TOPICS > Politics

Deepening Divide Over Iraq

February 10, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: For more on the splits between the U.S. and its traditional European allies on Iraq, we get three perspectives.

Richard Holbrooke was U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. in the Clinton administration. He also served as U.S. Ambassador to Germany from 1993 to 1994, and then as assistant secretary of state for European affairs from 194 to 1996. James Woolsey served twelve years in government for both Republican and Democratic administrations. He was director of central intelligence under Pres. Clinton, and currently sits on the defense policy board which advises Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld. Charles Kupchan was a director for European affairs on the national Security Council in the last administration. He’s now a senior fellow at the council on foreign relations, and an associate professor of international relations at Georgetown University.

Welcome to you all.

Jim Woolsey, how serious is this rift over Iraq? Does it represent a significant roadblock for the Bush administration?

JAMES WOOLSEY: I think it’s a serious rift. But I don’t think it blocks the administration from doing what they want to do. Secretary Rumsfeld pointed out, it’s 16 to three in NATO, and Sen. McCain chided this last weekend the French and German as little bit for being unilateralist.

JAMES WOOLSEY: It’s an accurate charge, they are being that way. But they’re important countries. And I think that the situation is one in which we need to watch the British very closely.

If by acting the way they are, the French particularly are essentially threatening to veto a resolution in the Security Council, that could make things somewhat more difficult for Tony Blair, who has been, to put it mildly, a standup guy in all of this, showing a lot of political courage. And that could make it tougher for the administration. I think the administration will get through this, but this is not a good development.

MARGARET WARNER: Richard Holbrooke, how significant do you find this?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: I think what happened today in NATO was a disgrace. Turkey is a critical country. All this was was a planning effort. The principle one for all and all for one in NATO was fractured today by the French, the Belgians and Germans, but as Lloyd Robertson and Don Rumsfeld both said in your setup piece, things are going to go on. You and Jim Woolsey and you were all in Munich together over the weekend listening to that remarkable exchange between the German foreign minister and Sec. Rumsfeld. And the healthy thing was that the critical alliance was having a public dialogue. The sorry thing is that we’re not going to be able to get our act together at this time over this issue.

Now, is this a crisis? No. It isn’t. It’s a serious mess. But the situation vis-a-vis Iraq will proceed without any reference to what happens in NATO if NATO refuses to go along, because the U.S. And its allies and 18 nations in Europe have now publicly endorsed the U.S. stand. Basically the French, Germans, Luxembourg and Belgium are more or less isolated. The foreign minister was standing with Rumsfeld in your piece just now.

As for the U. N., there doesn’t need to be another Security Council resolution. 1441, one of the best resolutions ever crafted in the U. N. and hats off to Colin Powell and his colleagues for their diplomatic achievement, plus the preceding resolutions going back to 1991 are all the authority that’s needed to take military action. So one way or another, it’s my view that the events of the last three days, in Brussels and Paris, in Munich, and in the U.N. have actually accelerated the timetable towards a military conflict rather than slowed it down.

MARGARET WARNER: Charles Kupchan, do you see it this way, these events, a, will not be a set back for what the Bush administration wants to do and may have accelerated the timetable?

CHARLES KUPCHAN: I think I have a somewhat more sobering view than my colleagues, Jim Woolsey and Richard Holbrooke, in the sense that I don’t think the U.S. has quite as much support as they do. This was as Richard Holbrooke rightly pointed out not a question of should we attack Iraq, it was simply a question of should we prepare to defend Turkey if the war were to threaten Turkey’s security. You couldn’t even get NATO to agree on that, and that’s really an ancillary issue.

But I think that even the big issue, should the United States lead a coalition against Iraq, is still a question for which there is not a great deal of support in Europe. The letter that was circulated that eight members signed did not endorse the war, it simply said let’s not let the war against Iraq set back the Trans-Atlantic Alliance, let’s seek unity in the U.N. So, I fear that we are seeing a widening gap between the United States and Europe. I agree with my colleagues that this will not prevent the Bush administration from going to war.

But I think the fallout will be very, very consequential. Essentially NATO will have been called into question. The idea that European and American security is indivisible I think will basically be exposed to be untrue. So I do see this as a historical turning point of sorts. And I think if the U.S. goes to war without the support of France, Germany and Russia, it will deal a serious blow to the infrastructure of the international system.

MARGARET WARNER: Why has this rift developed, James Woolsey, why are the Europeans at least the French and Germans taking this position?

JAMES WOOLSEY: Well, there are two different reasons. I think a lot of the French interest is economic, they have a lot of deals with Saddam Hussein, oil deals and others. And also France for many years has historically seen its essence in part in these international fora as thwarting the United States. Germany is new and different here. This I think derives in part from the chancellor’s, heavily from the chancellor’s election strategy back in the fall in which he was in desperate straits and he pulled out the anti-Americanism as a way of trying to solidify the left wing of his party and the associated greens, and pull the election out by a small margin.

But what is really damaging here, I think, is their approach toward Turkey, because Turkey is a moderate Muslim state, as the secretary said it’s a model in a lot of ways for what we would like much of the rest of the Middle East to budget and to thwart even contingency planning, which is what they’re doing, is a remarkable thing.

MARGARET WARNER: Charles Kupchan, your view on why this rift has developed and why the Europeans are, keep saying the Europeans, of course it’s not all the European leadership, but the French and German, is along with the U.S. seems to be willing to push this to a confrontation.

CHARLES KUPCHAN: I think there are two different issues at play. One of them is a substantive objection to whether or not an attack against Iraq will improve joint security or diminish it. I think the Europeans are concerned that an attack will radicalize the Muslim world in the Middle East as well as Muslim populations in Europe. I think they fear that far from aiding the war on terrorism, it could increase the number of people who feel disaffected and may gravitate toward al-Qaida and other groups. So I think they’re simply not convinced that even if Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, that the best way to deal with the situation is to attack.

Then there’s a separate issue that has much more to do with the United States. I think that to many Europeans, the key question here is not Iraq but America, and there is a sense that the United States is perhaps too powerful and too unilateralist for its own good and needs to be reigned in. And in that sense the European position is in part about checking the United States, trying to tell the Bush administration that it thinks it’s go it alone proclivities are undermining international order, undermining multilateralism, and I think that’s one of the main reasons we’ve seen the French, the Germans and as of today the Russians dig in their heels against the American position.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Can I make a comment on this? I think we are in, we’re wildly overstating the problem here. I’m not here to defend the administration, I think they are handling the U.S. alliance relations from Korea to Europe has been flawed from the beginning of the conceptual level. But we are not in a crisis with Europe. There are three things going on here.

First of all, there’s a U.S. disagreement with several European countries. But 18 countries have come out in support of us, and Charlie Kupchan way understates the importance of that letter by reading the actual words as though they were the key. The key thing is first eight major countries including three of the five biggest, Britain, Spain and Italy, came out and in a letter that they didn’t even tell the Germans and the French about defended us, and then the smaller countries in eastern and central Europe. So 18 countries all E.U. and NATO members, or about to become members, came out in support of us. So that’s number one. A U.S. problem with some European governments.

The second thing that’s going on is an internal European dispute. The one that’s clear when over two thirds of the European countries are still supporting us, and this is notwithstanding diplomacy which is in my mind not been very deft on the part of the administration.

And finally, a tremendous division inside the countries themselves. Margaret, you and I and Jim Woolsey also saw that right after the two sections from Fisher and Rumsfeld you showed, the head of the C.D.U. opposition —


RICHARD HOLBROOKE: — whose party lost by a tiny amount, came out and said very clearly in the same conference that if her government were in power they would have supported us. So let’s not overdo this.

There is a problem in U.S.-European relations, yes, but it will all be settled one way or the other not by the debate we’re having now or what happened in Munich over the weekend or what happened in Brussels today, all of which is lamentable. It will be settled by the war itself. If the war is quick and relatively clean, then success will have 100 fathers. If it’s a long protracted mess, all of us, the United States, the Europeans, everyone is going to participate in the consequences, and we will be starting afresh after the war.

And one last thing: In the corridors of this conference I spoke to many German parliamentarians, several of the most influential in the governing party told me they have already begun private discussions themselves on how to repair relations between the U.S. and Germany after the war, because they are very upset that Chancellor Schroeder and President Bush are not on speaking terms.

MARGARET WARNER: Let me get briefly from all of you, before we get to the end of the war, what do you think will happen the rest of this week.

Jim Woolsey, do you think we’re headed toward a confrontation between competing resolutions from France and Germany versus the Britain and U.S., do you think we’ll have threats of mutual vetoes, how important is Hans Blix and ElBaradei’s report coming Friday for determining all this?

JAMES WOOLSEY: The report will be important. And if, especially if the administration decides that it really needs to press for an 18th resolution, as Sec. Rumsfeld said last weekend, I think the key thing is that the French and Germans are pushing for something which is essentially nonsensical, which is to try to turn these auditor inspectors, by adding, doubling them or tripling them, into detectives. Colin Powell, who’s not a man of hyperbole, called the inspectors a bunch of Inspector Clouseaus, sort of stumbling around Europe, Peter Seller’s figure from the Pink Panther. This is not a serious proposal they are making, and that’s in a lot of ways the stunning aspect of this.

MARGARET WARNER: Charles Kupchan, how do you expect it to play out this week at the U.N., do you think we’re heading to a situation where the U.S. may decide to go ahead without a second resolution because of this standoff?

CHARLES KUPCHAN: Well, I think that the standoff has pretty deep roots in the sense that it’s not just about Iraq, it is about the bigger picture. A Europe that’s at peace and that no longer needs its American protector as much, an America whose strategic priorities are shifting away from Europe to the Middle East and Asia. And therefore, I don’t think this is going to go away. I think the gap between the U.S. And many European countries is going to stay around, particularly if Saddam Hussein continues doing what he’s doing, and that is offer up little bones. Like today he said yes, I’ll let the U-2 flights operate. That’s going to strengthen the European position, those who are calling for a lengthening of the timetable.

So I think short of a report from Blix on the 14th that says I can’t do any more, I’ve done my best I’m getting no cooperation, it’s time for serious consequences to kick in, short of something with that clarity from the U.N. Security, to the U.N. Security Council, I think we’re going to probably see the Bush administration move toward war without a second resolution, without the court of world opinion on its side. My own view is that we will probably do more damage to the international system than we will gain security by attacking Saddam Hussein.

MARGARET WARNER: Richard Holbrooke briefly if I may ask, what do you think will happen at the end of this week, will France hold firm and the U.S. hold firm?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: It doesn’t really matter, Margaret. The United States does not need a second resolution. My personal recommendation to them would be not to seek a second resolution, because 1441 and the previous resolutions going back to 1991 are all they need. And they’re going to get caught up at the U.N. in a very messy debate with the French and the Russians over wording.

However, Tony Blair needs the appearance of an effort to get a second resolution in order to solidify support for himself. So my guess is this: Blix will report on Friday, the British will then circulate a very short resolution saying that the Iraqis have violated 1441 or in material breach or something.

If at any point in this process, and the U.S. will give a very short notice, I would think 48 hours, if at any point in those 48 hours the French, the Russians or anyone else says we’re going to muster strong opposition, the U.S. and the British will pull that resolution and the war will start within a matter of days or a handful of weeks. I would also add one last critical point, as Charlie Kupchan surely remembers. In Bosnia, in Kosovo, and in December of 1998 with Operation Desert Fox in Iraq, the Clinton administration used air power without any new Security Council resolution for Iraq and none at all in Kosovo and Bosnia, and we did that because we knew we couldn’t get it through the Security Council.

I think the U.N. is a flawed but nonetheless indispensable institution. But if it comes down to this, Margaret, act without the Security Council or don’t act at all, and that’s going to be the choice, the administration will have no alternative but to go forward. And the French are going to be trapped by the problem they themselves have created.

MARGARET WARNER: I have no alternative but to end this. Richard Holbrooke, Charles Kupchan, and Jim Woolsey, thank you all.