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America and the Rest of the World

A panel discussion at the Leipzig Book Fair illuminates the history of the West's dealings with Saddam Hussein. Experts highlight the failure of American policies in the crisis over Iraq.

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This year's Leipzig Book Fair has been overshadowed by the war in Iraq.

The focus in Leipzig this weekend is books -- the business of writing them, publishing them and selling them. But there is one uninvited guest who is doing his best to change the subject. It is the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

"No war," said a protest sign hung up by a group of publishers at the fair.

But the United States has said yes to war, and the subject led to the scheduling of a panel discussion titled "American and the Rest of the World." The talk held in the Peter Church on Thursday was led by German U.N. specialist Andreas Zumach, American journalist Mark Hertsgaard and German diplomat Hans Graf von Sponeck, who worked for the United Nations in Baghdad for many years. The picture of the United States and its motives that emerged from the talk was a dark one.

The West's Middle East partner

Zumach, a correspondent in Geneva, said he saw the war as being the culmination of U.S. plotting.

"The policies of the United States vis-à-vis the region that we here call the Middle East has followed the same pattern since the early 1950s," Zumach said. "The central issue was: We need at least one reliable geopolitical alliance partner in this region, and that must also be a country that possesses large oil reserves and is prepared to provide us with oil for a reasonable price. This first alliance partner was called Persia, or Iran. The Shah's dictatorship was supported by all of us."

And the term 'all of us' includes Europe, Zumach added, "so we as Europeans don't make it easy on ourselves."

Alliance with Iraq

Proteste gegen den Schah

The Shah's effigy being burned outside the U.S. embassy in Teheran in 1979.

"Things changed suddenly in 1979 as Iran imploded during an Islamic revolution. "Then one needed a new geopolitical alliance partner," Zumach said. "He was named Saddam Hussein."

Things went well for 10 years, Zumach said. Saddam waged war on Iran with weapons that the United States and Europe provided him. Saddam felt like he was the victor of the Islamic world, Zumach explained.

But, then, he became a problem. The first Persian Gulf War and 11 years of sanctions followed. The problem finally became so big that the United States formulated a policy in 1998 to depose him, Zumach said.

"And why?" he asked. "Because these gentlemen assumed their analysis was correct. Namely, that the United States' most important geopolitical partner since the last Gulf war, Saudi Arabia, would explode sooner or later because of the growing tensions in the dictatorship in Riyadh and an increasingly Islamic opposition. And that one had to be prepared and come up with a substitute for Saudi Arabia in time. Iraq was this substitute. But it's not possible with the current regime. And that's why the current regime has to go."

Americans poorly informed

Most Americans didn't know their government was pursuing these foreign policy aims, Hertsgaard said.

"We no longer have a critical independent press in the USA, which is a big problem to our theory of government. And you see that very clearly with the current Iraq situation," he said.

Ari Fleischer Golfkrieg gestartet

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer

"If you really want to get depressed with the United States, let me give you the following number: 45 percent of the American public now believes that Saddam Hussein was directly involved in the attacks of Sept. 11. The American people believe that because over the last eight weeks the White House propaganda machine has continually sent out that message. And, unfortunately, the press has not had the courage to stand up and simply say: That is false."

Washington's weakness

Despite its military might, the participants agreed that the United States was actually an ailing, highly indebted country whose leadership was unable to effectively employ political means to win international support of a war against Iraq. This is a sign of weakness that, Sponeck said, should prompt Europe in particular to wake up to its responsibilities to carry out a reform of the U.N. Security Council and to reduce poverty in many of the world's countries.

While the Iraq war will cost around $200 billion, the industrial countries spend a total of only $50 billion yearly on aid to developing countries, he said.