Beyond the Drumbeat: Iraq, Preventive War, 'Old Europe'

Article excerpt

The letter of support, signed by the leaders of eight European countries last January, for the Bush administration's inexorable push for war with Iraq was both singularly ideological and shortsighted. The list of values that the signatories claim to share with the United States is altogether unexceptionable: "democracy, individual freedom, human rights, and the rule of law." But there is a crying omission: free-market capitalism. This omission is all the more striking since there is no fathoming the infamous terrorist attack of September 11, 2001 without bearing in mind that its main target was the World Trade Center, a prominent symbol and hub of globalizing capitalism.

It is no less striking that the signatories should still, at this late date, embrace the hallowed but highly debatable Cold War interpretation of the presumably indispensable place of the United States in the recent history of Europe: "Thanks in large part to American bravery, generosity, and farsightedness, Europe was set free from the two forms of tyranny that devastated our continent in the 20th century: Nazism and Communism." The facts are that in both world wars Washington was an ally of last resort. in 1914-1918, as in 1941-1945, Europe's blood sacrifice was immeasurably greater and more punishing than America's. To be sure, the Allies might not have won the day without Uncle Sam's intervention; perhaps one should recall that Washington's contribution was primarily material, financial, and ideological.

Certainly during the Second World War the Red Army contributed infinitely more "blood, sweat, and tears" than the U.S. military to turning the tide of battle against the Axis powers in Europe. Had the Red Army not broken the back of the Wehrmacht in 1942-1943, more than likely the American-led landings in Normandy in June 1944 would have turned into a tragic bloodbath. Moreover, during that war, unlike the European and Soviet noncombatants who died in the millions, the United States civilian deaths were infinitesimal by comparison. This anomaly largely explains the avenging furor of Americans in the wake of September 11, which ended the self-perceived innocence of U.S. exceptionalism. Protected, as always, by two oceans, the United States means to keep its own casualties to an absolute minimum. It may even be said to be looking for, perhaps demanding or even buying, cannon fodder (and sinews of war and occupation) among both the cautious governments that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has labeled "old Eur ope" and the mainly eastern European countries we might call the "new-old Europe."

Inasmuch as the eight signatories implicitly subscribe to the Bush administration's loudly trumpeted and not so novel doctrine of preemptive or preventive war, they ought to remember that the logic of preventive war played a central role at two crucial turning points of the Thirty Years' War of the twentieth century: in July-August 1914, Kaiser William II and his advisors precipitated war to forestall the balance of military power turning to the advantage of the Entente in 1917, when Tsarist Russia was expected to complete the modernization and preparedness of its armed forces; in the spring of 1941, Hitler rushed into war against the Soviet Union to avoid having to face Stalin in the spring of 1942, when the Red Army was expected to complete its modernization and preparedness. Since this history is as well known to the "new-old" Europeans--seeking to demonstrate fealty to their new American friends--as it is to the cautious schismatics of the "old," both Europes might wish to remind their Washington colleag ues that the logic of preventive war also significantly informed the preparation and timing of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor. And they might want to remind Bush and his strategists that all three meticulously planned preventive wars had enormous unintended consequences: Verdun, Stalingrad, Auschwitz, Dresden, Hiroshima.

It is a truism that the United Nations Security Council, to "maintain its credibility" must "ensure full compliance with its resolutions. …