Politics & Policy

Not The Best of Intentions

Europe's desire to hurt America trumps its urge to help Iraq.

As the war with Iraq draws to an early close, a chorus of diplomatic “experts” are getting their “multilateral” music sheets out, singing about the necessity of making the European Union a co-partner in rebuilding that nation. They are cheerfully chanting that a U.S.-European partnership on Iraq — brokered by the U.N. — will be an outstanding opportunity to heal the diplomatic wounds from the past year and repair our fractured trans-Atlantic alliance.

At the heart of their vision is the belief that America’s “unilateralism” has hurt Europe’s feelings and that we have to atone for our boorish behavior by inviting the Europeans to the postwar prom. In their conception, the U.N. should be a school with Kofi Annan as world headmaster, using his authority to persuade the robust, assertive America to share his toys (in this case, Iraq) with the nervous, delicate EU. If both kids behave themselves, maybe they can go out for ice cream after class.

Now is the time to ask: Will giving the European Union a prominent role in rebuilding Iraq (peacekeeping duties, oil contracts, etc.), breath new life into our so-called trans-Atlantic “alliance” and make French chefs, German bankers, and Dutch potheads like us again?

The cautious answer is “no” and the definitive answer is “no chance in Hades.” Regardless of American generosity in the postwar reconstruction of Iraq, the rift between the United States and Europe is real and will remain wide for many years to come. The reason has less to do with real grievances against U.S. foreign policy and more to do with European loathing of America itself.

A nine-nation survey commissioned last month by the prestigious Pew Global Attitudes Project found a disturbing animosity toward the United State in every major European country except Great Britain. For example, people in Germany held an “unfavorable” opinion of the United States by a margin of 71-25 percent. In France, unfavorables beat favorables by a margin of 67-31 percent. In Italy it was 59-34 percent, in Spain 74-14 percent. While you don’t need to have a plaque in C-SPAN2′s Viewer Hall of Fame to know that anti-Americanism is resurgent in Europe, the breadth of animosity is truly astonishing.

When looking at such data, the logical question is, “Why is there so much hatred of the United States?” If it is simply European squeamishness about the fighting in Iraq (“Guns? Ewww. We got rid of those years ago!”), then the Bush administration can take a lenient attitude toward European pettiness and invite the Brussels crowd to rebuild Iraq with us arm-in-arm.

But Pew’s polling data suggests that the estrangement is far deeper than European squeamishness about war. After Pew asked Europeans whether they favored or opposed American intervention in Iraq, they followed up with two questions concerning the war’s impact on stability in the Middle East and its impact on the Iraqi people themselves. The results are revealing.

In France, 75 percent of respondents said they opposed “the U.S. and other allies taking military action in Iraq to end Saddam Hussein’s rule.” Only 20 percent said they were in favor. But when asked whether or not they thought that with Hussein’s removal, “the Middle East region will be more or less stable,” a plurality of 46-37 percent agreed that the region would be more stable. When asked whether or not they thought “the people of Iraq will be better off or worse off” after the Allied campaign, an overwhelming majority of 73-14 percent agreed that Iraqis would be better off.

The results are mirrored across the continent. In Germany, opponents of the war outpolled supporters by 69-27 percent but a large majority of Germans (56-32 percent) said that the Mideast region would be more stable absent Hussein and an even larger majority of Germans said that the Iraqi people would be better off (71-15 percent). In Italy, only 17 percent of respondents favored their own government’s policy of supporting America in the war, but once again large numbers said the region would be more stable (46-27 percent) and the Iraqi people better off (61-18 percent).

Pew’s polling data suggests that there was little disagreement between the American government and the European people when it came to Hussein’s cruelty toward his own subjects and the menace he posed to his neighbors. And yet instead of applauding the Bush administration’s uncompromising stance toward evil, the European “street” is almost as anti-American as the Arab “street.” The typical poll respondent — let’s call him Pierre — is saying in effect, “Yes, we think the war will be good for the Iraqi people and the Arab world, but for God sakes, don’t do it!” What makes this attitude even more astonishing is that it is Americans — not Europeans — who are risking their blood and treasure in the Persian Gulf, and yet Americans proudly march into battle while the Europeans snicker and heckle from the sidelines.

The average American reader is probably wondering, “have the Europeans completely lost their minds?” While it is tempting to answer “yes,” there is actually a twisted logic to their seemingly split mind over the war in Iraq. Of course, Europeans see the necessity and justness of our cause, but they strongly resent American military and economic power and wish to thwart and stymie it at every possible avenue. European opposition to the war has less to do with the merits of our policy and more to do with an insidious, reflexive anti-Americanism. Of course, Pew didn’t ask Europeans, “do you oppose the war in Iraq simply because you don’t like America?” The pollsters would never get an honest answer. But we can be certain that such sentiment is running rampant on the continent.

The Europeans hate us for who we are, not because of what we are doing in Iraq. And that hate will grow stronger as TV images of Iraqis kissing American troops are beamed to the student lounges of the Sorbonne. Much to Pierre’s chagrin, America is not going to stop being the world’s largest military and economic power. America isn’t going to stop being a beacon of freedom, eager to share her blessings with those less fortunate and to ignore those who are too frightened or too envious to assist her.

In the coming months, many unresolved questions will need to be answered: Who will head the Iraqi transitional government and when will elections be held? How will the threat of terrorism be neutralized within Iraq’s borders? How will oil contracts be divvied up? What will Iraq’s relations be with its neighbors and Israel? The results from the Pew survey suggest that if Europeans are given a large role in reconstructing Iraq, their policies will be dictated not by what helps the Iraqi people, but what hurts and embarrasses America.

It is imperative that we ignore the “drums of peace” and publicly renounce any European participation in reconstructing postwar Iraq. The stakes are too high to allow dubious “allies” to continue to poke sticks in our eyes when the best hope for freedom and democracy in the Arab world is at stake. A new American-European partnership for “peace” may go swell at a Brookings Institution seminar, but it’s unlikely to go smoothly in the cities and villages of Iraq.

Our so-called “unilateralism” has freed an enslaved people from the clutches of a mad tyrant and made the world a safer place. If we abandon our worthy mission to please a continent that polls suggest will never be pleased, then we will have only ourselves to blame.

Todd J. Weiner works at the American Enterprise Institute.


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