COVER STORY: by Max TeichmannNews Weekly
Iraq: America's dilemma
, September 21, 2002
The Iraq question has become an agent of momentous change in global politics, with particular emphasis bearing upon Europe, the Middle East and major international institutions such as the UN, NATO, and possibly the EU. There is also a fierce battle going on for the "soul" of America - one in which George W. Bush is ahead - at the moment.
The first crisis exists in the UN Security Council, which has proved over the years to be more often than not inconsistent and inefficacious; partly because of the veto powers possessed by each of the five members. The Russians aborted many a Council resolution during the Cold War. Israel has been protected by US vetoes, while happily defying Council Resolutions she just didn't like. And, so has Saddam.
In practice, nothing decisive can be authorised without all permanent powers agreeing.
We already have been told by China that she will veto any Western attempt to mount a major intrusion into Iraq, almost irrespective of the circumstances. Russia (who may be wheeling and dealing for some unstated concession for herself) is also talking about the use of the veto. This would let France off the hook, for Chirac has been expressing similar views.
The fact is, the Council and NATO are both split and likely to remain so. Demands that the US only act when the Security Council, etc., give her the go ahead are being made by people who know that the Americans are most unlikely to get that approval, almost irrespective of what Saddam does.
The US has not accepted this situation in the past when she considers her survival, or even her core interests to be at stake; nor is she likely to now.
Nor is she likely to accept some souped up last minute promises to co-operate and be good, by Saddam, brokered by the UN to a choir of left newspaper reporters. We have watched this type of vaudeville show dragging on between Israel and the Arabs, between India and Pakistan, between Iraq and the West, and I don't see the US having the patience this time.
America is in a cleft stick. If she attacks and wins she will be drenched with abuse, from the Muslim world, from anti-Americans everywhere, from European governments realising that they are irrelevant, and from the various international bodies who have tried to pin the US down so that they can continue monopolising centre stage.
But, if America goes into Iraq and loses or is bogged down, she will suffer a reverse as serious as she did in Vietnam, even worse. The global system could be gravely disrupted - including the world economy.
Whereas if Bush and Blair back away, Saddam will be seen as the Saladin of the Muslims, no need for Osama bin Ladin. Once again the West would be facing a perilous future, as would Israel. Europe might accept endless rebuffs and diktats; but Israel won't. In fact, not one. So, in a sense, the US is damned if she does and damned if she doesn't.
There has been a global alliance slowly collecting, composed of the most disparate elements, following upon the US inheriting the mantle of the world's greatest power - with a measure of dominance not encountered since the Pax Britannica
. America has been trying to combine the role of being nice, and of getting her own way - but it isn't working.
If she relinquishes the aspiration of getting her own way, then other lesser actors are emboldened to get theirs. And she receives no thanks for being nice when she is
nice. Carter tried, and Clinton tried - and both simply encouraged enemies and rivals to increase in power. They left the world in greater disarray than when they first took office; with Americans confused and divided.
The Arab League is talking of the gates of hell being opened if the Anglo-Americans move. One understands the Arab elite's alarm - they risk an almighty explosion of public rage, in which they could be swept away. If Muslims cannot successfully attack America or Israel, they might vent their rage against their own elites.
European governments have similar fears - the backlash from their resident Muslims, and Europe's patent inability to deal with terrorist movements, e.g., ETA, the IRA, the KLA in Europe, Greece's November 17 radical leftist urban guerrillas. This last group killed 23 people, including British, American and Turkish diplomats, but has lived happily in Greece all that time. They have just been rounded up now because of the 2004 Games.
Terrorists, especially if anti-US or anti-Israeli, have dwelt in Europe almost without hindrance, in the past - so weak and corrupt are many European regimes.
In the world as it is evolving, Europe might like to become a community of Switzerlands devoted to material pursuits, and saying "count us out". Who would wish to stop them, so long as Europe still doesn't want a big say in matters of great importance to others? But it does - or the elites do - for there is money, and trade out there. So like most of America's detractors and spoilers, Europe wants to have her cake and eat it, too.
This was the attitude of the Europeans in the run-up to 1939, as it was while the Turks approached Constantinople. Third time lucky?