Saturday, September 06, 2003

Words of Warning to France and Germany

This very nice editorial appeared today in the Daily Telegraph:

!raq is everyone's war

It is hard to resist a sense of déjà vu in the melancholy spectacle of French and German leaders once again threatening to block an American draft Security Council resolution on Iraq. Having failed to sabotage the war, they now seem bent on sabotaging the peace.

Not only is "Old Europe" unwilling to commit its own troops; it also seems determined to prevent other nations from doing so, at any rate under the UN umbrella. One can only guess at the motives of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder, but they appear to have more to do with pique and Schadenfreude than any professed concern for the Iraqi people.

There are, however, grounds for hope that a UN resolution will eventually pass. The Russians signalled yesterday that they, while dissatisfied with the American draft, are ready to negotiate. The Germans, too, are eager to mend fences with Washington, and in any case have no veto

A stick-and-carrot approach to both these powers might well reveal surprising flexibility. Only the French are ready to risk diplomatic isolation in order to thwart the Anglo-American coalition. They, of course, not only have a veto, but are also quite willing to use it.

America, for its part, has been reluctant to cede even notional influence to the UN. This is understandable. Having expended blood and treasure in the liberation of Iraq, America is not about to yield control to allies who have hitherto been mere spectators, and hostile ones at that.

It is, though, clear that Iraq has now become the principal theatre of the global war against terrorism, and that the coalition needs reinforcements. American public opinion is reluctant to denude its forces elsewhere. If the Russians, French and Germans are to make a useful contribution to the occupation, they will demand a seat at the top table.

The diplomatic challenge is to find a compromise that would keep ultimate authority in American hands, while conceding enough influence to the allies (in the shape of the UN) to satisfy their amour propre and prepare the way for eventual Iraqi self-government.

Brokering such a deal is a task for which nobody is better suited than Tony Blair. His experience of pre-war shuttle diplomacy has, however, taught him not to underestimate the wiliness of Putin, the weakness of Schröder and the sheer bloody-mindedness of Chirac.

Yet it is surely not beyond Mr Blair's considerable powers of persuasion to bring home to them that the "strategic failure" of which Jack Straw warns would not be in their interests, either; in fact, it would unleash a new wave of Islamist terrorism against, among others, Europe and Russia.

Nor would it serve French interests to be seen as the dog in the manger at the Security Council. Now is the moment when the Americans need the Europeans most. The present security crisis may well be temporary; for when Saddam is found, many of his supporters will give up the unequal struggle.

If the French, having tried to prevent the liberation of Iraq, now seek to obstruct its reconstruction process, they will never be forgiven: not only by the Americans, but also by the Iraqis.