The die is cast

The restrained smiles that followed the deal between the Iraqi administration and the United Nations’ inspectors disappeared in less than a day. US President George Bush’s speech yesterday dashed all hopes of a diplomatic solution, essentially presaging a military campaign against Iraq. Bush had earlier forced Democratic leaders to swallow any objections by gaining cross-party consent over his irreversible decision. During the Gulf War in 1991, Bush pere spent nearly six months building a broad international alliance containing moderate Arab states, Europe and Moscow. This time, his son seems to be doing all he can to make the greatest number of enemies. The US Congress on Tuesday invited the hatred of the entire Arab and Muslim world by condoning the transfer of the Israeli capital to Jerusalem. Dramatizing the threat posed by Iraq’s presumed weapons of mass destruction, Bush said nothing about Israel’s existing nuclear arsenal. Castigating the dictatorial nature of the Iraqi regime, he saw no need to condemn the prolonged confinement of Yasser Arafat, the only democratically elected leader in the Arab world. On the contrary, he sent a message to all Arab capitals that, as Al Gore said, Iraq is only the beginning and that Iran and Syria could be next. The Americans are embarking on a great adventure with an unknown expiry date. The collateral, albeit predictable, damage will be Europe’s political unification. The war in Afghanistan stole the thunder from Europe’s forward leap generated by the launch of the euro. The second war in Iraq will steal the thunder from the historic reunification of Western and Eastern Europe – product of the upcoming EU expansion. Difficult days are ahead for Prime Minister Costas Simitis in the EU presidency, in the midst of a military campaign with unforeseeable consequences.