Politics & Policy

Priceless

Europe and the Iraq stakes.

Why does Europe’s pledge to take a more active role in Iraq sound like a Master Card commercial?

Consider the following pledges by EU countries to Iraq’s NATO mission:

LUXEMBOURG (current holder of EU presidency): $196,000

BELGIUM: $261,000 and five to ten driving instructors under German command for a training mission based in the UAE.

DENMARK: 10 trainers and seven soldiers for force protection. It also sent an assortment of pistols, radios, binoculars and other equipment for Iraq’s new army

THE NETHERLANDS: 10 military police and 15 trainers already sent for the mission. It might send some more and contribute some money

GREECE: $650,000.

What about Europe’s heavyweights?

FRANCE: set to train 1,500 Iraqi military police in Qatar, but probably outside

NATO’s mission. France may contribute to NATO fund for the mission

SPAIN: plans to train groups of 25 Iraqis in mine clearance at a centre outside Madrid; several groups could be trained each year

GERMANY: $652,000; plus it is training Iraqi military in UAE.

Mending transatlantic relations? Priceless.

There are things that money can’t buy, the ad goes, but for everything else there’s Master Card. And one sure hopes that America will continue to have as good a credit card as one can get, because Europe, with all the great talk of reducing tensions and turning the page, only pledged token support for America’s ambitious agenda in the Middle East. Europe is not rushing to pick up bills and contribute, in economic or human terms, to the long-term goal of a stable and democratic Iraq. For Europe, Iraq remains a misadventure. Even after Iraq’s elections, Europe remains sceptical about the possibility that democracy will flourish. Ethnic conflict, another Islamic regime or more likely both are more plausible to Europeans than Arabs practicing democracy peacefully. While they agree, rhetorically, that advancing democracy in the Middle East is, in the long term, on their agenda as well, they talk the talk, but they hardly walk the walk. Otherwise, why would they pledge so little?

In truth, advancing the cause of freedom in the Middle East is even more important for Europe than the United States. With a Muslim minority of roughly 20 million today, which stands to grow to 40-50 million in the next two decades at the current pace of birth rates and immigration, Europe desperately needs Euro-Muslims to embrace a liberal version of Islam that will foster, not hinder integration. The murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh in the Netherlands–the suspect is a second-generation Dutch of Moroccan descent with no socio-economic impediments to a successful life of achievement–showed how dangerous the influence of radical Islam would be for the fabric of European societies. In France, as many as 50 percent of that country’s prisons’ inmates are Muslim–a clear sign that integration failed. These lost souls are easy prey for radical imams, as the shoe-bomber story in England and José Padilla in the U.S. also prove. It is in Europe’s interest to promote a moderate variant of Islam on the continent, but there is no escaping that Euro-Islam–much like Islam in Pakistan or Indonesia–will view Middle East’s Islam as authoritative. And so to nurture liberal Islam in Europe, Europe must promote liberal Islam in the Middle East, something that cannot be done unless the cause of freedom is also promoted.

This is not happening. Consider France’s decision to ban al-Manar–Hezbollah’s TV station–from broadcasting in France. France shut down al-Manar because of the fear that its sinister message of hateful incitement would, in the long term, stir trouble within its Muslim population. Yet, France is doing nothing to have Europe list Hezbollah as a terror organization, nor is it pressuring either Syria or Iran to disarm Hezbollah. Instead of taking action to promote a change in the Middle East, whose moderate nature will also reverberate in Europe, France chose to address the symptoms of a disease without tackling its causes. No palliative can ever replace an effective cure. And no message of hatred can ultimately be stopped from reaching Europe’s shores. It is the source of hatred that must be eradicated instead.

In short, Europe should have lobbied for democracy in the Middle East, not America. And Europe should be, financially and politically, at the forefront of its promotion. This is not the case. Europe, in its atavistic fear of upsetting the regional status quo, is ultimately working against its own interest.

Its token involvement in Iraq–with the laudable exception of countries like the U.K., Italy, Poland, and Hungary, whose pledge of 21.5 million dollars, troops, and a donation of Russian tanks to the Iraqi army stands out as an exception–indicates that Europe is still ambivalent about democracy, as if the Schadenfreude that an American failure in Iraq would give many Europeans was preferable to a vindication of President Bush’ foreign policy. But failure would cause a political tsunami that would hit Europe’s shores long before its attenuated effect could reach America.

If America fails in the region, Europe will be the first to pay the price. If Europe helps, thereby increasing chances of success for Iraq and more broadly for the entire Middle East, then that accomplishment will be priceless. For everything else, would Europe care show its own Master Card?

Emanuele Ottolenghi teaches Israel studies at Oxford University and is currently a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

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