European Rift over Iraq
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MARGARET WARNER: We get four perspectives now from four Europeans.
Radek Sikorski is a former deputy defense minister and deputy foreign minister of Poland. He’s now director of the new Atlantic initiative at the American Enterprise Institute.
Jean-Robert Leguey-Feilleux is a professor of political science at St. Louis University. Born and raised in France, he’s written extensively on international relations.
Stephan Richter is the German-born but now U.S. citizen publisher of the “Globalist,” an online daily that focuses on the global economy, politics, history, and culture.
And Maurizio Molinari is a New York-based columnist for the Italian newspaper, “La Stampa.” He’s in Washington, covering today’s White House visit of Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi. Welcome to you all.
Mr. Sikorski, what message was the Polish prime minister trying to send today by signing this op-ed article with the seven other European leaders?
RADEK SIKORSKI: I think he was saying that, look, two weeks ago, France and Germany said that they are not with America, that that is not the view of the entire Europe, that we may have our doubts, but we are comfortable with American leadership of the free world, and that even if we have doubts, we are going to trust the leader and that you need friends in need. And America needs our help now.
MARGARET WARNER: Is that where the Polish public is, or is the leadership out ahead of or closer to the U.S. than the Polish public?
RADEK SIKORSKI: The Polish public is the most pro-American in Europe for a variety of historical reasons. But we remember a previous leader who was denounced by Europe’s chattering classes, that was Ronald Reagan, and he was vindicated and he helped to bring about our freedom, our liberation from communism, so we feel instinctive sympathy with America.
MARGARET WARNER: Stephen Richter, Germany has been really leading the charge against this. It is now about to become president of the Security Council, one of the rotating seats. Chancellor Schroeder declared last week he would do anything in his power to avoid war or prevent war. Why? Why is Germany so adamant?
STEPHAN RICHTER: On a personal level, the chancellor never knew his own father, he born in 1944. The father died a couple of months after his birth. That makes him feel a little personally leery about war.
Now, he’s also very much a tactician and an opportunist as any politician is and used the war issue for his election campaign, as did the President of the United States.
I think as a German, I entirely feel with the Polish people. I think it’s very important, but that leadership that Ronald Reagan provided to provide Poland’s freedom, the note that you had about a leader, that we stand behind the leader. German history, if anything, teaches us to be careful about just standing behind any leader without questioning.
You had Sen. Dodd on and you had Chuck Hagel on before. They very much articulate the same questions as the German government, and this is almost unbelievable to me, that two very powerful senators in the Foreign Relations Committee are asking, “Mr. President, Mr. Armitage, where are the facts?”
So the Germans, in effect, all they’re trying to do, is that they led a little bit of the domestic opposition in this country. It seems like it took half a year for the Democrats to kick in. They had their election; they kept mum for domestic reasons.
MARGARET WARNER: Explain for us why though the German people… because the polls show they’re very much against going to war, almost it seems no matter what the evidence may show. Why are the German people so opposed?
STEPHAN RICHTER: Because they have a collective memory, not just of World War II. But even though most people weren’t alive in World War I, they remember all that’s coming possibly with terrorism.
And I think if you look at that letter today and you read it, if I were the French foreign minister, I would sue the Wall Street Journal for violation of my intellectual property rights because that letter articulates nothing but the French position.
The key sentence is “we want to stay with the U.N. process and we want the U.N. Security Council to did and fulfill its responsibilities.” So the French foreign minister couldn’t even argue that everybody embraced that position. It’s very funny, what’s going on there.
MARGARET WARNER: But let me ask Prof. Leguey-Feilleux to jump in here now and explain the French position. France of course, like Germany, has said it wants to do anything it can to avoid war. Why?
JEAN-ROBERT LEGUEY-FEILLEUX: Well, the French, as many others, are not convinced that the evidence is sufficient to do something as drastic as going to war with Iraq.
And perhaps also the French, remember how this issue, what started… you know, out of the blue, all after sudden, it was a matter of regime change in Iraq. Instead of starting diplomatically trying to build a constituency for some pressure on Iraq, it was right away, “let’s remove Saddam.” And the French aren’t convinced that this is a sound policy to follow.
MARGARET WARNER: Professor, there is a very critical view, as I know, you know, living in this country of really what’s behind the French position.
You hear even people in the administration say, “well, France is just very competitive with the United States about leadership.” There’s also people say…you know, some critics say that France is mostly concerned with protecting its economic interests in the Arab world.
Do you think either of those two points have any merit?
JEAN-ROBERT LEGUEY-FEILLEUX: Well –
MARGARET WARNER: As motives I mean for the French position.
JEAN-ROBERT LEGUEY-FEILLEUX: Well, we do not know what is going on behind the closed doors or making foreign policy. Certainly a response to French public opinion would invite the French leadership to be cautious.
Beyond that, economic arguments are important, but let’s remember that if the economy, especially the issue of oil, were to be primordial in this position, then it would be the wrong move because it is pretty evident that the United States is prepared to go to war with Iraq even if it doesn’t have the support of the Security Council.
So what does that mean? The U.S. is going to win that war, and at the end of war, who is going to be in charge of the oil, whatever’s left, and the rebuilding of Iraq? The U.S. Do you think the French will have a chance to gain any benefits from, you know, rebuilding Iraq coming from the United States?
MARGARET WARNER: Maurizio Molinari, the Italians also – Prime Minister Berlusconi signed the letter today, he also gave a very fulsome declaration of his support for the U.S. and the U.S. Position today with the president. Why?
MAURIZIO MOLINARI: Well, Italy belongs to the old Europe but wants to bridge the gap that today we have between countries of the old Europe, as Germany and France and countries of the new Europe, as Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary.
Italy is going to be the president of the European Union starting next June, so it has a responsibility to keep the Europe together. This is the reason why Prime Minister Berlusconi along with Premier Blair decided to go forward, to create a platform, to try to find an agreement.
Today in the White House speaking close to the Pres. Bush, Berlusconi said, “I want to speak also with the French, with my German colleagues.” Let’s find a common ground.” The document that was published today by the Wall Street Journal is not a document to split, to divide Europe but to put the old and new Europe together closer to the American friends.
MARGARET WARNER: Your prime minister also today said something quite similar to what Mr. Sikorski said, which was that Italians remember the role America played in liberating Europe and in liberating Italy. Is that widely shared in the Italian public, that view?
MAURIZIO MOLINARI: Well, most of the Italians feel themselves very close to America because they we liberated and they were defended they were liberated from the Nazis and they were defended by the threat of the Soviet Union.
But also, most of the Italian, they are anti-war. They want peace. They don’t like the idea to go to war in Iraq. This is a very strong feeling in our public opinion. And this is the reason why the document that we are referring to is asking the international community to remain, to stay inside the frame of U.N. This is the frame that is understood by the public opinion as a guarantee that the peace will be kept.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. So Prof. Leguey-Feilleux, let me go back to you first, because France, of all the countries in this little conversation here, has the only veto on the Security Council.
What would France be looking for… I’m talking about the four of you. What would France be looking for from Sec. Powell next week? Is there anything he could say that would bring France around to support perhaps a second resolution?
JEAN-ROBERT LEGUEY-FEILLEUX: More evidence. And I think the foreign minister of France has already indicated that it welcomed this opportunity to hear the secretary of state present more evidence, if he has the evidence and because that could make a very big difference, especially with regard to French public opinion.
It’s still puzzling why, if there is such evidence, it hasn’t been brought forward before. After all, it’s a matter of building towards war. Would we want to have more people rallying behind this effort, including the American people, as was said earlier, the Democrat leadership is very much in doubt about the wisdom of going to war now.
MARGARET WARNER: Let me go back to France for just a minute. Are you suggesting, then, though that you think France might “come around” to the American position if the evidence were compelling enough and might actually participate?
JEAN-ROBERT LEGUEY-FEILLEUX: Absolutely. This is what the foreign minister has just said, and that would be a good way to bring countries together and to build a coalition.
MARGARET WARNER: Stephan Richter, last night, Sen. Joe Biden of the Foreign Relations Committee was on this program. He said there is no way, there is nothing that could be said that persuade Germany to vote for another resolution or support military action. Do you agree with that?
STEPHAN RICHTER: Well, it depends on who’s chancellor in Germany. The current chancellor is facing some elections, which may make his party drop him quite quickly. I think for Germany and I think the foreign minister would be very much behind that position.
There is no way that Germany and responsible politicians in our country can say no to the U.N. Security Council. I think Chancellor Schroeder badly overstepped… he was right on the adventure.
That’s what the Democrats in the Congress and many American people are wondering about. But to say no to the U.N. Security Council is a basic thing that somebody who’s running for school board doesn’t do as a leader of a country, you don’t answer hypotheticals, which he did, he got himself into trouble domestically and internationally. He well deserves that.
MARGARET WARNER: But briefly do you think Germany will continue for instance, even with the NATO to block as they have the U.S. requests that NATO start planning to defend Turkey?
STEPHAN RICHTER: I hope not. This is a question of a timetable. This is a question as the Journal also wrote today, do we go in there by April because otherwise in the bodysuits it’s getting too hot or do we have to wait till the fall? That’s where the Germans hopefully stand and come out because everybody wants to take care of Saddam, but the world community needs to do it the right way.
MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Sikorski, of course as you know, the president has said U.N. or not, he’s going to lead a coalition of the willing.
Would Poland participate in that? Would Poland be more comfortable if there were a second U.N. resolution? Are there any preconditions to taking part? What would taking part mean? I’m giving you a lot of questions there.
RADEK SIKORSKI: Surely everybody would be happiest if Saddam would just drop dead and we wouldn’t have to go to war.
But if we have to go to war– and remember, war on the continent of Europe is a much weightier word than here. Here war is basically a foreign expedition. When we say war, we mean our cities destroyed, tanks rolling.
But nevertheless, Poland has said that we will be with you no matter the U.N. I think in Europe, there is a tendency to fetishize the United Nations -
MARGARET WARNER: To fetishize?
RADEK SIKORSKI: Yeah. I mean the U.N. is an organization which has Libya as the chairman of its Human Rights commission. Let’s not think of the U.N. as some kind of world government without which… that has some kind of monopoly on legitimizing force.
It’s ultimately a political institution in which countries defend their interests, moreover, a political institution that no longer reflects the correlation of forces in the world. If such a body were to be put together today, France wouldn’t be on it.
MARGARET WARNER: I’d need to go back to Mr. Molinari. Do you want to say a quick word?
STEPHAN RICHTER: I just want to say everything you said about the enlightened nations applies at least a much to a single nation, even it is the strongest in the world right now.
I think the global community needs to come together, and we can’t just let one nation, one president, not even this nation, hijack that process. I think that’s a very dangerous thing, and I think this is a reform opportunity for the United Nations that your position then would curtail.
MARGARET WARNER: And Mr. Molinari, Italy’s view, in terms of what it would take for Italy to take part, would Italy be willing to participate with or without further U.N. backing?
MAURIZIO MOLINARI: Well, in terms of coalition of the willing, Italy in these hours, along with the U.K. and Spain, they are working together to build the political coalition. It means the group of countries that will say, “okay, under the Resolution 1441, is it possible, there is a legitimacy to go on and to strike Iraq?”
But of course the preference of the Italian government is to have a second resolution that openly will say, it’s time to go. We have to disarm it in this way.” So the preference is for the second resolution.
But Italy is also working to have a broad political coalition — in any case, if would be needed. From a military point of view, it’s very difficult to say because my country has a very large number of soldiers in the Balkans, also in Afghanistan and we are not a military power. So to send in this case, military people in the Gulf would be very, very difficult for us.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, gentlemen, thank you all.