By Andrew Sullivan, August 11, 2002
This phoney war looks even weirder when you compare the European and
American press. In London and Paris, Berlin and Brussels, the papers are full of
speculation about war with Iraq: demands that parliament be recalled, rumours
of cabinet resignations, polls of George W Bush’s unpopularity among Britons.
But in the imperial capital, thousands of miles away, a strange calm prevails.
The Senate has just held hearings on a potential war but the administration says
it is not yet ready to give testimony. Congress is in recess. The president has
gone to Texas. Many Americans are on vacation.
As yet, there is no impassioned, substantive debate and there’s little mystery
why. Despite the efforts of anti-war newspapers such as The New York Times,
polls consistently show that up to 70% of Americans support war. The
president has rhetorically committed himself to such an outcome. Privately,
nobody close to the administration doubts it will take place – probably this
winter. Americans are not blithe about it: their sons and daughters will die. But
neither will they ignore a threat to the West as dangerous as any we have
The American response to European resistance is best summed up by a slightly
impatient sigh. If Europeans opposed even the war in Afghanistan, what chance
is there they will support war against Iraq? Americans have seen it before.
They’ll see it again. Meanwhile, they have work to do.
But at a deeper and more worrying level, it’s increasingly true that many
Americans simply don’t care any more. Moreover, why on earth should
Americans care what Europe thinks?
Militarily, Europe is a dud and well on the way to becoming a complete
irrelevance. Britain apart, Europeans have contributed a minuscule amount of
the resources to de-fang (but not yet defeat) Al-Qaeda. They couldn’t even
prevent genocide in their own continent in the 1990s. Despite September 11,
they continue to cut defence spending so savagely that, Britain excepted, they
are virtually useless as military allies.
If someone who won’t lock his door at night starts complaining about the only
cop on the beat, sane people should wonder what has happened to his grip on
reality. Does he actually want to be robbed or murdered? Similarly, it is one
thing for Europeans to say they are ceding military responsibility to America to
maintain international order. It is quite another for Europeans then to object
when America takes them at their word.
And the need for such order has not gone away in the last decade. It was once
impossible to conceive that terrorists could destroy New York, or Rome. But
they are on the verge of that capability, and last September proved that they
would not hesitate to use it.
The average American therefore feels like asking Europeans: just what about
September 11 do you not understand? These fanatics want to kill you and
destroy your civilisation.
This must change the prudential equation when it comes to dealing with
Saddam. When a tyrant is doing all he can to get biological, chemical and
nuclear weapons, has invaded a neighbouring state, used chemical weapons on
his own people, subsidises terror elsewhere in the Middle East and has ties to
Islamist terrorist groups around the world – doesn’t the benefit of the doubt
shift towards those who would dethrone him? And doesn’t the mass grave of
3,000 people in New York tilt the equation a little? This is the core of
Americans’ puzzlement about not just European vacillation but its opposition to
taking on Saddam. When religious leaders argue that the US is more morally
troubling than a butcher like Saddam, you know the forces of appeasement are
as powerful today as in the 1970s, when faced with Soviet evil, and the 1930s
when faced with Nazi evil.
If it were not for America, Al-Qaeda, with support from Iraq, Syria, Saudi
Arabia and Hamas, would be ensconced in Afghanistan planning more attacks
on the West. Yet the European response to the mission has been increased
In National Review, a conservative magazine, Victor Davis Hanson sums up a
common American view of European complainers: “Iraq? Stay put – we don’t
necessarily need or desire your help. The Middle East? Shame on you, not us,
for financing the terrorists on the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority and
Israel? You helped fund a terrorist clique; we, a democracy – go figure. Racism?
Arabs are safer in America than Jews are in Europe. That 200,000 were
butchered in Bosnia and Kosovo a few hours from Rome and Berlin is a stain on
you, the inactive, not us, the interventionist. Capital punishment? Our
government has executed terrorists; yours have freed them. Do the moral
Israel, of course, plays a central role in this divide. It is almost a given in the
European media that Israel is the immoral protagonist. The fact that it is a
democracy, and there is not one democracy in the Arab world, is ignored, as is
the fact that Israel exists in part because of Europe’s legacy of genocidal
The incidental killing of civilians during Israel’s acts of military self-defence are
seen as morally equivalent to the deliberate targeting of civilians by Palestinian
bombers. And the routine hatred of Jews, an anti-semitism that is now a key
part of the ideology of the Arab states, is simply ignored, or downplayed.
We’re not anti-semitic, Europeans say, we’re anti-Israel. But while the slightest
infraction of civilised norms by Israel is trumpeted, the routine torture,
despotism and corruption that is the norm among its neighbours barely gains a
There are, of course, deeper reasons for Europe’s aversion to American power.
By unilaterally disarming itself, Europe makes a statement about how the world
should be governed: by diplomacy, international agreements, pooled
sovereignty. The way that old enemies like France and Germany co-operate is
regarded as morally and strategically superior to America’s defence of
sovereignty and military force.
But the only reason the European Union can exist is because American military
force defeated the Nazis. All of Germany is part of the EU only because
American military might defeated the Soviet Union. Europhiles mistake the fruits
of realpolitik with its abolition. They don’t realise that the only guarantor of
European peace is American force.
Europeans should pray for it in order to save their own political achievement.
Europeans may believe that national interest is a thing of the past and military
power an anachronism. Within the confines of a few European countries, they
may be right. But in the wider world, especially the Middle East, history hasn’t
ended and a new threat to world peace is rising. If Europeans believe it can be
palliated by diplomacy or appeasement, they are misreading their own times as
profoundly as they did in the 1930s.
America, in contrast, has no option but to tackle this threat, or face destruction
at its hand. The longer America takes to do so, the greater the costs will be.
The question for European leaders is not whether they want to back America,
but whether they want to be adult players in a new and dangerous world.
Grow up and join in – or pipe down and let us do it. That’s the message
America is sending. It’s a message long, long overdue.