For the Bush administration's theologians, the rationale, timing and necessity for going to war against Iraq have been self-evident for so long that the only reason no shots have been fired by now is mainly mechanical: not enough forces in place yet. That's why the President sounded so exasperated last week when he called the rising volume of objections from abroad, even as he was jockeying his troops into ready position, the "rerun of a bad movie." Surely, he snapped, "our friends have learned lessons from the past."
Yet for a growing chorus of other folks, not least of all America's foremost allies, those lessons are no easy guide to the future. Accusing the U.S. of needless "impatience," French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin seemed to speak for much of the international community last week when he declared: "We see no justification right now for any military action."
Is this the signal of a major rift pitting the U.S. against the world, or just part of the usual diplomatic sparring and face-saving before a global coalition sets off for Baghdad? Both France and Germany raised sharp and public disapproval with Bush's rush toward war, then showed their Euro-muscle by deferring a U.S. request for NATO military assistance.
In advance of this week's scheduled report on weapons inspections to the United Nations Security Council, powerful members were laying down markers for a contentious debate on whether and when to authorize a fight. France hinted at a veto. President Vladimir Putin called Bush to warn that Russia likewise is not ready to say "go" either, and China let it be known it was "extremely close" to the French position.
Washington believes it can steamroller its way through with tough diplomacy — or go in with little help if necessary. Yet a sizable majority — 65% according to one poll — of American voters indicate they are also reluctant to start shooting without broad international backing.
Why are so many of America's friends balking? The antiwar sentiment among Washington's expected allies reflects a deep reservoir of skepticism and misgiving that stretches along a spectrum from immediate doubts to long-term philosophical differences, from disagreement over the purpose of inspections and the threshold of war to worries that the U.S. doesn't really care if it has allies. Of course, Bush can count on loyal friends like Spain, Italy, Poland and Britain to stand by his side, despite the disapproval of their citizens. And some of the vocal opponents, like France and Russia, have lucrative commercial or financial ties with Iraq they fear a U.S.-led war might sunder.
Nonetheless, the tensions surfacing last week reflect strong popular opposition across Europe that won't necessarily fade away even if reluctant governments eventually opt to go along with the world's superpower. Here's a dissection of allied anxieties:
WHERE'S THE PROOF ON IRAQ?
Many Europeans aren't convinced Saddam Hussein really poses a graver threat now than the one everyone has learned to live with since the Gulf War. They feel Bush's indictment of Saddam's brutal character and sins is old news and want to know: what's so dangerous about Iraq today that only war can save us from? Most don't share Bush's obsessive conviction he already "knows" Saddam Hussein hides away stockpiles of illicit biological and chemical weapons and is close to obtaining a nuclear one.
Of course, many Europeans suspect Saddam has dangerous stuff; they understand the arguments that Saddam is a bad guy who may do worse things someday. Yet the forbidden weaponry turned up so far is pretty tame: 16 undeclared chemical warheads, illegal importation of 200 missile engines and the disappearance of some high explosives that could be used for nuclear warheads. Also uncovered were documents that describe a technique used to enrich uranium.
So most Europeans want to be shown a fresh, momentous piece of evidence before they'll back a war. When they hear Bush make accusation after accusation, when they hear repeated avowals that the U.S. has "very convincing evidence," they wonder why the Administration has not offered that proof in public. They aren't satisfied with the explanation that if the classified info were revealed, it would harm America's intelligence-gathering capability. "For me it's simple," says Eric Platel, a 34-year-old French computer systems manager who describes himself as conservative. "If Bush has evidence Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, he presents it. When the Americans say they have proof of something but refuse to show you, they make a lot of people suspicious."
A startling number of Europeans (75% of the French and 54% of the Germans) suspect Bush of crasser motives: he wants U.S. control of Iraq's oil, he wants a quick war to enhance his re-election prospects in 2004, he wants to avenge his dad. Saddam may be menacing, but if his capability to make trouble isn't visible, conclude Europeans, the Bush Administration hasn't made a persuasive case for military action. In the words of one U.S. diplomat in Europe, "the battle for European public opinion has been lost," though he hopes that a smoking gun or two could at least stop the rot.
CAN'T THE INSPECTIONS GO ON FOR LONGER?
Many Europeans recoiled last week when Bush declared his patience had run out and judged the inspections a failure even before the U.N. received its first formal report. "This business about more time, how much time do we need," said the President, "to see clearly that [Saddam's] not disarming?" Yet the French contend the simple presence of inspectors has effectively frozen Saddam's programs and that kind of containment is better than war.
The U.N. search has only been going on for two months and Europeans across the continent say: give it more time. France, Germany, Russia and China have all publicly and privately urged Bush to slow down. With the exception of the U.S., every one of the 15 members of the Security Council wants inspections to continue beyond this week's report, says a Council diplomat. Even the staunchly supportive British are not eager to fight soon. While dutifully repeating Washington's "weeks not months" mantra about the end of inspections, a British official admits "we need to give [chief inspector Hans] Blix the time he needs."
At issue is not just whether the inspectors have had a fair shot in two months at uncovering the suspect weapons or verifying they are gone. It's whether the whole U.N. process feels legitimate or like a sham. While the Bush Administration contends it needs no more reason for war, it engaged in inspections diplomacy in order to give potential allies a way to join up on their own terms. Washington is now seen as wiggling out of its commitment.
European governments want to be able to persuade the world, especially the Muslim part, that all other options were exhausted before force was used. And they need the cover of an inspections process broadly deemed genuine, if they are to lead their reluctant populations into war. "If people have the impression that going the multilateral U.N. way was only a tactic and Bush's decision has already been taken," says Friedbert Pflüger, foreign affairs spokesman for Germany's opposition Christian Democratic Union, "there will be a problem in Europe." Large numbers of Europeans believe the timetable for war is driven not by Iraq's behavior but by the U.S. desire to attack before Iraq's desert weather heats up to make warfare more difficult.
THE U.N. MUST BE THE ONE TO AUTHORIZE WAR
Back in November, when the u.s. squeezed out unanimous approval for Resolution 1441 reinstating inspections, the language specified "serious consequences" if Iraq were to be found in material breach of its terms. Ever since, the U.S. has insisted it needs no further U.N. vote to march on Baghdad when it sees fit. But for Europe, the key to the whole diplomatic enterprise is to keep the U.S. under the U.N. umbrella. Aides to British Prime Minister Tony Blair say he wants to wring a U.S. commitment for a second resolution from Bush when they meet at Camp David this week. Even in the most pro-war country, Britain, 77% of the citizens in one survey said they would oppose joining a U.S.-led war without a U.N. blessing.
Yet seeking one will set off a fierce dogfight. France, which long demanded a second resolution, now says it might veto any attempt to pass one this soon. Germany, while it has no veto, takes over the chairmanship of the Council in February, and the government of Gerhard Schröder is committed to standing against war. His coalition partners in the Green Party can cause serious trouble for Schröder's thin majority if he bows to U.S. pressure. "We committed ourselves to say no," says Christian Ströbele, a stalwart Green pacifist who nearly brought down the government when Schröder sent troops to Afghanistan. "That can only mean that even on the Security Council we cannot consider giving our assent to a war."
The Bush team would be happy to have an explicit resolution if possible, but say they're ready to fight alone — with just a "coalition of the willing" — if the U.N. doesn't step up. They won't even try for a second vote unless they know they can win, since defeat could damage prospects of pulling together an ad hoc alliance.
For many Europeans, though, a U.N. war resolution addresses something more than merely Iraq: it's a means to maintain global order and international law. No one seriously doubts that Saddam's regime is indefensible, but Europeans want any such judgment to issue from the Security Council, not from Washington. They share a consensus that international agreement is a good way to order the jungle of world politics. Bush seems to regard international institutions as a nuisance and thinks Europe hides behind legalisms to pretend that brutal force isn't sometimes necessary in a messy world. But if Washington acts without a U.N. blessing, it sets an ominous precedent — if it's okay for the U.S. to use force whenever it chooses, then why can't other states claim the same privilege?
INVADING IRAQ DISRUPTS THE WAR ON TERROR
Europeans worry the U.S. hasn't carefully thought the conflict through, but blithely put its faith in best-case assumptions. U.N. diplomats hear rumblings from Afghanistan that al-Qaeda will strike there when the U.S. strikes Iraq; the terrorists could just as easily retaliate in Europe or the U.S. People on the Continent think vital collaborators needed to stamp out the extremists will quit cooperating, especially in the Muslim countries that constitute the terror war's front line.
The U.S., advised Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, "must be careful not to take unilateral steps that might threaten the unity of the entire [anti]terrorism coalition." Would-be terrorists are all-too likely to embrace violence as a reaction to what they see as an unjust American war on Islam. At the least, Europeans think, a war with Iraq will absorb energy and resources that might otherwise be concentrated against al-Qaeda, which seems to them to pose a much more immediate danger.
While Washington proposes that the demise of Saddam will lead to a new era of democracy throughout the Middle East, Europeans think it could just as well spur chaos. Like German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, many predict "disastrous consequences for long-term regional stability." They worry about the impact if moderate Arab regimes are undermined, if Turkey is threatened by Kurdish separatism, if the West further alienates the peple of the Muslim world.
COWBOY BUSH IS BACK AND HIS STYLE GRATES
When you poke under Europe's high-minded objections, you discover a lot of hostility toward Bush personally. Across the Atlantic, his style grates: Europeans are offended by his swagger, tough talk and invocations of God and evil. "People in Germany feel threatened by such wording," says Ludger Volmer, foreign-affairs spokesman for the Green Party.
Many Europeans have no patience with the argument that Bush is adopting a tough-guy posture to make sure Saddam knows he means business. The compliment is returned; it's no secret across the Atlantic that Bush's men frequently call their allies "Eurowimps." To the Administration's European critics, though, American foreign policy is confused and inconsistent and, in Iraq's case, motivated by Bush's animus toward Saddam Hussein. "Bush comes across here as someone who's incapable of articulating what he's going to do in a convincing manner," says François Heisbourg, director of the Strategic Research Foundation in Paris. "He came up with his 'axis of evil' thing, then North Korea happened and we see Bush explaining that North Korea isn't like Iraq. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to work out that it doesn't add up."
AMERICA'S FOREIGN POLICY IS TOO ARROGANT
Many Europeans complain not just about Bush's style, but about substance as well. They disagree with a broad range of Bush's policies, ranging from his opposition to the Kyoto treaty on global warming to his support of the death penalty to his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To many Europeans, this war looks like U.S. imperialism. And hypocrisy: they don't see why diplomacy can deal with North Korea's nuclear weapons program but not with Iraq's, or why U.N. resolutions should be enforced on Iraq but not on Israel. That makes even historic allies dig in their heels. Last fall's protracted struggle to negotiate U.N. Resolution 1441 was not just about Iraq, said a participating diplomat, but about U.S. power.
Europeans largely accept the U.S. as the undisputed world leader. They also accept, perhaps grudgingly, that in some cases U.S. force of arms is needed. "Iraq is a symptom not a cause" of the transatlantic rift, says Sergei Karaganov, foreign policy chief of the Institute of Europe in Moscow. "The real cause is that Europe is looking inward and thus shies away from the world. So the U.S. is actually pushed to fill the gaps." But Europeans still want Washington to take their concerns and approaches into account.
Bush's provocative doctrine of pre-emptive war — and Iraq is its first example — plus his Administration's triumphalist tone boil down, in European eyes, to a dismissive message: we're strong, you're not, so shut up and do what we want. Says Lousewies van der Laan, a Dutch Member of the European Parliament: "They need the rest of the world more than ever and they seem to be going out of their way to offend it."
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld dismissed the forceful opposition from France and Germany as unimportant chatter from "old Europe." In so doing, he managed to denigrate something that's seen on the Continent as one of the best things that's happened in the past 50 years: a strong Franco-German relationship. Secretary of State Colin Powell was reportedly so "incandescent" with rage at France's broadside that he struck a harsh new tone aligning himself with the advocates of war. "Inspections will not work," he declared, and "it's an open question right now" whether the U.S. would seek further U.N. approval before acting. Yet the Administration is concerned European resistance could nourish American antiwar sentiment.
U.S. officials say Bush will probably give the inspections more time — but only a little more — before insisting on a final decision. The President will use the time to try again to make the strongest case for war, in hopes he can still bring old allies aboard. But at heart the Administration thinks the furor won't do more than delay the inevitable. As a senior advisor to Bush once put it: "The way to win international acceptance is to win. That's diplomacy: winning."