The “problem” of American intervention
A day after the attack on the World Trade Center, French Ambassador to the UN Jean-David Lefitte (now the current UN Security Council President) proposed resolution 1368 which, for the first time in UN history, labeled terrorist attacks as a threat to peace. At the same time, the resolution authorized the US to pursue the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The quick alignment of the UN with the US was exceptional, perhaps due to the fact that the Security Council members themselves watched the Towers collapse. A year later, though the US continues in the pursuit of terrorism, the UN and Europe now view America with skepticism that sometimes borders on personal threat. The reasons behind the drift are not so much America’s current policy, but rather, that Europe’s mindset has again asserted itself. This is because Europe (and the UN) still have not learned from their mistakes of the past century.
The first mistake concerns history. Rather than the obvious differences in historical experiences, what is more important is that Europe and the US view events differently. Europeans base their posture on a historical and diplomatic perspective, whereas Americans quickly link past, present as well as future events to a good versus evil scenario. In contrast to Europeans, most Americans view history as new challenges to old problems in different forms. The enemy is not new, only the methods he uses are. Terrorist attacks and suicide bombers stem from the same evil that created gas chambers and killed 20 million Russians under Stalin. The causes of evil are the same: poverty, inequality, greed, and ambition for power. When attempts to eradicate these fail and the enemy gets the upper hand, Americans believe that the evil must be eliminated, and cannot be negotiated away. This explains why the threshold for dealing with those who perpetrate evil is much different in the US than in Europe. For Europeans, this holds true not only regarding distant countries, but also within Europe itself. It was the US, not Europe that tilted the scales to victory in WWI, WWII and the Cold War. This, despite the fact that America was not a participant in the initiation of any of those conflicts.Would French mothers have sent their sons to die in a battle for freedom and democracy being fought in Colorado? Hundreds of thousands of young American men did so not just in Europe, but also for Europe. Today, they stand ready to do the same in Iraq. Along with adopting dangerous thresholds, Europeans make the mistake of regarding counterparts as equals. For example, in posturing up to Saddam Hussein, Europe is making the same mistake it did in 1938 with Hitler. The French president Mr. Chirac, for example, is a democratically elected statesman, while Saddam Hussein is a mass murderer and a dictator. The same holds for every level of Iraqi society – an Iraqi policeman is simply not the counterpart of a French one. The fact that Europeans do not recognize that they are dealing with a completely different hierarchy means, that they remain susceptible to diplomatic charades while drifting away from a more disciplined realism practiced by the United States.
A direct result of the above is that Europeans are unable, or refuse to, acknowledge the true beginning of a conflict. For America, the collapse of the Twin Towers with the death of 3,500 people was an act of war during which twice as many people died as did with the sinking of the Lusitania, which sparked off the spread of WWI. Despite this, Europeans and the UN still wait for “further proofs” of Iraqi guilt to support the US fully. Without too much cynicism, I believe that Europe’s position would be entirely different had the Eiffel tower been rammed with 3,500 resultant casualties.
The second mistake concerns false perspectives. Europe has always had a “love-hate” relationship with the US. For Europe, America’s emergence as the only superpower means that American acts are now judged with increased scrutiny, oftentimes with a heightened concern of self-defense. Any American actions or statements are, at the same time, subject to a false hypertrophy. This has certain ramifications.
First, it complicates being able to distinguish between America’s fairly frequent lack of tact and occasional grandiose posturing by some of its leaders, and the true direction of America itself. In the US, political checks and balances as well as public scrutiny and the ramifications of overstepping one’s limits simply do not allow any politician or force to take matters into their own hands. In acts of force, American politicians as well as the US do not act unilaterally. For example, as part of the US action controlling Yemeni waters, one can look to the recent seizure of a North Korean ship carrying rockets to Yemen (a state harboring terrorists) by a Spanish naval ship. When the Yemeni’s claimed that no law had been broken, the US acknowledged this, and the ship went on to Yemen.
As a point of alarm, Europeans point to the differences between George Bush and his father, claiming that the current president has “imperialist” tendencies. They point to the fact that Bush Sr. first asked the UN for approval before he went to the US congress regarding his intent to go to war against Hussein’s Kuwaiti occupation. What they continually fail to realize is, that for the current president as well as for the US, the events of Sept 11 equaled the events of Pearl Harbor – an act of war on American soil with the loss of 3,500 American lives. When the current president ran for office, his international political platform was entirely passive. No one knew that Sept. 11th would come.
One can perform a simple test regarding American “imperialism.” Had any other country on earth emerged as the lone superpower, would the results today be better or worse? One only needs to look at the candidates – China, Russia, and even France, Germany, or England, to have the correct answer.
Some Europeans accuse America of being anti- Muslim or anti-Arab. In truth, the United States saved more Muslim and Arab lives than any country on earth, both via protective missions such as that in Saudi Arabia, as well as by defeating the Taliban, a regime that killed off more Muslims actively than the US ever did via accidents or otherwise.
WHO CAN DO WHAT?
The above main differences help explain why during times of crisis, the US and Europe/the UN do not see eye-to-eye.
To help solve the differences, one only needs to return to history and to the facts. In doing so, one sees a Europe that still is not able to take care of its own defense. Not only do a lot of Europeans not acknowledge this, but they also refuse to acknowledge that for its continued safety, Europe needs the US and not the other way around. The recent initiative for a European rapid reactionary force is a NATO – hence US – initiative. Not only does Europe remain incapable of dealing with distant threats, but also with threats within its borders as shown, for example, in Šrebernica. Only after the blue helmets of the UN were replaced by those of US Marines did the province come to know peace.
European and UN priorities continue to remain skewed. When Hussein continued to hamper UN inspectors in 1998, the Security Council was troubled more by the effects of confrontation with Iraq instead of the results of letting Iraq have its way. Last year, the center of debate in the UN didn’t concern Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, but whether or not to withdraw UN sanctions. Ambassador Levitt noted that the Security Council would not have authorized the present return of the UN inspectors had the US not created the threat of force.
While some say that the US is a member of international bodies such as the UN, solely to legitimize its ambitions, it’s not inappropriate to ask what good these institutions are in the first place if they remain mired in alibism and political moralizing, while being completely unable to enforce their own resolutions.
WHO WANTS WHAT?
Today, America sees its role as before: the promotion and safeguarding of freedom and democracy. America does its best to fulfill this role, despite the paradox that many of its “allies” not only do not stand behind her, but actually don’t even share in these values. For example, “allies” such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria never were or will be in the foreseeable future anything but autocratic states with any interest in democracy. Their priority remains maintaining the status quo and the preservation of the ruling elites, who rule from the top down.
The same holds true for “supporters” such as Russia, a country that in fact practices open terrorism within its borders in its war and actions in Chechnya, and one whose ruling elite has a code of conduct indistinguishable from that of the former communist tyrants. Along with this, Russia continues to sell arms to rogue states.
The above facts should explain, why in times of crisis such as these, America appears (and is) more and more frustrated. True allies are scarce, existing “supporters” support in name only, and once again, American blood may be spilled so that others may enjoy freedom. The Brazilian ambassador to the UN Gelson Fonesca had it right when he said: “diplomacy- the fact that I am equal to you, that’s an illusion.” History has shown that diplomacy is effective if backed up by force (real or perceived) or mutual weakness (and hence need for mutual support). Small isolated states as well as disorganized regions cannot confront the threat successfully. It’s that much sadder that Europeans continue to fall prey to their own illusions of their own isolated capabilities and sense of self-importance. Examples include Germany’s refusal to let the US use German airspace against Iraq without a UN resolution, or from France’s continued obstruction regarding US-Iraq pressures. “We have five million Muslims in France, and we have to do everything possible to minimize their anger” stated Levitte.”
The track record of the United States does not bode any danger to freedom or democracy of individual states or regions. If this were the case, that danger would have been manifest a long time ago. Europe and the UN must recognize that they continue to remain incapable of dealing successfully not only with external dangers, but with internal ones as well, and that they have relied on the United States to solve virtually all their serious conflicts in the past 100 years. As a result of that, it is in the interest of Europe, the UN, and most of all the US, that Europe and the UN achieve consensus and proficiency in dealing with threats and issues such as Iraq.
Just as was the case after Pearl Harbor, the current American mind-set is on “red alert,” and does not represent either the typical state of affairs, or the future state of affairs. This mindset will swing back to its traditional central position over time.
America does not have any desire to go it alone in the battle against terrorism or enter into foreign conflicts. On the contrary. At the same time, America believes – and owes its existence to – the fact that democracy and freedom go hand in hand and should be defended the world over.
There is nothing to say that Muslim or Arab countries could be or should be threatened with increased democratization. On the contrary. This will ensure not only their cultural survival, but also their entire survival as individual nation states. It is noteworthy that only 25% of Muslim states practice democracy of any kind, and that not a single Arab country is democratic.
For America and her allies, the victory against terrorism and other threats will come once all participants step up and do their absolute full part. This would be facilitated if all parties acknowledged that in history itself, though the details are different, the lessons and solutions are not.
|The New Presence||spring 2003|
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