Something was amiss at Wednesday’s geopolitics panel discussion, held as part of the campuswide commemoration of Sept. 11, 2001. A worrisome trend emerged in many of the questions directed toward the panelists, queries that seemed to depict a U.S. vs. Rest of World view of international cooperation.
The international system is not a basketball tournament where the United States faces off against all the other nations combined — and wins. In truth, if power were only about military force, then the above statement might be correct. Instead, we must remind ourselves that the ability to influence others through intangible means, soft power, remains a crucial factor in any power equation.
Most important, soft power lives and dies with goodwill. If the United States wants to advance its global agenda on topics such as free trade, democracy and security, if it seeks to sway the world at international conferences like the recent one at Johannesburg, it cannot afford to ignore international goodwill.
Therein lies the danger of rejecting a multilateralist approach to deal with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. But, as people pointed out Wednesday, what do we do if other countries don’t want to be on our side? What do we do about Europe?
This is where I plead with Americans to stop the Euro-bashing. Perhaps Europe has been dragging its feet in joining the bandwagon for an offensive against Iraq, but then again, that’s because the Bush administration has been dragging its feet in explaining why countries should sign up to join the pre-emptive gang in the first place.
Bushies are misguided when they describe an offensive on Iraq as part of the war on terrorism. In fact, regime change in Iraq confines itself to an issue of regional stability. And U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney is wrong to tell us that Iraq is going to go nuclear, when The New York Times just revealed that the administration lacks an up-to-date review of Iraqi weapons.
Europeans might be unsettled by the idea of pre-emptive action, but they are not necessarily put off by it. Rather, they demand a credible rationale as a precondition for any intervention. Understandably, they fear the potential for local unrest among their large Muslim populations, who are already frustrated by the current crisis in the Middle East. For months, European leaders have been saying, “Solve the Palestinian problem first, then we can talk about Iraq.” In reply, Washington played deaf.
Now, Europeans have even retracted this fundamental precondition. This week, President Jacques Chirac of France basically told The New York Times that France would stand by forceful action, so long as U.N. due process was followed. He presented a quick, simple and straightforward multilateral approach, not far from Tony Blair’s views. So much for the so-called Euro-wimps.
Why would Europe support the United States? Because Europe is desperate to prove its political relevance in the 21st century. Since the Bush administration already seems to have decided on what to do, Europe knows that it can only follow. It just wishes Washington would consult with the continent first, sustaining the appearance that Europe still matters.
The truth is, the allies are asking the United States precisely the same questions recently raised by congressional critics. Is there a clear and present danger? How do we execute an invasion? What do we do afterward? Europeans are not wimps; they are just skeptics. Where is the crime?
To the Euro-bashers at Battell Chapel Wednesday, perhaps you should stop disparaging multilateralism and the nations who feel the need to consider alternatives before marching off to war. In fact, maybe the real wimp is the guy in Washington who tells us Iraq’s going nuclear, but doesn’t have the guts to show us the proof.
Stephane Lesaffre is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College. He is a citizen of France.