Politics & Policy

Playing The Loot

The axis meets in retreat.

For those in Europe’s ultraliberal establishment, anti-Americanism is a simple matter of faith. It’s like the gods to the old Greeks — it’s nutty, sure, but it’s just what they believe. Besides, it offers an explanation of almost any phenomenon, including the weather, and it’s tolerant enough to accommodate many other, older religious traditions. For example, it’s perfectly fine if you want to believe that Jesus died for our sins, so long as you also believe that America committed them all in the first place.

The sin of liberation, which the Americans so blatantly committed in Baghdad this last week, is examined by most of the European press today in terms of the looting which has followed. According to a report in today’s Suddeutsche Zeitung, while American generals sit around “justifying themselves for doing nothing” as Baghdad is being sacked and pillaged, a local U.N. representative, one Veronique Taveau, is telling Liberation that “the inaction of the occupying forces” in the face of looting is a “violation of the Geneva Convention.” The story’s headline is “Situation chaotique et catastrophique à Bagdad” because everyone knows that chaos and catastrophe trump statue-tipping any day. For the Press Sinister, those awkward scenes of jubilant Iraqis welcoming American Marines must be erased as quickly as possible.

Alas, there’s also chaos and catastrophe in Moscow, Paris and Berlin. According to a piece in the Berliner Zeitung, the rapid collapse of Baghdad has sent French diplomats scurrying through Araby to convince the leaders of the region to reward France’s anti-American position “with affection and orders” — though in a pinch, they could skip the affection, no doubt. Worse, says the paper, the instant collapse of Saddam’s regime has surprised Jacques Chirac and put him in danger of allowing domestic issues, including “racism and anti-Semitism”, to erode his amazing poll numbers. The Guardian agrees: Chirac is at risk, it reports, because of a “backlash from his peace campaigning…after warnings from his own party that France had gone too far in opposing Britain and the US, and now faced international isolation.” Le Monde, meanwhile, points to Germany’s embarrassment at backing a losing proposition, reporting not only the demos by Kurds waving Union Jacks and American flags and filling the streets of Nuremberg, but also the dejection of anti-war Germans in Berlin. But if you think Schroeder’s government is embarrassed, says Le Figaro, you should see the Russians. Getting a better grip on the moral edge, the paper says, is the reason for desperate, last-minute convening of a bizarre “antiwar” summit in St. Petersburg today. Good thing the French will be there, says Le Figaro in a non-ironic editorial comment, since it is France’s destiny to bring peace to the relationship between France’s “natural allies” — by which is not necessarily meant Germany and Russia.

There’s more to fuel axis anxieties. In today’s Die Welt, there’s a Colin Powell Q & A. The big Q, of course, is about the U.N.’s role. The A, from Powell, is “central,” but not, you know, actually leading. And to really put the fear of George into the French, Le Figaro runs a full-fanged Richard Perle op-ed today. The headline: “The Fall of the UN.” All of this will be put into the big pot au feu which will be served up at an end-of-the-month meeting between Germany, France, Belgium, and mighty Luxemburg, at which the formation of a European military force will be unveiled to act as a “counter” to America.

But all of those French-inspired efforts to use the EU to create an illusion of French military might is likely to come to naught, thanks to the expansion of Europe to include countries such as Hungary, where a weekend referendum will decide whether voters want to join Greater France, as Paris apparently thinks of the EU. In Hungary, as the Times reports today, although voters will probably vote to join, there’s little sympathy for French farce. For the past several months, Chirac has been agitating against the U.S. by holding the EU club over the baby seals of Eastern Europe. Said Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, who was among those accused by Chirac of being “badly brought up” for endorsing the American position on Iraq: “The greatest lesson I learnt in the last ten months was the lack of dialogue, which led us to different opinions regarding Iraq and other issues. I would like Europe to acknowledge that a Europe of 25 countries will require much more intensive dialogue.” Jump back, Jacques! Seals bite!

Even the pro-axis Brits (only the BBC would have the temerity to run the headline “Black Day” over a photo of a toppling statue of Saddam on its website, as it did yesterday afternoon) are trying to muddle through their own embarrassing excesses. The quagmires, the uprising of the “Arab street”, the “millions” of dead women and children Barbara Williams and other lame Lefties warned about never materialized, and the response of the Iraqis themselves has been disappointing, to say the least. John Keegan, in today’s Daily Telegraph, claims they all got it so wrong simply because they didn’t have enough brains to handicap a pretty simple horse race.

But Julian Barnes speaks (at length — the chap is a novelist, after all) for the anti-American — and by extension, anti-Blairist — faithful in a Guardian op-ed called, “This war was not worth a child’s finger”. The gist: It wasn’t worth it. The required ancillary reading: The Human Rights Watch report on Iraq. No doubt there are many children’s fingers available in Iraq, all of which could be used to point at True Believers like Mr. Barnes.

Denis Boyles is a journalist based in Europe.

Denis BoylesDennis Boyles is a writer, editor, former university lecturer, and the author/editor of several books of poetry, travel, history, criticism, and practical advice, including Superior, Nebraska (2008), Design Poetics (1975), ...


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