European Modesty Instead of US Dominance

Article published on June 28, 2004
community published
Article published on June 28, 2004

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

To end the chaos in Iraq the USA must abandon their own interests and enter into compromises. In this respect they can learn a lot from Europe.

The Americans marched into Baghdad to overthrow a deadly and unscrupulous dictator and to create a democratic and prosperous country. Iraq was to be an example for the whole of the Middle East and a way to force other authoritarian regimes to reform. A grandiose plan, which failed in a most grandiose manner. Joy over freedom from the dictator only lasted a short time in the face of political incapacitation and thoughtlessness, with which every opposition had to be fought against. Without knowledge of the language and by showing no respect for the Iraqi culture, the occupiers damage the dignity and self-esteem of the Iraqis. The torture scandal in Abu-Ghraib prison, which under Saddam was a symbol of suppression, seems to confirm to some that there is more continuity than change.

The hope of an economic recovery, which would be combined with development aid and the end of embargoes, proved to be an illusion. The US Administration was more interested in shipping lucrative orders to its closest firms than in improving the situation in Iraq. Now abductions and general feelings of insecurity have compelled most Western firms to flee the country. The Iraq they leave behind is without water and electricity, there is no work and no hope of recovery.

All hopes pinned on Allawi

Now everything is set to change. Today the American occupiers handed over full sovereignty to an Iraqi caretaker government under the leadership of Iyad Allawi, ending the occupation period. Allawi should pave the way for free elections by the end of December 2004, supported and accompanied by the UN, while the US troops will stay in the country at the request of Allawi, in order to guarantee security and order until the Iraqi police forces can take over this role.

The UN Security Council reached this decision after long discussions, unanimously and with the approval of prominent anti-war powers like France and Germany. To some this seems to be important in setting the course for a solution to the Iraq conflict, and to others it seems to overcome the European division and to have bridged the transatlantic gulf. However, the question must be asked: How far does the new European unity really go? Moreover, can the resolution keep its promises? Europe seems to have moved closer together again. At first Paris and Berlin were almost isolated. Now with the election of Zapatero, Madrid has gone over to the side of the anti-war powers and even Blair has, in the face of the military situation and the never ending scandals, distanced himself from the USA. They therefore have no choice other than to comply with the new European Resolution. However, whether this is more a tactical adjustment or really gives an insight into the value of the UN is doubtful. Bush is characterised by a strong sense of mission and has never worried about the opinions of others. As soon as he can do without Europe, he will.

However, even if Bush believes it is possible to get by without Europe, Iraq cannot. The caretaker government is too weak to establish security, and as long as the Americans are regarded as occupiers they will continue to add to the violence rather than find a solution to it. The war has left Iraq a hotbed of terrorism; finding a solution to the problems there is in everyone's interest. That is why the presence of the Europeans is less a question of wanting to be there and more about necessity. However, the prerequisite was that the handing over of power today is not merely a superficial change.

Whether the situation will improve with the transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi government depends largely on the willingness of the USA to actually give up power. Allawi can only secure political legitimacy if he has the final say. As long as he appears to be a puppet of the Americans neither he, nor the police, nor his administration will be accepted and attacks will continue.

Many still have reservations as to whether the new resolution can contribute to a solution. In principle one must ask oneself whether the goals of the Americans are too ambitious. In the face of escalating violence, which hinders the establishment of new political, economic and social structures, the goal can only really be stability. To guarantee this the USA would have to fall back on existing structures, make compromises, unite tribal leaders and gain moderate ministry for them.

Compromises are a necessity

However, the American Master Plan for the ‘Greater Middle East’, which the G8 discussed at their summit in Georgia, reveals a lack of sensitivity, little willingness to compromise or little sign of modesty. It treats countries from Morocco to Pakistan as a unit even though all they have in common is the fact they are Muslim. The plan also draws up a catalogue of reforms without consulting or uniting these countries. In the majority, they refused the plan. In the European-Mediterranean Partnership the EU is offering a tried and tested alternative. The idea that democracy must come from within requires a civil society, media and intercultural dialogue. This is a long-term project and doesn’t correspond to the acute need for security, stability and development of Iraq. However, the USA could learn one thing from this: To achieve change you need a partner you can take seriously, to whom you can show respect, who includes you in discussions and who must have the final say.