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Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 01:16 | SYDNEY
Sunday 20 Aug 2017 | 01:16 | SYDNEY

Europe's failure in Iraq

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19 October 2009 16:20

One additional thought on the series of Europe posts we ran last week. The Afghanistan mission is seen as emblematic of Europe's shortcomings as a coherent world power: too few troops with too many national restrictions on the missions those troops can perform.

I would argue that European governments have actually made a pretty shrewd national interest calculation here. The Europeans aren't pacifist or weaklings afraid to put their soldiers on the line; it's just that they don't see the outcome in Afghanistan as being central to their national interests, so they do just enough to keep the US relatively happy but no more.

The case against Europe is stronger when it comes to the Iraq war, where several European governments occupied the moral high ground, but took no initiative and no responsibility to prevent the war. What could they have done? In a NY Times column written just before the war started, the eminent just war theorist Michael Walzer made a proposal:

The way to avoid a big war is to intensify the little war that the United States is already fighting. It is using force against Iraq every day; to protect the no-flight zones and to stop and search ships heading for Iraqi ports. Only the American threat to use force makes the inspections possible; and possibly effective.

When the French claim that force is a "last resort," they are denying that the little war is going on. And, indeed, France is not participating in it in any significant way. The little war is almost entirely the work of American and British forces; the opponents of the big war have not been prepared to join or support or even acknowledge the work that the little war requires.

But Mr. Bush could stop the American march toward the big war if he challenged the French (and the Germans and the Russians) to join the little war. The result would not be a victory for Mr. Hussein or Mr. Chirac, and it would ensure that the Iraqi regime would get weaker over time.

...the United States should challenge the French to make good on their claim that force is indeed a last resort by mobilizing troops of their own and sending them to the gulf. Otherwise, what they are saying is that if things get very bad, they will unleash the American army. And Saddam Hussein knows that the French will never admit that things have gotten that bad. So, if they are serious, the French have to mount a credible threat of their own. Or better, they have to join the United States in every aspect of the little war.

A Europe that prevented the Iraq 'big war' by participating in the 'little war' might have been seen as a more imposing presence on the world stage. That European powers such as France and Germany chose instead to stand on the sidelines and issue lectures perhaps shows that, just as with Afghanistan, the American intervention in Iraq was not sufficiently important to warrant a substantial financial and human investment.

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