s not kid ourselves. The people on Teheran’s campuses, rounded up and pulled to pieces by the Pasdaran, will not ever look at us again with hope.

Obviously, the Neocons want above all to defend American national interests. But the promotion of democracy, often more an excuse than a noble objective for Wolfowitz and co., is an ideal really worth fighting for – if only to see whether the Bush administration is serious and indeed to criticise that administration, like Tony Blair does, by imposing the Road Map when it forgets, briefly, about Palestine.

But the Europe dominated by France and Germany, the one where the Stability Pact has been broken without even a hint of fair play, and where Chirac – him again – directed a brusque ‘shut up’ at the Poles over reform of the EU’s decrepit institutions, is adamant. It wants a ‘multipolar’ world even though war and repression are now the rule rather than the exception, increasingly causing troublesome collateral damage such as terrorism, the proliferation of weapons, illegal immigration and above all the crumbling of our increasingly multicultural, and alas multipolar, society. Even here. Even in the impregnable ‘Fortress Europe’.

Alternative strategies

In this world, the West cannot afford to be divided. In this world, Europe, even if ever more polarised, cannot afford to be passive. This is why the Neoconservatives represent a fine lesson in politics for us and, above all, an approaching challenge.

Europe must break the ice. If it believes that economic integration is really an effective way of resolving conflicts, proven in any case in its own history, it must prove it to the rest of the world. If it believed, rightly, that war wasn’t the best possible option to eradicate the cancer that was Saddam from the Middle East, it should have proposed alternative realistic solutions. Not the ‘inspections’ so dear to the heart of De Villepin which had failed in the past. Instead, promotion of human rights and international law, regional economic integration beyond the Nation State, forms of mass communication. This is what is needed. In order to diffuse doubt and dissent when censure and oppression reign. This is happening in our own backyard - in the Islamic world.

This is a strategy, with objectives and perhaps also in a style, that the ‘old’ continent can still permit which differs greatly from that of the Neocons. One thing, indeed, is certain: in our chromosome world wars, hot or cold, Holocausts and the thermonuclear abyss are too powerful to allow the importance of peace to be forgotten. This is a good thing. Naturally, without giving in to easy pacifism, and considering war nevertheless as a last resort, provided that an effective European army is created. But what we must demonstrate to the Neocons – and to the old war-horses – is that an alternative strategy does exist. And that this can be a European century - as long as it becomes federal.