Most European newspapers today have front pages that are variations on a theme seen on page one of Il Messagerio: crowds of happy Iraqis waving at U.S. Marines and knocking down statues of Saddam. If you weren’t paying attention, you might even think we’re at the beginning of the end, at least as far as America’s combat role is concerned.
But you’d be wrong. For the Left-wing media in Europe (and elsewhere, for that matter) is on a constant-war footing. Hence, America’s battles have almost nothing to do with deep-sixing despots or bringing eBay to the unwired. Instead, every American conflict is an unending one fought for “hearts and minds.”
Alas, there are some wars that just can’t be won. For example, no matter what happens in Iraq, or even in Israel, no matter how many WMDs are found, as long as there’s a Republican in the White House, the United States of America will never win the hearts or the minds of any of these:
The Press Sinister, including the BBC, Le Monde, the Independent, the Guardian, Suddeutsche Zeitung and so on and on and on.
The government of Germany
The populace of France
The old lefties of British Labour
It’s an unwinnable war, because only the press can claim to determine when hearts and minds have been won, of course. So it’s a heartless, mindless uphill struggle.
Here, for example, is how Baghdad’s first day of freedom looks to Andrew Gilligan, the BBC’s hapless man in Iraq, the chap who couldn’t find Americans in Baghdad or at the airport until two full days after they arrived: “The reaction on the street is 50-50,” said Gilligan on the World Service this morning. “They’re happy to be liberated, but ashamed it had to be done this way….For the first time, they’re exercising their right to free speech but what they’re saying [to the Americans] is, ‘Go home!’” Whatever can the Americans do to win an Iraqi heart or a Moslem mind, asks a World Service anchor? “Well, the Americans have to behave with respect,” said Gilligan.
On TV, I saw Robert Fisk in the crowd that had gathered spontaneously in Baghdad to pull down a statue of Saddam. So I know he was there. Yet to the Iraqis, according to Fisk’s Independent dispatch, the day was “something sinister rather than joyful”. The problem: the Americans, don’t you know. However, Fisk made it more joyful, at least for himself, by lending his satellite phone to a U.S. Marine so the Yank could phone home — and so Fisk could milk the moment of irony. Attention, lads: there are no free calls in Baghdad. If I could recognize Fisk, so, apparently, could the Iraqis: As the King of Compassion tried to enter the looter-filled Ministry of Economics, the crowd swore at him and drove him away. Our advice: Next time, send in a homesick marine.
The Germans have been keeping a low profile in the build-up to tomorrow’s “anti-war summit”, at which the Germans, the French and the Russians will meet to decide how to divide their losses. But the Germans watch TV, too. As today’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports, the American triumph in Baghdad is hard to dismiss, since the response of liberated Iraqis actually matters. “Nothing succeeds like success,” writes the insightful Berthold Kohler. The longer those successes continue, adds Kohler, the less likely a direct U.N. takeover appears. But, he says, if violence breaks out between Shiites and Sunnis and Kurds, the “experienced” multilateralists-presumably meaning U.N. peacekeepers — will need to be called in.
The Daily Telegraph leader-writer, typing away in London, seemed to produce a more accurate picture of the remarkable events the world saw yesterday. “Today is, above all, the day of the people of Iraq. We shall learn much more in the coming weeks of the appalling details of how they have been murdered and tortured and crushed.…We may even unearth information about the corrupt friendships that existed between Saddam and many prominent politicians in Europe. Gradually, there will be unveiled the complete portrait of a tyranny, with its lies, its cronies, its apologists, its cruelties, its appalling power. The more we see, the more we shall know that we were right to invade, and the more the world will want to help the Iraqi people move towards the freedom and peace that our great Anglo-Saxon civilisation takes for granted.”
Speaking of Saddam’s friends, Jacques Chirac, the president of France, put on a straight face and told reporters today that he was really happy that the Anglo-American alliance had liberated Baghdad. But the media coverage in France stressed angry Iraqis and lunatic looters, not men, women and children greeting liberators. The anti-American side in France (and you could invite the other side over for dinner) is deeply disappointed that the war has so far gone so well and that the Iraqis produced such an embarrassing display of gratitude to the Coalition. The French know that Americans now see them as a deceitful enemy, one not soon to be forgiven. Consequently, many in Paris fear growing French isolation. Even the account of the Strasbourg decision to expand the EU in today’s Liberation is low-key and stresses French ambivalence at permitting so many pro-American governments into Europe. A French deputy in quoted elsewhere in today’s Liberation that “Jacques Chirac must admit that the courage of the Americans and the English have brought a dictatorship to an end.” The piece goes on to fret about the consequences of Baghdad’s fall.
Le Figaro’s wrap-up of events is much more lively, quoting everyone and everything: Finally, The Onion and Michael Ledeen are together at last! But Le Figaro also focuses on the diminishing possibility that the U.N. will do more than deliver pizza and Band-Aids in Iraq. The story quotes the Onion’s version of an American solution to the problem of a weasel-laden Security Council, in which China, Russia, France are replaced by Condi, Rummy, and Cheney. But I think that’s exactly what happened, oui?
— Denis Boyles is a journalist based in Europe.