Colin Powell and the Gangs of Europe

Colin Powell's determination to internationalize the crisis with Iraq began in earnest in August 2002 when he persuaded George Bush to go to the UN to urge for a new security council resolution to disarm Saddam Hussein.

Colin Powell's determination to internationalize the crisis with Iraq began in earnest in August 2002 when he persuaded George Bush to go to the UN to urge for a new security council resolution to disarm Saddam Hussein.  It is a measure of his success that in the wake of his dramatic and persuasive UN speech on February 5 about Iraqi non-compliance with UN Security Council resolution 1441, ten of the new European democracies - the "Gang of Ten" - came out with a statement supporting U.S. policy and the need to consider the use of force against Iraq.  All ten countries - Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia - until recently lived under the tyranny of communism and appreciate their new freedoms.  Their statement followed a remarkable opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal and other newspapers on January 30 by a "Gang of Eight" - Britain, Spain, Italy, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Denmark and Portugal.  Seven prime ministers and the president of the Czech Republic endorsed the U.S. approach to Iraq arguing that it was vital to preserve the unity of the trans-Atlantic relationship and stand up to Saddam Hussein.  Their statement was a direct challenge to the "Gang of Three" - Germany, France and Belgium - who have resisted efforts to consider force against Saddam Hussein and have continued to obstruct NATO contingency plans for support of Turkey in event of a war.  None of these three countries, nor the EU leadership, were consulted prior to the publication of the article.  These intra-European confrontations reflect the complex and dynamic state of relations on the continent.   

The fact that eighteen European democracies have essentially "ganged up" against Germany and France says a great deal about current European politics.  Europe is changing as both NATO and the EU expand eastward.  These developments should put to rest some of the more sneering criticisms of "Europe" by a number of American commentators who frequently lump the continent together into one amorphous, wimpish mass, with the exception of Blair's Britain.  Anti-Americanism in Europe remains restricted to a few governments and elite opinion makers.  While opinion polls show a majority of west Europeans are opposed to a war on Iraq, the majority still feel warmly towards America.  Fortunately, the "Gang of Eighteen" understand that although a war with Iraq is fraught with risks and dangers and the aftermath poses daunting challenges, a fundamental split between Europe and the United States would be an even worse outcome.   

The behavior of the French and German governments over the past six months has been enough to turn any American's stomach inside out.  But the attitudes of both countries reflect very different political realities.  Chancellor Schroeder used anti-Americanism to save his political neck in the closely fought German national elections in September. It does not seem to have done him any good since his party and his policies are plagued by economic problem and he is weak and discredited.  In addition, for solid reasons, most Germans have an instinctive dislike for war and military intervention.  President Jacques Chirac represents a country that is anything but pacifist when it comes to the use of force for national interests.  He began to reassert traditional Gaullist anti-Americanism in the wake of his own victory in the French presidential elections earlier in the year.  Of the two countries, France presents the most difficult problem for the United States because it has considerable influence with other UN member; and has Security Council veto power. 

As the schisms within Europe and across the Atlantic grow wide, it is fitting that Powell has emerged as the most important player in the Bush Administration's foreign policy team.  His role has never been more important. Yet, from the moment he was nominated to be Secretary of State, he has been under attack from a number of neo-conservatives who believe he is too much of a dove on foreign policy.  (Mainstream conservatives also fault him for his liberal views on domestic issues such as affirmative action and abortion.)  Some of the language used against Powell by his critics could have been taken from the speeches of the late Ayatollah Khomeini, replete with its fatwas.  However today his national and international poll ratings are sky high.  Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld are regarded with suspicion by our closest allies whereas Powell's reputation is pristine and reassuring.  Powell is now in a good position to use U.S. leverage to assure that if another UN resolution to authorize force against Iraq is submitted to the Security Council, it will probably pass, France will either have to abstain or veto the resolution.  If France were to exercise its veto it will be isolated and its international role would be greatly diminished.  Germany is likely to restore good relations with the U.S. once its leadership changes.  Both France and Germany have to realize that the majority of European countries support the robust multilateralism advocated by Colin Powell and, now, George Bush.  This is good news for all supporters of the trans-Atlantic alliance.


Geoffrey Kemp is the Director of Regional Strategic Programs at the Nixon Center. During the first Reagan Administration, he served as a Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs and as Senior Director for Near East and South Asian Affairs on the National Security Council Staff