VIEWPOINT FROM EUROPE:
What Went Wrong?
A comment on the European stance towards current US policies.
As the planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon buildings on September 11, 2001, the entire world halted in a moment of terrified confusion. The terrorist attacks were perceived not just as an assault on the US, but as an attack on the values and the way of life that we are holding dear. In Europe, the governments of each and every country issued declarations of solidarity, while the populace felt deep compassion for the victims and their families.
Now, only 17 months later, millions of individuals out of the very same populace took to the streets of Rome, Paris, London, Berlin and many other European cities to express their concern and their protest against the current US policies. What went wrong?
Although many Europeans feel that they are closely related to the US, they have been coming to doubt the status of the US as the moral leader of the “free world.” These sentiments are not only a reaction on the policy concerning Iraq, but they are rooted within a general uneasiness, spreading since the US government adopted its highly conservative and harshly unilateral course.
Significant of this course were the withdrawal of support for the Kyoto Protocol, the revocation of the ABM Treaty and the attempts to undermine the establishment of the International Criminal Court. Outside the US, these steps were perceived as an offence, an act of disloyalty in what we thought to be a common goal. The result was a great loss of trust in the powerful ally.
Since then, the Bush administration gave us little encouragement to alter our sentiments. Countries that have had close relations with the US were dismissed as unthankful and old-fashioned cowards for pointing out they do not agree with the recent policies launched by the US government.
People joining protest marches against the course the Bush administration is pursuing, are defamed as anti-American.
Concerning the multinational institutions and alliances, a similarly destructive policy is being monitored. By pressing for a decision that several UN security council members oppose, the Bush administration is not strengthening, but willingly undermining the authority of the United Nations.
The same can be said of the current situation within the NATO and the world-wide coalition against terrorism, which has proved to be a vital, irreplaceable tool to fight this in fact imminent threat. By disrupting those valuable alliances, the Bush administration is hence eventually putting the safety of the US citizens at stake.
Furthermore, in posing the threat of employing “mini-nukes” on future enemies, as was outlined in the National Security Strategy on September 20th in 2002, US representatives adopted a unilateral course that is disrupting the strength of law in favour of promoting a vision in which the law is to be enforced solely by the strongest.
Similarly, we have become concerned about developments inside the US. In the aftermath of September 11, we felt that the public’s trauma and fear were exploited in order to enact rather undemocratic measures. We watched the USA Patriot Act being installed. We saw how those who spoke up against the official proclamations found themselves defamed as unpatriotic and un-American. Later we observed the humiliating—and indeed unlawful—treatment of the Afghanistan War POWs. From the other side of the Atlantic Ocean we witnessed how those inalienable rights of individual freedom for which the US has long been praised were gradually limited for the sake of higher security standards and aggressive patriotism.
Concerning the matter of Iraq, we do agree on the fact that the Iraqi people deserve to be granted their right to live in peace and without being oppressed by the regime of Saddam Hussein. Still, we do not believe that inflicting even more grief and sorrow upon the Iraqi populace—killing and mutilating a great number of those people whom the US government says it is intending to liberate—could serve the purpose.
Instead, war would destabilize the entire region and give rise to a further radicalization in the Islamic world.
Explaining why it would be necessary to wage a war against Iraq, US Secretary of State Colin Powell pointed out that Saddam Hussein posed an immediate threat to world-wide peace and stability. Yet how can a country whose arsenal of biological and chemical weapons has been diminished—a country that has never been capable of building nuclear weapons, that is currently surrounded by more than a hundred thousand soldiers, that is without alliances and under the permanent surveillance of UN inspectors—be an actual threat to world-wide stability?
Considering the strict embargo prescriptions and subsequent economic desolation of Iraq, as well as the notoriously poor condition of its army, it is an unconvincing argument that Iraq could pose any immediate military threat.
The second point Mr Powell made, alleging links of the Iraqi government with Al Qaeda, is likewise suspect. Even the CIA has admitted it could not prove the existence of such relations, while the French secret service has flatly denied them.
US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is demanding continuously in his declarations that we Europeans ought to be thankful that US forces liberated half of Europe, enabling democracy, prosperity and stability to take place in a region that was formerly torn by wars, dictatorship and Nazi barbarism.
Yes, we have come to enjoy economic support, military protection and great pieces of music, movies and literature. Many of us name the US among the best places in the world to live. We are not anti-American.
It is the short-sighted and dangerous crusade of the Bush administration that we strongly oppose. The course it has been taking since its installation is leading a majority of people in several European countries to fear that President George W. Bush poses a more imminent threat to world peace than the dictators Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il.
We Europeans feel that taking measures to change the indeed repulsive situation inside the Iraq is not a game, as President Bush’s statements might lead us to assume, but a serious and risky business.
This is why so many of us took to the streets the weekend of February 15, and why we cannot agree with the aggressive policy the current US government is promoting.
The writers are Berlin-based university students of Luxemburgish and German nationality. They are engaged in a local peace movement group, and took part in the Berlin peace demonstration on Feb. 16, 2003.
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This story was published on March 5, 2003.