Year XLVI, 2004, Number 2, Page 63
Iraq and the Responsibilities of Europe towards the Middle East
Only thirteen years after Francis Fukuyama announced the end of history, the war in Iraq, in all its brutality and horror, has come to show mankind just how little progress it has made along the road towards its own emancipation. What we are currently witnessing is one of the most cruel and senseless episodes to have stained world history since the era of the Nazi atrocities.
Bush and his advisers, in this arrogant and insane endeavour, carried out with incredible clumsiness, have totally failed to achieve not only the declared objectives of this conflict (the defeat of terrorism, the “exporting of democracy”, the uncovering and neutralisation of weapons of mass destruction), but also its real objective, that is the affirmation beyond all possible doubt of the global hegemony of the United States and of America’s capacity to guarantee a world order. In truth, the global hegemony of the United States emerges from the Iraqi endeavour profoundly weakened — certainly not strengthened. All that remained of America’s moral standing in the world, which was important as it ensured that the support of its allies was founded on a voluntary basis, has been destroyed in the space of a few short months. The Middle East is in the grip of violence and public opinion the world over is outraged and disoriented.
We must not tire of repeating that this condemnation is directed at the US government (and, albeit to a lesser degree given the poisonous propaganda to which it has been subjected, at that section of public opinion that supports it) and certainly not at the American people as a whole. The strongest and most courageous criticisms of the conduct of the US government have originated from within the United States itself, and certainly not from Europe, whose politicians and media have always been driven by an anxiety to pander to this powerful ally on the other side of the Atlantic, and not to irritate it unduly.
The war in Iraq has brought the countries of Europe face to face with a dilemma that has laid bare their total incapacity to act. The conflict left them having to choose between collaborating unconditionally with the United States, thereby challenging the overwhelming majority of public opinion at home and relinquishing all possibility of playing any autonomous role in the management of the crisis, and “opting out”, thereby avoiding responsibility and the need to put forward alternative initiatives. It amounted to a choice between two different manifestations of impotence. Some of Europe’s governments chose the first, others the second.
Both the Americans and the Europeans, at a certain point, found it convenient to turn to the United Nations as a source of legitimacy, the former in an attempt to mask and to confer acceptability on their unilateralism and the latter in an attempt to conceal their impotence. Both were hopeful that a resolution by the UN Security Council would be sufficient to convince world public opinion that the international community had assumed responsibility for the occupation of Iraq. But this was a diplomatic fudge, and one entirely without coherence. The United Nations is an international organisation that wields no power of its own and has purely symbolic legitimacy. All it does is reflect the balance of power of the various states that belong to it. Obviously it has no armed forces, which means that when it becomes involved in peacekeeping operations, it does so using the armed forces voluntarily put at its disposal by its member states. As long as the missions entrusted to the organisation have limited scope, the role of the Secretary General and his staff can be one of technical coordination. But if the undertaking increases, if the nature of the mission is such as to endanger the lives of the military personnel deployed and to necessitate the use of huge financial and moral resources, then it is clear that the governments involved will not be prepared to renounce their commanding role. This is clearly what happened over Iraq. Indeed, the idea of replacing, in Iraq, an army answerable to the President of the United States and, through him, to the American people with an army supplied by the member states currently contributing to the occupying forces, but answerable to the Secretary General of the United Nations, would have been simply ridiculous.
Similarly, the so-called “restoration of sovereignty” to a provisional Iraqi government, destined to be replaced in the future by an elected government, was a pure fantasy. Sovereignty is the capacity to reach decisions and to implement them, which means that whoever has sovereignty must be equipped with the strength needed to restore and maintain order within a territory. It is perfectly obvious that, for this to be the case in Iraq, the Iraqi government must have its own army, and all foreign military personnel must leave the country. And this is precisely what will not come about as long as Iraq is an occupied country, devoid of sovereignty.
What remains to be seen is whether there exists, in reality, an alternative power constellation that, on the one hand, the Iraqi people might be able to see as not compromised by the conflict and thus as motivated solely by the desire to restore peace and equilibrium to the region and, on the other, that has the capacity and the strength to take over, from the current coalition, the task of guiding Iraq out of the crisis, employing the necessary quantity of men and of means. If this constellation existed, it could act under the flag of the United Nations, if this were possible, or under other flags: the flag does not alter the crux of the matter.
But this constellation does not exist, which means, quite simply, that in the short term there is no real alternative to the current situation. It is true that all conflicts go through acute periods and lulls, the latter caused by the temporary exhaustion of the forces in the field. It is thus likely that the present Iraqi crisis is destined to be punctuated by quieter periods. But it certainly will not be resolved given that there is no feasible equilibrium on the horizon to replace the failed American leadership. And Iraq, leaving aside these probable cyclical lulls, will go on sinking deeper and deeper into the anarchy that, in turn, can only fuel terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism and the instability of the entire region. This outlook would be rendered all the more tragic in the event of a division of the country, explicit or masked by a false federal type solution, that would see the Shiite south becoming an object of desire for Iran, create a Kurdish state with enormous potential to destabilise the region, and leave Baghdad in the grip of violence.
The fact that there exists no prospect of a solution to the Iraqi crisis in the short term does not mean that the European states should passively accept the choice between submission to American imperialism and support of guerrilla forces in Iraq. Instead, what every responsible European politician should do is verify whether there exists a possible long-term solution and, upon finding that there does, take the first steps necessary in order to achieve it, deciding, in accordance with this course, a common European policy to deal with the current emergency.
From this perspective, it is important to underline several, patently obvious facts. The first is that Iraq is a country with an economy on its knees, with its infrastructures in pieces, with no governing class, and with a severely damaged military and administrative class. It will not be able to get back on its feet by itself. Outside help will be needed in order to get the process of its moral and material reconstruction under way. The second is that this help cannot come — unless in the form of compensation for damage inflicted — from the American government, regardless of who is elected as the next President of the United States, nor from the British government. These countries are responsible for the destruction of Iraq and the Iraqi people will never be able to accept the presence of American and British troops on their soil. The United States and Britain thus currently find themselves stuck in a catch-22 situation, faced with a choice between a disastrous continuation of the occupation, with all the increasingly severe effects that this is having, and ignominious withdrawal, which would amount to turning their backs on the responsibilities that they assumed when they invaded the country and abandoning Iraq to the scourge of civil war. Collaboration in re-starting Iraq’s development must come, first of all, from the region’s other Arab and Muslim countries, in the framework of a large regional development plan. The third, however, is that this plan must be promoted and funded by an external power that did not compromise its position through the war and that, thanks to its geographical location, the extent of its economic interdependence with the Middle East, and its traditions of friendship with the area, is interested in the development of Iraq, in the establishment of an increasingly close integration and intensification of trade and communications with the region, and whose role, for these reasons, the Iraqis would accept. Only Europe answers this description.
But Europe does not exist. Clearly, neither the present EU, nor its individual member states, have adequate political and economic resources to launch a Marshall Plan for the Middle East, which is the essential condition for Iraq’s re-birth and for the development of the economy of the entire region. The truth is that the creation of any workable European plan for the Middle East depends on the existence of the will to create a European power, in other words the will to found, in whatever framework this proves possible, a European federal state possessed of great political, moral, economic and military resources, as well as the capacity to mobilise these resources and to use them in the interests of collaboration among peoples and the development of disadvantaged regions of the world. Unless this can be achieved, Europe will be left to witness, powerless, the progressive crumbling of the international equilibrium and the start of an out-and-out crisis of civilisation that will threaten to destroy the entire planet.