The View from Europe: Inspections, Iraq and the International Community

I have been in Europe for two weeks, visiting France, Germany, Belgium and Britain.

I have been in Europe for two weeks, visiting France, Germany, Belgium and Britain. Let me provide a short overview on what I think the impact of Iraq is on the broader war on terrorism.

First, I was here for extensive meetings in July 2002 and the principle difference between then and today is that President Bush certainly enjoys much more respect. There are three simplistic, but obvious reasons why this is so. The first is the President's September 12 speech before the United Nations. The second is that the "Powell process" (working through the United Nations) appears to be working. Finally, there are the results of the midterm elections. I think that all three have dampened a lot of the hostility that I felt was directed against him when I was last here during the summer.

When it comes to the issue of terrorism (keeping in mind that these are general comments), the consensus, as I have been able to sense, is that the Europeans indeed remain preoccupied with their own problems. They are, however, also increasingly aware of the problem of Islam and Muslims as a security concern for Europe. Not only has there been the expected fallout in the aftermath of 9/11 when Al-Qaeda cells were unearthed all over Europe, but has focused renewed attention over the question of migration to Europe, particularly Muslim migration. The civil disturbances that have been breaking out in various European cities, most recently, last weekend, in Antwerp, are also causing concern. (1)

This leads me to the conclusion that terrorism is now being taken more seriously here. Certainly in the past few months there has been a noticeable more serious attitude towards the day to day things that we have been concerned about in the states. Let me just give you one very simple example. When you get on the Eurostar to travel from Brussels to London you have to put all your bags through bomb detectors, as we do at airports in the United States. You do not do that--at least you didn't two weeks ago--on the Acela or the Metroliner. Secondly, there is a lot of coverage now, especially in the British and French press, on civil defense, and on how far behind the Europeans are in preparing, with anecdotes about how people are dusting off all the old pamphlets from the past.

This is the background in which I think the debate about Iraq has to be viewed. Clearly, those who oppose the war, and there are many of them on this continent, use the war on terrorism as another reason for opposing any military action against Saddam. Those who support the American administration and believe that the threat and probable use of force is necessary, i.e. Tony Blair, are most worried of course about a unilateral, U.S. decision. They believe that under those circumstances Al-Qaeda will be the natural beneficiary--there will be widespread unrest in most Islamic countries and that the fallout will be felt directly and immediately in Europe, which I said earlier, is preoccupied with its Muslim migration problem. And this is paralleled by intense concern about the Arab-Israeli conflict and the widening gap between European public opinion and American public opinion on Ariel Sharon and what his reelection is going to mean. This is not, incidentally, something that reflects government-to-government disagreements. In fact, the difference between the State Department and Javier Solana's office in Brussels in microscopic on the issue of the peace process. Public opinion is another thing, however, and public opinion makes, ultimately, the difference.

With regard to Iraq, the bottom line (in general) is that it is essential that there be a broad consensus in favor of the use of force and that the victory be quick. If you talk to most people they would prefer a bloodless victory--a coup d'etat. A lot depends on how the "Powell process" plays out. If there is a general consensus that the Iraqis have been lying through their teeth--and if the United States and the United Kingdom have provided the necessary (and credible) intelligence that Saddam Hussein has been lying--then there will be a good deal of whining but, by and large, there will support for military action. A lot depends, however, on whether people believe the evidence that is presented. That is particularly important in Britain where Prime Minister Tony Blair will face a very strong set of opponents if he doesn't handle this right. I think Blair will be careful enough to make sure he does not get out too far ahead of his other European partners. Now, I must say, the mood I found in Berlin was one of extreme contriteness. The entire foreign policy establishment, the security studies establishment, were all, in private, appalled at how Schroeder had handled this issue during the elections. I think Schroeder is so unpopular now in Germany that, despite his victory, Germany will not want to go out on a limb on this, particularly if the evidence is compelling and France and Britain go along. I think France will go along too and by and large support it.

Within the security establishments in Europe, I think they have great confidence in the way that the White House and the State Department since September have handled Iraq. I think they have great confidence in the U.S. military and its ability to achieve victory. What they are extremely worried about, more than the actual war itself, is the aftermath because they simply do not believe that the Bush Administration knows what it will do. They are all unimpressed with any potential analogies with post war Germany or post-war Japan.