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Tuesday, February 17, 2004


The following commentary --- which deals with the contrast in the diplomatic styles of the US and most West European countries (not all of them) --- was sent originally last week to an undergrad class on the US in the War on Terrorism. It's fleshed out and expanded in a variety of ways, nothing more; and it's really part of the lengthy series ---started a good two months ago, or maybe as far back as the battle of Gettysburg (hard at times to tell for sure) --- on the systematic differences between the US and most of West Europe that help explain the tensions that gripped NATO last year over the war in Iraq and its aftermath. Those tensions, though diminished of late --- with most of the European members of NATO that opposed the war diligently striving to put the war behind them and restore good relations with the US --- still jolt the alliance in a variety of ongoing, if currently low-keyed forms. What's more, they are likely to recur again in the future: maybe with less venom than over Iraq last year, but with possibly more enduring consequences.


None of the ongoing tensions in NATO should be surprising. They are what will happen whenever an alliance like NATO --- no matter what else holds it together, such as: shared democracy, extensive economic ties, a and a common conception of human rights --- enters a period of flux where

1) the security threats have noticeably shifted;

2) and the member states disagree on the nature of those threats, their root causes, and the various strategy and tactics for dealing with them.

These changes have been actively at work in NATO affairs ever since the end of the cold war in 1990, and especially in the aftermath of the war on terrorism following the terrorist attacks on US soil in September 2001. But note: even during the cold war, both in the 1950s and later in the Reagan era of the 1980s, there were major disagreements between the member states on how to deal with the Soviet threat and what underlay it. In both decades --- as happened more recently --- huge, hot-wire demonstrations of a mass sort shook several European countries, notably Germany both times and in the 1950s France and Italy, where Communist parties at the start of the decade attracted 30-40% of the electorate. Those demonstrations could easily rally hundreds of thousands of protestors in major cities across much of West Europe, then and now. So nothing new. What is new are the two changes just mentioned. Since 1990, to be more precise, these disagreements between governments have flared off and on, mainly between the US and certain close allies like the British, Danes, Dutch, and --- under conservative governments more recently --- Italy and Spain on one side and on the other France, Germany in the era of the Gerhard Schroeder government in power since 1998, as well as Belgium and usually Greece.


Remember here: Governments One Thing Public Opinion and the Media Another

The distinction between the two needs to be stressed at the outset here. In particular, everywhere in the EU countries --- whatever their governments' stand over Iraq --- the media are overwhelmingly anti-American (no, not just anti-Bush), as are intellectual circles and left-wing politicians, not to forget right-extremists like Le Pen's National Front in France or Haider in Austria or the Volksblaam in Belgium. Essentially, as we've repeatedly noted, only in London is there a strong media favorable to good relations with the US and at odds with the politically correct simplities and smugness that mark the EU media's coverage on the US, Israel, the Middle East, the Bush administration, American society, and what have you. A slight exception can be found in Germany, in the Christian Democratic Party, whose leader openly criticized the Schroeder government last year in its policies over Iraq and toward the US. Even then, other members of the Christian Democrats were outspoken in their criticisms of the US and the Bush administration, and public opinion in German was so hostile that the Christian Democrats maintained a low profile last winter, spring, and well into the summer. And --- as recent poll data shows --- tiny Denmark and Holland remain the EU countries whose public opinion remains most favorably attached to the US as a country. Does this mean their media are better? Not reading Danish or Dutch, the buggy professor has to admit he just doesn't know.

No one in the US would probably care, mind you, what the EU media and gabby intellectual classes chatter about for a living or pastime were it not for NATO, and the ways in which EU media and intellectual hostility, grounded in envy, resentment, simplemindedness, and ignorance --- plus the usual moralizing utopianism of a left-wing cloud-chasing sort, and now open anti-Semitism and conspiracy-mongering in both left-wing and right-wing media circles --- influence public opinion there. Will it get worse? Most likely. In particular, the more social conflicts and strife erupt in the EU as the countries undergo forced changes in their economies and comfy little welfare states, the more backlashes and angry scapegoating can be expected --- some of it violent. The growth of strident Islamist fundamentalism all over the EU in immigrant Muslim circles will likely aggravate the strife and conflicts even more, including violent backlashes and even terrorism . . . from both sides. It's not the brightest of futures, even if the strife, violence, and terrorist backlashes will no doubt vary in venom around the EU.

What follows? Easy to say.

For all these unhappy, dislocated European circles --- the political and cultural left, the far right, Islamist fundamentalists, angry anti-globalizers, and the pulpit-pounding media --- scapegoating will follow. It's a fairly typical European response, centuries old, to look for the blame for their home-grown troubles elsewhere, not least in surreptitious conspiratorial cabals: Free-Masons, Jews, the Rothchilds, gypsies, the Pope and papists in Protestant countries, frenzied anti-clericals in Catholic countries, Socialists, Marxists, what have you. By the 19th century, the scapegoating was worse in Latin Europe, Belgium, Germany, and the Austrian Empire than elsewhere, but even the British and Scandinavians had their fears of Papists and other nefarious foes in earlier times, with some of that paranoia lingering way into the 20th century in many circles in each of those countries. The choice scapegoats these days? Even easier to say: the US, Jews, Israel (selected as the greatest threat to world peace last fall by 59% of Europeans polls throughout the EU), and globalization, Jews the link for all them in many EU imaginations.

All of which prompts another question: How will this affect NATO? Easy to predict. In the long run, no alliance where democratic governments are represented can seal themselves off from such public moods. For some illumination here and lots of hard evidence, see the observations of the Harvard-trained Ph.D. who edits Die Zeit, Josef Joffe and the buggy analysis of Joffe's work.



Even now --- with Germany and France bandwagoning, predictably, to the US once more after the divisions of last year ---- these ongoing tensions in NATO limit the alliance's cohesion and effectiveness in dealing with the threats that all the member-states tend, in the abstract at least, to identify as confronting them all to one degree or another in the war on terrorism: in particular,

  • extremist Islamic fundamentalism,with its paranoid conspiratorial views of world affairs and the causes of Arab and wider Islamic backwardness;

  • Islamo-fascist terrorism, which has widespread support among these Islamic fundamentalists --- roughly 40-50% of the Arab populations, and maybe higher;

  • certain rogue states that harbor or encourage such terrorist networks and are pursuing programs involving biological, nuclear, and chemical weapons;

  • and --- the gravest threat of all --- the prospect that Islamo-fascist terroristscould get hold of these WMD and find ways to unleash them on the civilian populations of Europe or North America.

Another things rears its ugly head too: the suicidal fanaticism of these terrorist networks, an added challenge to democratic governments and moderate Islamic regimes, whether in the Middle East or elsewhere. If these fanatics could kill millions, all the better from their viewpoint. The news that they were able to exterminate, say, 290 million Americans --- regarded as impure evil predators at war with purified Islam, either in a Sunni or Shiite version ---- would no doubt fill the members of these terrorist networks and most of their fundamentalist supporters, formal or informal, with elation and send them to their knees in thankful prayer . . . a clear sign that Islam's centuries of humiliation and backwardness at the hands of the impure infidels were over.

At any rate --- however much Americans themselves disagree on this terrorist outcome, and even more, it seems, disagree as a country with large numbers of the European media, intellectual classes, and left-wing and extremist right-wing political circles --- that is how many of us happen to see the nature and scope of Islamist totalitarian fanaticism these days, a successor to the monstrous totalitarianisms of Fascism, Nazism, and Communism that the western democracies had to fight and destroy in the last century. European public opinion, influenced by the media and intellectual circles profoundly --- plus the tendencies to shift the blame for even much of the terrorist threat from Islamist networks to the US and Israel and Jews --- tends towad different views here. That's true even in the countries whose governments on the Continent supported the US-UK position. As a result, only 5000 NATO peackeepers are in Afghanastan more than two years after the UN Security Council and NATO endorsed the Taliban government's overthrow. In Iraq, where 21 of 26 NATO countries now have peacekeepers, only the British and Polish multinational division amount to much help . . . with South Korea and Japan and Mongolia contributing more troops than most of the NATO governments. Why? Not, apparently, out of any hostile resistances in those governments. Rather --- or so we will argue --- because public opinion in their countries is largely opposed to further involvement by their armed forces.


The Divisive Alliance Response Over Iraq

To repeat, the major source of tensions that still jolt the NATO alliance is partly how to define this threat, partly what roots underlie it, and above all --- a clash of diplomatic and foreign policy traditions that divide most of West European countries from the US ---- how to respond and deal with the threat and its root-causes. The differences here are a constant irritation and source of tension that won't go away. It works against NATO's cohesion and efficacy. Even now, in Afghanistan --- where the alliance unanimously agreed after 9/11 to destroy the Taliban regime ---- there is only a total of 5000 NATO peacekeepers in that country, all of them currently confined to the Kabul area. Yes, 5000, not 50,000. As for Iraq, the pivotal disputes about the root causes of Islamist terrorism and how to deal with it were, in barebones terms, the underlying cause of the biggest rupture in the alliance's 55 year history.

In that flash crisis, you'll recall, the governments of the US and the UK --- with the support of several NATO governments in West Europe and all the new members in East Europe slated to join the alliance either this year or soon ---- believed that it was necessary to topple Saddam Hussein's regime and deal with its WMD challenge as part of a wider threat inherent in the programs being developed in Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Iran, and North Korea. That was at a minimum. Did those European NATO governments that supported the war have other reasons for supporting the US and UK initiative? Yes; very likely. Not that they said this openly; for that matter, the Bush administration didn't until last summer and fall, when the President explicitly committed the US government to promoting democracy in the Arab world. Everywhere. Even among friendly governments.

Even the minimum rationale though ---- 12 years of Iraqi violations of UN Security Council resolutions on disarmament, backed by tough sanctions (which the Germans, French, and Russians cheerfully ignored after 1996 in the Food-and-Medicine for Oil program) ---- was too much for the governments in Berlin, Paris, Brussels, and of course in Moscow, Russia having a special status in NATO short of full membership. As for the wider rationale, the need to kick-start massive changes in the politics and economic systems of the Arab countries, Iran, and the rest of the Near East, those governments didn't seem responsive to those considerations, and everywhere in the EU, including Great Britain, almost all the media, the intellectual classes, left-wing politicians, and Gaullists in France on the right vocally assaulted the Bush rationales as self-serving and hypocritical and in any case having nothing apparently to do with West Europe. In the upshot, small wonder that public opinion was hostile too throughout the EU, with a bare majority in Britain finally emerging at the start of the war last March.


Even in Denmark, Holland, Italy, and Spain, Governments Were Hobbled in Supporting the US and UK

The combined impact of powerful public opinion and a hostile media --- not to forget the political left ---- had a large hampering effect on those governments, all conservative coalitions, that supported the war in West Europe. That was the case even though, without committing themselves formally, all of the 4 EU governments in the Coalition of the Willing --- plus those NATO members joining it this year and the EU this year or soon --- most likely shared the Bush administration's belief that it was necessary to topple the regime in Iraq as a way of precipitating big changes in the Arab world. Nothing else would. No domestic sources of changes exist in the Arab world, at any rate, that could alter their failed states, dictatorial regimes, secret police rule, economic backwardness, massive illiteracy --- the worst in the world, worse even than in much poorer tropical Africa ---- and the skyrocketing levels of unemployment . . . . 25-30% among men alone. These men have no future. Right now, half the Arab population is under the age of 15. Given the demographic explosion at work in the Arab world --- 300 million now, another 200 million likely to be born in the next 15 or 20 years --- the number of angry, unemployed men with no prospects would swell in the future.

Little wonder, against this grim background, that extremist Islamist fundamentalism has grown with bursting fervor since 1970. Or little wonder either that its paranoid conspiratorial style --- full of rage and fed by resentments and a smoldering sense of frustration and humiliation at Arab backwardness, unable even to deal effectively with an Israel of 5 million Jews, a people of dhimmi subordinate status for 1400 years in Islam's existence --- has caught on throughout the Middle East and elsewhere in Islam, including the thrusting hatred of much of the West and above all Jews and their alleged domination of the US and globalizing forces. (See the buggy articles on this, four in all, starting last November, 2003.) Little wonder, for that matter, that a secret Saudi poll, carried out immediately after 9/11, found that 95% of Saudi men under 39 years of age admired bin Laden and the Al Qaeda attacks, seen as revenge against centuries of Western arrogance and now Jew-dominated assaults on Islam. And little wonder at all that in February 2002 --- months after the 9/11 attacks --- a Gallup poll administered in 11 Arab countries found that 60% of them populations denied outright that Muslims were involved in those attacks.

It's this evidence that underlies the earlier claim here that fundamentalist paranoia and the hate-filled conspiracy views of Arab problems enjoys the support of somewhere around 50% of the Arab people. If anything, that is probably an understatement. Would it be helpful to have more concrete evidence? Obviously. In the dicatorial regimes that govern all 22 Arab states and the Palestinian Authority, don't expect to find it. Only careful survey data would confirm our supposition. In the meantime, the evidence we have is pretty clear and points in the same direction: a large part of the Arab population, 300 million in number, half of them under 15 in age, are vulnerable to extremist propaganda and crackling paranoia.


Back To NATO's Divisions Here:

For the Bush administration, the root causes of Islamist terrorism and the suicidal fanaticism linked to it are found precisely in these domestic failures within the 22 Arab countries, the clerical-fascist regime of Iran, and certain other Islamic countries that had either come under fundamentalist rule or near to it --- Taliban Afghanistan, Musharraf's Pakistan before 9/11 --- or were susceptible to it. Probably Tony Blair himself shares this understanding. So, with less certainty, do Berlusconi in Italy, Aznar in Spain, and the conservative governments ruling Denmark and Holland (the latter undergoing a political change since then).:

And yet --- our key point here --- none of the European governments, not even Tony Blair's, has come out in favor of spreading democracy in the Arab world and the rest of the Middle and Near East the way the Bush administration has done. The President's explicit endorsement of this aim last November marks a clean break with the US's former catering to Arab dictators --- some vicious, others less so. The EU members of NATO balk at subscribing to that policy, at any rate in public. Even short of that, back to the minimum if significant rationale for going to war last March --- notably, Saddamite Iraq's contempt for the UN, the West, the US, and its WMD programs --- none of the Continental members of NATO that supported the war dared send any troops into battle: whether Spain, Italy, Denmark, orHolland. Only Poland and the Czech Republic, members of NATO since 1998, did so; and at the time, of course, none was a member of the EU.

All of which prompts a pivotal question, our chief concern here: what causes the major disagreements about the nature of the threat in the War on Terrorism, its root causes, and most of all the best ways for dealing with it?



Replies: 2 comments

I'm writing here to clarify a statement you made in an earlier article on this topic. (My apologies for putting it here, but you will probably be able to read it while I'm not certain if I put my comment there)

In an article you made earlier, you mentioned that Portugal was one of the officially anti-Iraq-war EU nation. It was not correct - Portugal supports it along with Spain. Hope this helps.

Posted by Joel @ 03/01/2004 04:08 AM PST

Nit picking correction: As far as I can tell the Dutch have at least 1100 troops in Iraq - this is in fact more than Mongolia, Korea and Japan. However tracking dfown the actual (as opposed to promised in a press release) numbers of all of the various countries is tricky. This page lists Italy as making a larger contribution than Poland - http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/iraq_orbat_coalition.htm but other places give different figures


Thank you, Francis --- always helpful to get as precise figures as possible, hard as it might be to get them on the NATO web site. Japan has sent 750-1000 troops, and South Korea is now sending 3000. Japan has supplemented its ground force with a fairly large naval armada, no doubt to give its navy some training in far-off waters near a battle zone. What is important is that 21 of 26 NATO countries do have peace-keeping forces in Iraq, plus the Asian countries. Australia, which sent a fairly noticeably military force in the war last year, no doubt has peacekeepers there too. The democratic regime in Yugoslavia --- democratic because NATO led by the US stopped Serb terrorism in 1999 and precipitated the collapse of the Milosevik government --- is also contemplating sending troops and police help to Iraq, in cooperation with some of the other former Yugoslav states in the region. None, save tiny Slovenia, are in NATO either. Come to that, unless my memory has gone haywire, Brazil has even sent some form of police or military aid as well.

What has been disappointing is the total numbers so far in Iraq something duplicated even more disappointingly in Afghanistan, where both UN Security Council and NATO approval of the war to topple the monstrous Taliban regime and its Al Qaeda thugs-in-residence has engendered a total of 5000 NATO troops only . . . all of them so far confined to Kabul, even though the plans are to disperse them more in the future.

Whatever else you can say about French diplomacy and hypocrisy, its government has at least stopped the EU downward trend in defense spending. Germany's right now is so low that most of its troops don't have modern assault rifles and morale has almost collapsed in the professional officer corps. Odd about the Germans. Historically viewed, they either are the most militaristic country in modern Europe or the most pacifist. You'd think there'd be some middle way for a democratic country to compromise on; but then the media, the intellectual classes, almost all the left-wing parties, university faculties, and the clergy are convinced in huge number, it seems, that the era of good-will, global harmony, and even peace would prevail --- with a little multilateral chattering as at EU Summit Meetings --- were it not for aggressive American capitalism and idiocy along with Tony Blair's lapdog role.

Posted by Francis @ 02/20/2004 05:49 AM PST