OPINION

Rupture

Sharp protests from some European allies to Washington’s nascent intention to hit Iraq in order to oust President Saddam Hussein have caused unprecedented tension within the cross-Atlantic alliance. One after the other, European leaders are uttering diplomatic or sharp statements to distance themselves from US President George W. Bush’s «axis of evil» rhetoric and to warn against action in Iraq. «The federal government cannot imagine that the United States government has an interest in engaging in an adventure» in Iraq, Germany’s chief government spokesman, Uwe-Karsten Heye, said yesterday in Berlin. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who said last week that the USA was treating its European allies as «satellites,» criticized Bush’s «axis of evil» remarks, saying that such a concept «gets us nowhere.» Meanwhile, in an unusual move, the State Department called the French ambassador to Washington to have him explain France’s reaction to US policy, while America’s ambassador to Paris lodged a complaint against French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine. In the same spirit, Le Monde’s headlines on Sunday underscored the «tension» in relations between Paris and Washington, while The New York Times yesterday commented that Bush «fumes about weak-kneed ‘European elites.’» The rift between Americans and Europeans over Iraq neither stems from any differing view of the nature of Saddam’s regime, nor from his alleged support of terrorist activity (or even from his involvement in the September 11 terrorist attacks – an allegation that Washington has, nevertheless, not invoked in order to justify a potential strike). The Europeans oppose America’s plans for two reasons. First, because they see a growing American unilateralism – the USA tends to declare and launch wars on their own without prior consultation with their allies. The EU is interpreting this as an attempt to undermine NATO, and therefore downgrading Europeans to second-class members of the alliance. Secondly, and more importantly, Europeans deem that any potential overthrow of Saddam and his replacement by a pro-American regime would inflict a severe blow to Europe’s relative energy self-sufficiency, given that the vast majority of Iraqi oil (like that of Iran and Libya, whose regimes are also free from US control) flows to Europe. It is to be hoped that this division between the interests of the US and the EU can be bridged without going to war with Iraq – an action in which only danger lurks for Greece, as it would upgrade Turkey’s military force.