All alone

Posted: Sep 02, 2002 12:00 AM
Washington, D.C. -- "If Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction were such a big threat, our 'European Allies' and 'friends in the region' would be with us -- and they are not. Therefore, we must not attack Iraq." That's a pretty close paraphrase of what we've been hearing for more than a month from the State Department, retired officials of former administrations, foreign heads of state, and now the Saudi royal family's personal emissary, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, when he visited President Bush in Crawford, Texas, this week. What prompts such an outcry? It's called fear. Europe's pusillanimous response to the prospect of renewed military action against Iraq is actually easy to understand. Visit any "NATO capital," and you'll find a place overrun with refugees from former colonies, pervasive political, economic and spiritual exhaustion, government beset by internal European Union bickering, and fragile left-of-center political coalitions agreeing on little other than curbing U.S. influence. Euro-business leaders are afraid of losing their exclusive "Axis of Evil" cookie jar, where they operate sans American economic competition. "Nobody in Germany or Continental Europe agrees with Bush," Holger Friedrich, a fund manager for Frankfurt-based Union Investment GmbH, said recently, as his firm purchased Iranian bonds that will fund the radical Islamic theocracy in Tehran. Britain's Aberdeen Asset Management Trust has invested in Iraqi and North Korean debt. "It's toxic stuff," admits Colm McDonagh, an Aberdeen fund manager, "but when it moves, it really moves." In 1997, Total SA, a French oil company with permanent suites at the Al-Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad, struck a $2 billion natural gas contract with Iran. On the occasion, then-Premier Lionel Jospin applauded this triumph of French enterprise. "American laws apply in the United States," he sneered. "They do not apply in France." The timorous grandchildren of those who tried to appease Hitler have other worries. They do not savor the prospect of U.S. intelligence teams roaming at will through the records of Saddam's WMD -- weapons of mass destruction -- factories and exposing Europe's complicity in building these arsenals. After the first Gulf War, Kenneth Timmerman chronicled in "The Death Lobby" Saddam's success in gaining the help of foreign corporations and governments in building his storehouse of ABCs -- atomic, biological and chemical weapons. Little has changed. French engineers helped build the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak, which the Israelis destroyed in 1981. To this day, the French hold $4 billion in unpaid Iraqi debts. German firms specialized in providing poison gas and missile technology. W. Seth Carus, a senior research professor at the National Defense University, noted a decade ago, "Everything that showed up in Iraq -- chemical, biological, nuclear -- had a German element in it." And Saddam's "Supergun," the long-range, nuclear-capable cannon that was almost operational during the Gulf War, was produced by companies from seven different European countries. More ominous than Europe's craven response to Baghdad's acquisition of more weapons of mass destruction is the stunning reaction of Saddam's very vulnerable neighbors. This is dangerous -- for we can succeed against Iraq's damaged military without European help. But we can't do it without access in the region. Once again, fear is a factor. The region's leaders have a well-founded apprehension that any or all of them could go the way of Anwar Sadat -- in a hail of gunfire from radical Islamic extremists. In Saudi Arabia, the House of Saud has sought to prevent just such an outcome by dancing with both the West and radical Islam -- devising an Arabian version of economic liberalism and political repression similar to that in communist China. The limitations of Riyadh's political polygamy were demonstrated last Sept. 11, when 15 children of middle-class Saudis transformed themselves into suicide hijackers and murderers. Regimes throughout the rest of the region -- whether friendly or not to the United States -- equate political freedom with instability. They are dominated by political systems typified by military coups, oil-saturated oligarchies and events like Gen. Pervez Musharraf's recent unilateral revision of Pakistan's constitution. And yet this is the neighborhood in, around and over which we must operate to prosecute a war against Iraq. The leaders of the neighboring governments have no great love for Saddam. But they have even less affection for the United States bringing about a democratic transition in Iraq. After all, if "free and fair elections" work in Baghdad, they will also work in Amman, Riyadh, Ramallah, Damascus and Cairo. Saddam Hussein continues military rearmament, while simultaneously seeking to forestall American intervention. The Europeans and Hussein's neighbors have demonstrated that they are more likely to take offense at U.S. action against Iraq than to join us in a military offensive. There can be no doubt that getting rid of Saddam is indeed in our own best interest. We must be sure that Iraq becomes a "nuclear-free zone." But we also must do all we can to promote the tranquil transition to democracy in the rest of the region. And that won't be easy. In such a case, "going it alone" is not just the price of global leadership; it's also the stuff of which courage and statesmanship are made.