Coalition of the Unwilling

Article excerpt


"Is it a revolt?" asked Louis XVI as angry rioters went rampaging through the boulevards. "No Sire," was the reply, "it's a revolution."

This exchange comes to mind in discussions about the rift between the United States and "Old Europe" that has widened over the war with Iraq. The Europeans are not just resenting the American power play, they are staging a virtual revolution against an ally who has infuriated them by upsetting their cherished balance of power.

Abetted by a politically compromised leadership in Germany, eager to divert attention from a severe economic crisis culminating in a staggering unemployment rate is 111/2 percent, a boost from Moscow and backed by the non-aligned bloc of 114 unwilling nations, the French are seizing this crucial moment to restore the power balance that once preserved the status quo.

There is no better barometer for the state of trans-Atlantic relations than the annual Munich Conference on Security Policy chaired by the scholarly Horst Teltschik, former Chancellor Helmut Kohl's trusted foreign affairs adviser. It was the forum outspoken Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and a delegation of high-powered senators had chosen to sell the American concept of a war against Iraq, with or without the support of its allies or the United Nations Security Council, to a generally skeptical elite from some 40, mostly European, countries.

There was little agreement. Questions about the administration's ulterior motives, above all the interest in oil by oilman George W. Bush and Co. and the troubling connection to Israel, took first place.

At the same time it became apparent that the perception of the deadly threat of the "new" terrorism, inflicted by al Qaeda, Hamas, the Taliban and other groups not interested in bargaining but in mass casualties, was not shared by many. The rationale being, perhaps, an assumption that the target of such attacks, most likely, would be the United States.

To be sure, the estrangement between Americans and Europeans not only concerns Iraq. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, differing worldviews and interests emerged as Europe began to examine the rationale for its traditional trans-Atlantic partnership in the context of its new European Union identity.

While there is a consensus about the threat posed by the murderous tyrant of Baghdad with terrorist ties, who has resisted demands for total disarmament for 12 years, differences became insurmountable about the ways and means to complete this risky mission that could destabilize the region and inflame the Muslim world.

Not to speak of the Bush administration's insistence on regime change that, according to French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, is in conflict with the rules of international law.

The administration's timely response to the traumatic terrorist attack of September 11, 2001, that shaped President Bush's doctrine of preventive war as an alternative to Europe's failing containment practice, was rejected by the most influential allies. For the first time, Europe's finest openly chose to challenge American "cowboy" power politics that had them cut down to size. Not since European demonstrators marched against the war in Vietnam have anti-American hostilities been more intense.

Starting with the Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis to build a coalition of the unwilling, French Premier Jacques Chirac was quick to grasp the reins of the leaderless European Union to assert European independence and France's gloire by blocking American "colonial" aspirations. …