U.S. War Fever Wearies Europe | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 18.02.2002
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U.S. War Fever Wearies Europe

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer says his scepticism of American war rhetoric is shared by other top European diplomats. After an interlude of transatlantic brotherhood, post-9/11, distrust is back in vogue.


Der Spiegel's lampoon - "the Bush war party"

Taking an unexpected swipe at US President George Bush and his repeated threats against Iraq, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer has told a news magazine that he sees no evidence linking Iraq to Osama bin Laden or the September 11 terrorist attacks against the United States.

"No evidence has been presented to me that Osama bin Laden’s terror has something to do with the Iraqi regime," Fischer told Der Spiegel.

Cautioning Washington not to take its allies for granted, Fischer warned that "the international coalition against terror is not in and of itself a blank check to invade some country, especially not unilaterally."

He added that "all the European foreign ministers agree" on these points.

His comments spelled out clearly for Washington the scepticism that has lately taken hold in Europe, regarding US plans to take its ‘war on terror’ beyond the initial Afghan operation and the present non-military, counter-terrorism realm.

Simply stronger

Bush’s branding of Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an "axis of evil" strikes many Europeans as simplistic, whatever potential threats the three countries’ individual weapons programmes may pose.

What's more, European governments are acutely conscious of their feeble leverage with the US, when they disagree across the Atlantic. The evidence is overwhelming.

Bush’s October proclamation that "either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists" fits snugly his Secretary of State Colin Powell’s overt admission of Washington’s willingness to fight with or without the allies.

Warnings to the "axis of evil" are repeated, and Vice President Richard Cheney has said, with what some see as the arrogance of power, that "if aggressive action is required, I would anticipate that there will be the appropiate support for that both from the American people and the international community."

Great divide

The trouble is, there is a great divide between "the American people" – a mythic concept now used as popular soundbite – and "the international community" – an even abstracter idea, suggestive of a mysterious, monolithic global consensus that arguably does not exist at all.

The cynicism of repeat experience with modern "total war" instructs many Europeans that war itself is evil and that fighting is only a last resort. Surely, many Americans concur. But Europe fears US war fever – an over-extension of the "just war" principle common to much of Western civilisation, and a return to the same fear of a clash of civilisations that gripped the world last September.

"Is the United States going mad," asked a headline in the French newspaper Le Monde – the same paper which had gone out of its way to express solidarity with the US six months ago by proclaiming "we are all Americans" after the attacks "against civilisation".

Der Spiegel meanwhile lampoons the Bush administration as a buffed-up war cabinet, for its lead story, "Lords of the World". On the cover, Bush is Rambo and Rumsfeld is Conan the Barbarian. Powell wears a Batman suit, Cheney is the Terminator, and Condoleeza Rice is Xena the Warrior Princess.

European Union external relations chief Chris Patten, a Briton, warns of "unilateralist overdrive" in Washington. Even NATO Secretary General George Robertson, by political necessity and personal loyalty a fan of the Anglo-American military partnership, has urged European countries to boost defence spending, lest a fully self-reliant US wander into "unilateralism or isolationism".

As important, the conventional wisdom of many Europeans is turning against the war. They see their armies saddled with the risky burden of peacekeeping in Afghanistan. They see no specific or compelling evidence presented to justify any potential, sudden escalation of the decade-long US and British bombardment of Iraq. Moreover, many feel their sympathy for their strongest ally, the US, is taken quite for granted. This is no love affair. The period of awed, post-attack consolation is over.

Distrustful lovers

It may be that Europe and the US, though allied for the last half year, like distrustful lovers have all the time been growing apart.

If there was one outstanding sign of unity six months ago, it was the willingness of many European intellectuals and lefties, including Joschka Fischer, to stand without hesitation in line with Bush, the word "crusade" and phrase "dead or alive" aside.

But a fever, spread via media, has been at work in the 50 states that has been less contagious on the continent. When 58 US intellectuals tried to bridge the divide last week, signing a manifesto, "What We’re Fighting For," it was coolly received.

The document – whose signatories include Samuel Huntington, author of the "clash of civilisations" theory – describes in detail the "fundamental truths" that they say now need urgent military defence. These are basically uncontroversial – the dignity and equality of all human beings, the moral legitimacy of self-defence, humans’ common desire to seek truth about life’s purpose, freedom of conscience and religious belief.

The fifth "truth" – that "killing in the name of God is contrary to faith in God and is the greatest betrayal of the universality of religious faith" – is up for theological debate. This is after all the re-proclamation of a "just war" in which innocents have already died.

What may sicken many Europeans who read the manifesto, though, is that it provides no remedy to the same old stomach ache they felt about the superpower before September 11, now worsened by the urgency of it all.

Whatever the principles at stake, by naming enemies and making the globe its theatre of military operations, the US risks violent conflicts that otherwise might be avoided. It risks avoidable war, far and wide. And that is something Europeans, knowing well enough peace’s fragility and war’s horror, want desperately to avoid.

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