[adapted and translated from GegenStandpunkt: Politische Vierteljahreszeitschrift 1–03, Gegenstandpunkt Verlag, Munich]
America is going to have its war on Iraq: the aims of the troop deployments — “disarmament” and “regime change” — leave no doubt about it. Ever since the only remaining superpower learned that it, too, can be attacked on its own territory, it has considerably broadened its view of its own vulnerability: there are unbearable nations; nations that simply stand against America’s cause by exercising their sovereignty and pursuing their interests. America no longer endures such states; it demands a world of unconditionally pro-American states.
The world power learned a lesson from the attacks of September 11, 2001; namely, a lesson about exactly what Bush junior had already made the centerpiece of his election campaign and subsequent government program: his great nation has to once and for all define security as having no bounds, and complete its control over the globe. The president used the attacks as an opportunity to present the right to monopolize control over the world of states as a practical requirement of American everyday life. His nation imagines itself shaken to its very foundations by the last of its openly-declared enemies, fanatical secret societies largely without means; and in his promise to fight for real “security” for Americans in their “homeland” and its worldwide dependencies, he links this illusion to some absolutely un-ideological plain English: American interests are threatened everywhere just because they are ubiquitous; their security, in fact, cannot be guaranteed without complete control over the global balance of power. To that end, the world power claims all states as auxiliary troops and confronts them with the sixty-four thousand dollar question: are you for me or against me? Sovereigns that do not subordinate their “vital interests” to American requirements for purging and controlling are marked as spiritual forerunners, protectors, and sponsors “of terror,” whether or not they actually sympathize with the pious terror of islamists.1
The superpower did not have to change its standpoint one bit to arrive at the right to have complete control of foreign sovereignty; only the circumstances have changed. Until a decade ago, the U.S. was confronted with an enemy that, thanks to its own considerable capacity for waging a world war, could not be controlled and blackmailed; so that, on the one hand, the U.S. saw itself forced into a certain arrangement with this deviant state will, and compelled to pay it a certain respect. On the other hand, even at that time, the leading nation of the “free world” suffered so profoundly from this restriction on its might that it also expended enormous parts of its national product in arming for strategic victory in a nuclear war against the rival superpower. “God’s own country” left no doubt about its readiness for a nuclear world war — as it is, it waged enough wars below this threshold; until the Soviet “militarists” finally capitulated. Now, without any equally matched opponent, the winner of the Cold War wonders why it should put up with unauthorized behavior on the part of other sovereigns. And the more touchy America becomes, the more unbearable become the few states that were disturbing it even before “9/11” and were already targeted as enemies: they are the first centers of terror that America will no longer endure.
Iraq, defeated by Bush senior 12 years ago, largely disarmed and starved since then, now completely preoccupied with surviving as a state, has earned itself the role of second target of the anti-terror campaign precisely because it provoked America to war at that earlier time, and survived it. The fact alone that its leading figure, Saddam Hussein, has remained in office despite numerous assassination attempts and CIA-staged revolts, despite economic ruin due to embargo and the on-going mutilation of its sovereignty by no-fly-zones and periodic bombardments, this fact is sufficient proof for the U.S. that Iraq has not “learned its lesson” and given up its unlawful national ambitions. Bush and his staff don’t feel the need to verify whether Saddam still intends to incorporate Kuwait or other neighbors, unite the Arabs, and destroy Israel — nor whether he could do any of this even if he wanted to. It is not his actual capabilities that make him dangerous but rather the demanding American standard by which he is judged: Saddam cheated the victor of the first American-Iraqi war out of regime change and unconditional surrender — without which the superpower just does not consider its wars to be successfully concluded. It suffers from “partial” victories like other states suffer from defeats — just remember Vietnam and the “trauma” following that war. Letting a rogue regime get off with a punishment that it submits to unwillingly and helplessly is just not enough. Anything less than the explicit acceptance of American supremacy is seen as making a mockery of America’s might and encouraging other rogue states to insubordination — regardless of the fact that a ruined and destitute Iraq doesn’t exactly constitute a good example to emulate. Anything less damages the superpower’s authority. And this authority is restored when the president pointedly demonstrates zero tolerance to the rest of the world by completing the unfinished job of punishing Iraq.
Since Iraq’s real crime against the New World Order is certain, there is no doubt about the crimes it is actually charged with: it is capable of simply anything at all. Whether or not Saddam really is in cahoots with Osama bin Laden is unimportant in the face of American certainty that their hatred of their common enemy, as well as their ambitions, are bound to bring them together. Whether or not Iraq still has any remaining stocks of so-called weapons of mass destruction is irrelevant in view of the fact that the country with definitely the most, and most effective, weapons of mass destruction knows only too well how necessary these gadgets are for an ambitious state — all the more so in the neighborhood of Israel, which America has supplied with the same. According to Bush’s indictment, this outlaw is particularly dangerous due to its being “potentially rich,” i.e., its oil could open up access to money and all the instruments of state power if its sale were permitted again. So now America is proceeding to eliminate the potential danger; the regime is in for a disarmament that it won’t survive this time around.
At the same time, the president makes no bones about the fact that both the aim and the benefit of the campaign reach beyond the immediate enemy: Iraq’s example shows the U.S. that the entire Middle East is a case of inadequate control. In some countries of the region, an Arab or Islamic nationalism pits itself against the ruling pro-American elite; in others, the rejection of Israel and its great sponsor is even a state program. And everywhere in the region, the unreliability of states coincides with enormous revenues from oil exports. Via the price of raw materials, so-to-speak, the centers of global capitalism in the West subsidize the financial capability for wrongdoing by Middle Eastern entities. In order that these dangerous inflows of money not get into the wrong hands, and the petrodollars not strengthen the wrong person, Bush strives for a new control over the balance of power in the oil region; the present combination of integration and deterrence in the Middle East is no longer sufficient for him. To the American taste, integration and deterrence offer the states of the region too much freedom to develop their own interests and resources, which America then feels as a restriction. That is why the U.S. no longer contents itself with giving Israel military and financial encouragement for its far-reaching security policy that keeps its Islamic neighbors in check. Bush intends to use the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the subsequent occupation regime as levers to rearrange the entire Middle East. The unreliable “problem states” there still have many a regime change to go before there sit nothing but sovereigns that use their might and money in line with the American world power from the outset, and not just due to threats.
So this war is in fact about the black stuff — yet somewhat more fundamentally than the accusation of a quasi-colonial theft of raw materials would have it. America is perfecting its control over the balance of power in the oil region: in the first place, in order to secure the role of the oil states to serve the capitalist world, and to rule out any anti-American misuse of petrodollars. Secondly, in order to be the first to lay hands on this basic nutrient of global capitalism so as to become the guarantor of the global energy supply; which means being able to either grant or deny friend and foe alike access to this indispensable stuff, and dictate the terms and conditions for both.
Having resolved to attack Iraq, America is also revising its relations with the rest of the world of states, spelling out the meaning of the New World Order proclaimed by Bush senior, and which Bush junior intends to complete: Washington controls the global use of force and wages war whenever and against whomever it sees fit. Whatever internal or external use of power other sovereigns may make is subject to American assessment, and is supported, tolerated, or suppressed according to the constellation of its interests at any given time. This announcement causes imperialistic consternation among those powers that have what it takes to calculate along similar lines; especially so then among the Western partners who have made themselves at home in the American-led world, blossomed into economic giants and imperialistic challengers and are now working to emancipate themselves little by little from their leading nation. Bush’s version of the “Western community of values” is tantamount to a cancellation of the role they have been playing, and a veto of the role they are striving to play. At the same time, they are being claimed in a new way by the supreme power: namely, as vassals that have to put their capacities at the service of, and supply back-up armies for, American control over the globe.
No doubt, the American need for controlling and ordering is clearly understood in the countries that until recently were called “the West.” One is all-too-familiar with that need: for bringing about “security” and stability in faraway regions, watching out for other governments’ respect for human rights, intervening — even militarily — whenever this respect is lacking, securing the supply of oil and other raw materials along with their transport routes — all this is not just America’s cause alone, but also “our cause” for Europe as well. Calculating imperialistically is a matter of course for the European partners, as much as for their public opinion; at least since the buzzword “globalization” got “us” used to the fact that “we” cannot ignore any corner of the earth because “our interests” are affected by chaos, crisis and wrong rule everywhere. For that very reason, however, Europeans don’t by any means approve of the American program for creating a world order — on the contrary: Europeans have their own idea of where the wrong people rule, where the progress of human rights warrants a war, and where peoples need to be freed from tyrants — for instance in the Balkans. And they also know where this is less appropriate: in Iraq, for example. The European powers do not feel threatened by Iraq’s weapons, having wanted for a long time to be rid of the Anglo-American sanction regime and get official permission for resuming business with Iraq — unofficially quite a bit of business goes on anyway. Germany protested as early as the mid-nineties through low-level diplomatic channels, while France and Russia insisted in 1998 on a final report of the weapons inspectors and an end to sanctions.
Now the U.S. demands that the old partners see themselves threatened by weapons that trouble America alone, treat as enemies whomever America won’t tolerate, and make their soldiers available to fight them. America makes its globally defined security the business of its partners, and demands sacrifices for it: they have to actively isolate America’s enemies and break off economic relations with them, which means renouncing business deals along with their own imperialistic influence. And this damage to their nations’ sources of wealth is not restricted to such damage as may be associated with the enemy currently caught in the crosshairs. By planning a war right in the middle of a global economic crisis, the world power ruins business conditions to an absolutely unforeseeable degree, expecting its partners and competitors to put up with this damage to their economic strength. They have to subordinate their economic rivalry to the security requirements of the supreme power. And not just by willingly accepting losses.
Because even more, they still have to earn their access to foreign wealth by actively serving as vassals for American supremacy. Bush explicitly stresses this point when he threatens to exclude states that do not join in the attack of Iraq from the future distribution of oil concessions. Here, the president recalls an imperialistic truth that has nearly sunk into oblivion: the amount of freedom that nations wring from, and concede to, each other to make mutual use of each other and the rest of the world is a result of strategic relations of super- and subordination between imperialistic powers. America organizes world market competition and decisively defines its rules. Competing nations have to understand that their permission to seek their economic advantage on this basis cannot be taken for granted but has to be regained over and over again — by contributing to the consolidation and strengthening of these same power relations.
For these duties, the Americans have in mind getting some further benefit from the historically outdated anti-Soviet military alliance: they demand that the North Atlantic defense pact be reorganized as an instrument of their global interventionism. Independent of any official resolution regarding this change of function, they lay claim to NATO infrastructure, to allied bases as well as air and transport routes, for their war on Iraq, nudging the reluctant alliance into the role of near-collaborators by means of the war itself: European naysayers are reminded of their duties through the dubious determination that Turkey is threatened by Iraqi retaliation after a strike, the alliance therefore being obliged to lend its support.
Of course, this alliance always followed American leadership, and the leading nation has always seen it as an instrument of its global monopoly on war. But in the first place, the partners, in view of their confrontation with the Soviet “system,” had their own interest in subordination to their bigger brother, and reaped their own imperialistic benefits from the American “nuclear shield,” as the threat of nuclear world war against Eastern Europe used to be called. And secondly, it was not only the capitalist states of Europe that needed the alliance with the world power. The latter, too, was dependent on strongholds on its “strategic opposite shore” and consequently showed consideration for the interests of its European partners. Now, the U.S. calls on its partners’ loyalty to the alliance for a war in which no European interest is to be seen, while pointedly freeing itself from any reciprocal obligations. It no longer feels bound by NATO voting procedures and the obligation to reach a consensus, it no longer wants to wage an allied war — called “war by committee” in the U.S. — but instead forges a “coalition of the willing” whenever required, and in such a way that none of the participants gain the opportunity of joining in the determination of the objectives and the means of warfare.
Accordingly, the United States sees itself in the position to assign the U.N. the role it actually always intended the U.N. to have: that of a body that elevates American dominion over the world of states to the status of collectively approved legality, and thus to a recognized world order. In the past, the U.S. may well have had to share its supervision of the world’s sovereigns with the four other veto-wielding powers on the U.N. Security Council — a “just war” could not be decided on against their interests. Today though, the U.S. maintains the view that even this respect paid the other victors of the Second World War was a concession temporarily necessary due to the self-assertion of the Russian and Chinese enemies as well as to the resulting dependency on allies. Even during the Cold War, the U.S. was not prepared to make compromises, so the U.N. was repeatedly blocked; now America refuses to compromise more than ever. Yet the U.N. might be “able to act” at last on condition that its important member states agree to unequivocally approve and support the American march to war without objection, correction, or any say at all. If the U.N. is useless here, its global political role is no longer justified.
The very style of America’s appearances in New York conveys this message. President Bush does not approach the Security Council to seek permission for his war; rather, he reminds the Council of its duties and threatens not to respect its resolutions unless they turn out according to his wishes. In his eyes, it is not America whose actions need to be legitimized by the U.N., but the other way around: the U.N. may legitimately continue to exist only if it earns American approval. Not without irony, Bush reminds the assembled great powers that their resolutions are of value — and hence their influence in world politics has substance — only to the extent that they stand behind America’s military resolve and capability. If they want to have their word respected, they are well advised to only pass resolutions like those the U.S. would execute on its own without prior U.N. consent. In the name of respect for the authority of the United Nations, the president demands its unconditional subordination to the American dictate. Either way, the old veto-wielding powers must subscribe to their own downgrading; both their ‘yea’ and their ineffectual ‘nay’ show that they cannot interfere in the superpower’s affairs.
Such an assignment of roles provokes a reaction from the other imperialistic states. The European powers and others do not intend to accept the establishment of an American order in which there is no scope for their own rival ambitions. They take up the challenge and look for a way to put forward their rejection — bearing in mind, of course, the caliber of the opponent they are picking an argument with. They do not respond to American interests with own, opposing, interests, nor with countermeasures, but resort to a dispute about the legitimacy of the planned war. Where the Americans annul the common foundation of the “West,” or rather redefine it as the unequivocal subordination of vassals, the downgraded nations both cautiously and doggedly insist on a common legal finding in questions of war, and refuse to accept the American offensive as a “just war.”
The members of the anti-war faction in the Security Council deliberately misinterpret the American demand for their ‘yea’ to its war, and read it the other way around: their ‘yea’ has been requested, Bush has approached them and so acknowledges their shared responsibility in matters of war and peace. Therefore, they are also entitled to critically appraise his preventive war in the light of international law. While the U.S. will not tolerate anything but allegiance, the nations addressed take refuge in handed-down U.N. traditions, acting as if this body had been invited to make decisions, and thereby denying the Americans the transition to war they demand.
They read the Americans’ moral denunciation of the criminal in Baghdad — Saddam mocks U.N. resolutions and flouts the disarmament spelled out to him — as a quasi-legal indictment, and reserve for themselves the right to examine its validity. In the process, the members of the Security Council seriously make as if the matter at hand were about the international community agreeing on a shared threat analysis, determining the extent and urgency of the danger emanating from Iraq, and taking countermeasures on a par with the established threat to “secure world peace.” On the basis on this fiction, both sides fabricate a joint interest in completing Iraq’s disarmament of weapons of mass destruction decreed by the U.N. years ago. Neither side genuinely shares this interest, but it serves to obligate the other side to solutions and consequences it doesn’t like at all. The Americans want to get rid of the regime, not scrap a few weapons that it may still possess. Their opponents pretend that scrapping the weapons in a joint, extensive operation would be equivalent to a regime change, and a peaceful alternative at that. In any case, they are not seriously bothered by Iraq’s weapons. From their point of view, the whole problem has been forced on them solely by the uncompromising American will to war. In the interest of establishing a mutual concern, they endorse the American right to a defenseless Iraq, accepting that weapons of mass destruction in its hands are unlawful only in order on the basis of this commonality to thwart America’s will to war. With diplomatic hypocrisy, they stick to the very legitimation under international law that the U.S. offers for its military campaign, acknowledging this legitimation but not the true war aims, and offering a better path to a goal the U.S. doesn’t pursue in the least.
The faction of the Security Council critical of America alters the function of the sections of international law Bush has offered them, turning them against their inventor. Bush has offered the veto-wielding and other powers the opportunity to legitimize his war as a bridge over which they could follow him while at the same time keeping up the appearance of following their own judgment. In return for not making any trouble about yea-saying, they get the appearance of American respect for the responsibility of the Security Council in matters of war, and the appearance that their vote still counts. Nevertheless, they take face-saving much more seriously, and try to commit the U.S. to a “peaceful disarmament of Iraq.”
To that end, they make a deal with the U.S. — the oft-quoted resolution 1441 — to recognize disarmament as the official aim of the international community, and secondly, to have American charges be verified internationally through a second round of weapons inspections. In return, they too threaten Iraq with “serious consequences” in case of non-compliance with the search. The wording of the resolution is just far enough from a clear threat of war that the majority in the Security Council can interpret it as a move towards a new regime of inspections and sanctions, and insist on not having signed a license to shoot — “no automatic response.” At the same time, it is close enough to a threat of war that the U.S. is able to maintain that it has not been fettered by the Security Council, but rather has already obtained sufficient consent with this formulation not to require any further, explicit authorization for war.
Logically enough, the inspection teams achieve opposite results for the U.S. and its opponents, thus offering a further area for purely fictitious communality. The U.S. is determined to use the inspectors to supply, or if need be to fabricate, evidence of Iraq’s lies and deceptions, so that the other states cannot but give their consent. This is why it insists on a corresponding version of the inspectors’ mandate: Iraq must prove that it does not have the weapons it is suspected of having — which is impossible; to that end, Iraq must declare in advance what it has and on which military programs it is working. If the inspectors find something undeclared, then the rogue is found guilty. If they find nothing, then this is proof of the criminal energy Saddam spends on hiding what hasn’t been found. In the end, since nothing is found, the U.S. takes this as direct proof of the failure to cooperate on the part of the Iraqi authorities; otherwise, scores of prohibited things would have turned up after all. The other faction in the Security Council uses the inspectors as an institution to express their mistrust of Bush. If the inspectors find nothing, Iraq is not found guilty. In that case the search must continue, and Hans Blix and his team must be given as much time as they need — if possible, more time than is compatible with a desert war at comfortable outside temperatures. Anyhow, this faction understands the inspection regime — which is to supply America with reasons for war and nothing else — as an alternative method of disarmament, by which the “danger coming from Iraq” is gradually reduced to zero. They appreciate the deployment of 200,000 U.S. soldiers as a helpful background threat for their own form of crisis management — as if the soldiers had been assembled for this reason! Should the inspectors actually find forbidden weapons, these could easily be destroyed under such “pressure.” More force than that would not be justified unless the international community came to the conclusion that Iraq were obstructing the inspection regime.
The U.N. controls, which the opponents have created for themselves as an objective inspection authority, and with whose help each side would obligate and bind the other, are consequently suitable diplomatic machinations for these struggles. It is utterly important that Saddam open all his doors to the inspectors, and he is increasingly urged by all sides to cooperate without condition. At the same time, this is absolutely irrelevant, since the evidence, whether fabricated or genuine, gains its importance from nothing but the assessment of the evidence, which the world powers in the Council reserve for themselves.
All statements on this topic are pretense. The representatives of all states that want to have a say express their abhorrence at Saddam Hussein. They call him a wicked tyrant and a danger to mankind precisely because this is the required, common diplomatic ground for anyone who wants to oppose the American will to war at the level of its legitimacy. The members of the Security Council voice their opinions on the existence or non-existence of weapons of mass destruction — while, in reality, they are only talking about their relation to the superpower, namely, whether they would defy it or would rather not. Those who have the nerve to further escalate the confrontation with Washington believe in the “success and usefulness of inspections,” and in the “possibility of a peaceful disarmament of Iraq.” Governments that want to take the opportunity to announce their agreement with the U.S. or withdraw previous objections appear “impressed and disturbed” by Powell’s “evidence” before the Security Council — not because they had gotten to hear something new or better than his old charges, but because they infer from his theatrical presentation that America is resolved to go to war — and then want to be on the right side.
Diplomatic hypocrisy, like every hypocrisy, contains a straightforward message: all those who dispute the justification of the planned war, considering it as a last resort in order to reject it as long as all “peaceful means” have not been exhausted; all those who seek to reach a common definition of the problem in terms of international law in order to challenge America’s right to its own conclusions; they all, notwithstanding their opposition, signal that they are unwilling to abandon the field of cooperation in the imperialistic matter of ordering the world, that they would rather get the Americans to be willing to cooperate. The U.S. is to allow the old partners a say when selecting its enemies, the means of fighting them, and the aims of the postwar order. In return, one would be ready for a certain degree of subordination while cooperating.
The nations that threaten to use their veto in the Security Council certainly do not attach any other meaning to this step. From the Americans’ informing them who would have to take the blame in case of a split in the supreme body — the “international community” or the United States — they have long since gathered that, although America is keen to win legitimacy for its actions, it does not need it at all. So they resort, with their hints of a ‘nay,’ to the feeble aim of being granted the opportunity for an agreement on the basis of a more acceptable resolution.
The European refusal front also supplements its stalling tactics in the Security Council with arguments of a more solicitous nature. Its members never tire of warning the U.S. of the dangers and counterproductive effects of its march to war: how the war could cause the entire Middle East to “explode,” triggering uncontrollable anti-Americanism in the region as well as new terrorist attacks against “the West” while “solving” nothing in Iraq; the latter would have to be occupied for decades and re-educated if it were to be made both stable and calculable after a war. — Is Bush’s America really prepared for this? These kind of warnings, which ostensibly echo America’s standpoint on control only to put the U.S. off its course for war, are ridiculous. Indeed, Bush does want to shake up the Middle East; an Iraq in ruins is still much too stable for him. He himself does expect new terrorist attacks after his strike — and that’s just one more reason for him to smoke out everything in the Arab-Islamic world. The President is not surprised that local fighters feel provoked to attack; it is rather the fact that they continue and are able to be there that is, in his eyes, the scandal he intends to eliminate. Even more absurd is the concern that other nations might take a page out of the preventive war book and imitate the American example — as if a pre-emptive strike on other countries didn’t require a little more than the erosion of the apparently outdated U.N. ban on aggression. When the Europeans finally come out with their concern that the “coalition against terror” could break up in case of war, that surely doesn’t do the trick with the Americans, either; what America understands, however, is that those who sound warnings of anti-Americanism on the part of other nations and religions are cautiously threatening with an anti-Americanism of their own. After all, who would be able to exact substantial concessions from the coalition against terror if not the next most powerful nations after the U.S.?
In the form of a theatre, where cooperation is conjured up only in order to enforce it, the naysayers in the U.N. Security Council then really begin their confrontation with the United States. Their transatlantic partner is dead serious about renewing and completing its leadership over its rival co-imperialists. They see themselves compelled to defend their status as a matter of principle. They know that what America is now pushing through, and their response, will set the course for how the superpower treats them in the future. They wonder about their place in the new American world order, and to what extent their interests will still count. They have to weigh up the alternatives: what would happen if they were to balk at confronting America without ever standing their ground; or could they afford to refuse the Americans, and bear the transatlantic rift they would thereby risk. The negative starting point of every calculation — determining which position minimizes one’s nation’s losses, when there is absolutely nothing to be gained — forces America’s partners, old and new, to face painful alternatives, splitting every nation internally and dividing the allies. A struggle commences between them about who can drum up how much support for their position, and who can isolate whom. In all abstractness, this is the struggle to redefine imperialistic power relations. Iraq and all the references made to it are but symbols for what can be demanded from, or has to be conceded to, America, and consequently from or to one another.
America demands that its old and new allies kindly subordinate themselves to its requirements for completing its control over the world of states, and to put their pertinent capabilities at America’s disposal; and this ultimatum is directed toward partners who intend to remain partners — at least the kind of partners who have the ear of the supreme power, and whose national ambitions to participate in controlling the world of states can be brought to bear on, and be accommodated by, the American program. However, this is precisely what the U.S. more explicitly than ever rules out. Its call for subordination contains not offers, but threats: anyone turning down its proposal will not only be passed over but deflated as well. Secretary of State Powell compares the naysayers to de Gaulle and his longstanding offense, accusing them of like acts of sabotage, of deliberately damaging the world power, and of being chummy with Saddam Hussein. They are to be excluded from making economic use of the Middle East and, beyond that, from taking part in global political decisions. Presidential adviser Perle sees Germany being made “irrelevant.”
All the concerned, second-rank powers deem it necessary to stop the U.S. on its chosen path and bring it back on the “path of multilateralism,” as they put it. Supporters and rebels alike fight to be recognized as partners entitled to have their say by reminding their transatlantic partner of some service they render — and under circumstances in which their service is no longer worth anything. In this difficult undertaking, they have to balance the right degree of readiness to cooperate, meant to bind America, against the necessary degree of refusal, meant to teach America the value of cooperation. This delicate balance leads America’s partners to assert themselves in opposite directions.
Even the British, who so ardently drum up support for the war and back up every bit of American instigation, are affected by the course pursued by the U.S. government and fight against their imperialistic degradation. Blair bases his stance toward Iraq on his relation to Washington being vital for Great Britain and its role in the world. He doesn’t make common cause with the Americans on account of British interests in Iraq; quite the opposite: it is only due to Britain’s “special relationship” that he makes the overthrow of Saddam a British cause. At the same time, Blair endeavors to integrate Bush into the procedures of the “community of nations,” to prevent him from “going it alone,” and to tie him down to “legislation” in the Security Council, by which Bush no longer wants to be “fettered” under any circumstances. To obtain a hearing for their concerns, the British show unconditional loyalty to a partner that can’t bear having partners anymore — not such a brilliant means of exerting pressure. At home, even from his own party, Blair gets to hear himself accused of being “Bush’s poodle” — a vassal whose avid allegiance is not rewarded, hence is not useful for the British nation. At any rate, the prime minister tries his best under the circumstances for the imperialistic importance of his country. With the argument that Europe could only lose out in a confrontation with the superpower, he demands the European Union pledge allegiance firstly to America, the world’s leading power, and secondly to him as the mediator who could at least persuade the U.S. to respect a formal, European supra-nationalism even though America turns its back on things like that. Backed by America’s weighty threat, Blair tries to get England the leading role in world politics within the E.U., while at the same time making Bush aware of the value of a partner “who delivers Europe.” To bind the E.U. to this balancing act, he delivers an ultimatum similar to America’s. Rather than bringing his argument to bear in a common search for a European standpoint, Blair instead sides in practice with the U.S., sends troops to the Gulf, and thus makes his stand: there will be no unified European position unless the others follow him.
In order to reject the American and, in its wake, the British claims for leadership, France and Germany join together in refusing to comply. They confront the U.S. with the question of whether it can really forgo cooperation with the central states of Europe and really so easily replace an “old Europe,” now become irrelevant, with Poland, Latvia, and the like, as it professes. They counter America’s termination of old relations with the counter threat of termination on their part, which they don’t want in the least; what they want is to compel their big partner to understand the necessity of the partnership, so they can get back to doing business with the U.S., but under more favorable conditions. They accept a worsening of relations in order by sheer defiance to obtain more consideration. No wonder that the German opposition, the mirror image of their English counterparts, criticizes the riskiness of this course of action, painting a gloomy picture of the damage that threatens the nation if America isolates them.
France has from the very beginning given simultaneous expression to the fundamental and relative aspects of its ‘nay.’ ‘La Grande Nation’ defends its role as an imperialistic power with veto rights in the Security Council. As long as the U.S. still shows any interest at all in the world’s allegiance, France wishes to obligate America to kowtow to the resolution-passing committee of the “international community,” which involves an autonomous examination of American charges, inspections, and a disarmament of Iraq with as peaceful means as possible. But France’s unwillingness to tolerate American unilateralism admittedly also has the other meaning for Chirac: in case of emergency, France reserves the right to shoot, too — yet another way of thwarting unilateralism. Of course, only after France has independently satisfied itself that the last resort is called for and all peaceful options have been exhausted. And it is no secret that U.S. intransigence and its inexorable timetable for war could accelerate France’s becoming so convinced. So the world has expected — and French leadership no doubt prepares itself for this — that France will have to defend the worth of its veto by not making any anti-American use of it, in order to avoid its irrelevance being revealed. However, the relentlessness with which America lays into France’s demonstrations of independence, and the alliance with Germany which Chirac has sought as a result, have rather hardened the originally flexible defense of French self-respect. It is particularly this alliance, above all else, that galls the Americans; they are used to the roundabout ways of the French in saying ‘yea’ — when they stick to it.
Germany’s negative reply also turns out to be more radical than originally intended, after the verbal exchange with Bush and Rumsfeld and chancellor Schröder’s refusal to take his words back. America’s previously so reliable junior partner announced that he had already proven his solidarity with the “war on terror” with all his contributions and sharing of burdens; but he would not take part in any further military campaign, which, in his estimation, is not part of the war on terror but, in seeking regime change in Baghdad, pursues other than agreed-upon aims. The objection was not meant as an actual hindrance to the U.S. war. In those areas where the German government could make trouble in practice, it has long since promised full cooperation: overflight rights, the use of American bases in Germany and the troops stationed there, recourse to allied facilities such as AWACS aircraft, and so on. Taken together, the objection and the cooperation were meant as a well-balanced test of how far Washington would allow such an important ally to go ahead with its own calculations. The outcome is unequivocal: the harsh attacks from the other side of the Atlantic, along with the public suspicion that it had all been irresponsible election campaign rhetoric, urge the political leader and the state he manages toward unambiguity. In this regard, step by step, the chancellor commits to national self-assertion — in the end more clearly than do the other critics of the U.S. in the Security Council. He insists on Germany’s freedom to make its own decisions, even those that concern the U.S., and pledges not to budge from his ‘nay’ to war, not even by a majority vote in the U.N. Security Council and the evidence presented there. By standing firm, Germany slips into the role of anchor for the wobbly coalition of naysayers, each of whom knows that the other does not want to break with the superpower, but rather aggressively looks for some consideration from the U.S. in order to get back on board. The comrades-in-refusal suspect each other of giving in — all recognize their own calculations in the calculations of the others. And if it comes to it, none of them wants to be the last one standing and, isolated, to be exposed to the wrath of the supreme power. In this situation, this important European nation — which in any case would be unable to threaten with a veto — provides some certainty with its “politically unprofessional” and “inflexible” “advance commitment” to say ‘nay.’ The chancellor, who does not want to join in American adventures, becomes an adventurer himself: he seizes an opportunity he did not seek out himself to turn Berlin into the focal point of all displeasure with America’s new course by nations big and small.
Similarly, Russia and China see themselves compelled by the American claim on monopolizing the worldwide use of force, and the military means the U.S. employs to that end, to take on a position corresponding to their strategic calculations. They really do not want to return to a Cold War with the superpower, a war that Russia only rid itself of by surrendering its global political ambitions; China is already permanently threatened with a relapse into confrontation. Nevertheless, these states, too, are seeking a way between giving their nod to the new status that has been defined for them, and a ‘nyet’ that could degenerate into a rift. The opportunity to lend a small hand in the splitting of NATO is not lost on them, as long as they don’t have to fear standing on their own. Russia has already gotten itself threatened for supporting the Franco-German refusal front: if it does not support America’s war, it can forget about its Iraqi oil interests, including already existing contracts — and these comprise a huge chunk of the Russian national product.
The U.S. government’s determination to pursue this battle with the second-rank imperialists, and to humiliate them, has turned their tentative diplomatic objections and their hesitant courting of consideration by America into a power struggle, to which every state in the world has to orient itself, its interests and its dealings. The Anglo-American no less than the German-French-Russian factions invite the whole world to take their side and isolate the other.
Even before the first shot is fired, one victim of the global power struggle is certain: the European Union is thoroughly disgraced as something like an imperialistic entity and a player in international politics. America’s war splits the European states, which attempt to defend their importance to the supreme power in opposite ways, and thus against each other. There is no common European standpoint on matters relating to the outward projection of power, out of which a common position toward America would be taken up; for some member states, the relation with America is avowedly more important than their relations with their Union partners. The split stirs up every internal European conflict and question of leadership, turning them into fodder for the transatlantic dispute — just as this dispute is then used for internal European positioning: established European partners discover an opportunity to inflict defeat on the Paris-Berlin leadership, and expect to gain increased freedom of action and the ability to determine what is to become of this Europe. Italy, Spain and Portugal readily present their compliments of military solidarity to the British and Americans. To crown it all, Eastern European candidates for annexation by the E.U. discover American supremacy over Europe to be the condition for their national freedom within the European Union. What a fine conclusion to draw from the membership negotiations, in which their national purposes are redefined to suit Europe, and they become subject to European rules. They express their thanks by swearing loyalty to America and its crusade against Saddam. Chirac’s abusive remarks against “ungrateful and ill-mannered” candidates are a further clarification of how the creators of European unification intend Europe to work — but also of how much farther away from its realization they are than they themselves thought until recently.
What is required is, first of all, limiting the damage on the domestic front. The E.U. governments, already just about lined up in opposing camps, are becoming aware of the extent to which their split over the Iraqi cause has already damaged their project. They feel compelled at a special crisis summit to issue a document containing just one thing: their professed intention not to allow America’s new course to strike the building of the Union from the agenda. They intend to stick together. Apart from this, the resolution is nothing but a record of their continuing split: the text combines the consent to war with a rejection of the famous, single voice in which Europe always wants to speak in order to be heard. The European voice audible today demands absolutely nothing at all, and nowhere is it understood as some kind of binding directive. Declaring war to be a necessary though last resort of politics, while at the same time professing peaceful disarmament, is in fact no longer a statement on Iraq and the American war, but rather a statement on how these might alter the status of the dispute within the E.U. — or better, not. When the heads of government, with their will to unity, declare that their irreconcilable points of view are consistent, they are only emphasizing that they do not intend to take their differences to any extremes “merely on account of Iraq” — as if Iraq still mattered. The little de-escalation that they consider necessary between themselves signals, at the same time, a de-escalation vis-à-vis the United States. Regardless of continuing differences, they are not prepared to escalate the conflict to the breaking point. Europe, if it is to avoid suffering any more damage, cannot expect to play the role of counterweight to the hegemon, a role for which its founders set it up and continue to extend it. Even with both sides having taken the threat of a break in relations to such a point, this threat, at least as far as the anti-American side of the conflict is concerned, is still meant as the prelude to a new and improved search for compromise. This does not bode well for the “innocent Iraqi people.” Europe won’t save them from the hail of bombs. But it was never about them anyway.
Professional diplomats do not deceive themselves about the quid pro quo of their statements. They know what they are doing when they express their national claims as requirements of international law, and their opponents understand them in precisely the same manner. The very same diplomatic ciphers, in which national egoisms are both concealed and exalted, also provide for the people who have yet to find their bearings in international affairs — and whose power of discernment is not up to scratch. These people can confuse and combine morality and national interests until both become one and the same thing: they then seriously mull over the question of whether the justification for war is credible — as if this was, or ought to be, the question. Idealists, thinking along the same line, come out strongly in favor of the peaceful disarmament of Iraq, as if that had always been their concern. Activists demonstrate for peace and against war, and call for their governments to show resolve. Meanwhile, governments on neither side are interested in this alternative. In the present global conflict, Schröder, Chirac, Putin, and others, who have found many a war useful, are not concerned with peace; rather, they worry about their imperialistic sway. But these things are admittedly hard to tell apart.
1 For more on the war program announced and carried out under the heading, ‘war on terror,’ see The Official Propaganda for a New Sort of World War. See also Terror against America and the American War against Terror: An Attack Changes the World — or Does it Really? A related article discusses confusions of the peace movement: War against Saddam: The Latest Contributions to the Never-Ending Debate over Just Wars and Unjustified Violence in World Politics.
© GegenStandpunkt 2003