Hard Landing Ahead?

Posted: May 07, 2003 12:00 AM
The question before the house (in Vienna) was what we hoped was achieved by the war, apart from the obvious gain to the people of Iraq. Perhaps future moral theorists will acknowledge that the price paid for victory in Baghdad was startlingly low. Every man's death certainly diminishes the family of the deceased, but cannot affect, in the numbers we experienced, the moral arithmetic that asks whether the cost was bearable. There is, we learned, one authority that claims that Iraq's civilian casualties were small, measured even in double digits. U.S. casualties were about what we lose between Monday and Wednesday on U.S. highways.

One analyst predicted, woefully, that a consequence of the events of the war would be the acceleration of a Europe united behind the geopolitical impulse to challenge the United States.

It is not widely known, but in time it will be widely known, the length to which the French government went to frustrate the U.S. initiative in the Mideast. It was not merely a matter of threatening a veto in the United Nations. The French, this analyst informed the seminar, went so far as to share intelligence with Iraqi agents, giving them data useful in frustrating the American advance. Not critically useful, we soon established -- there was no effective Iraqi resistance. But a point was proved, namely that the French government was willing to put all of its resources into frustrating the U.S. diplomatic, and subsequently military, offensive.

What then is the next step?

There is now talk in France of a beefed-up military. The defense budget of France is very small, and of Germany, exiguous. But both countries, as also Italy and Spain and Portugal, have interests which only a military can support, and if the only military in the world is at Camp Lejeune, the French will have to resign themselves to an irrelevance that is uncharacteristic, and politically inconceivable.

The analyst and UPI editor John O'Sullivan emphasizes that there is generating, in Europe, a brand-new political creature. He cited Chris Patten, who was briefly acknowledged for his defiant days as the last British governor in Hong Kong. He is now a European totalist. "I carry a British passport," he remarked recently, "but I am, primarily, a European."

The greatest challenge to a pan-European movement that would swallow the central nations and Scandinavia and Iberia is Great Britain. It is providential that Tony Blair sided so wholeheartedly with the United States. But his hold on the Labor Party is so shaken that he needs to galvanize his leadership by some show of coordination with the European aspects of a movement that challenges the United States. And the battleground here will be the question whether to join the European Monetary Union or stay away from it, seeking geopolitical partnership with the United States in an Atlantic alliance.

David Pryce-Jones, the learned author and analyst, warns that it is much too early to know whether, after this war, we will have a "soft" landing. We do not know whether democracy will take root in Iraq, whether Iran will continue to move toward liberalism, whether Muslim minorities in France, Great Britain and Germany will move toward assimilation, or toward hard-bitten ethnocentrism. We certainly cannot expect that the great autocracies in the Mideast, Saudi Arabia and Egypt and Syria, can confidently move toward liberal dismemberment.

However hard the landing ahead, the United States needs to cherish its clearheadedness. One speaker made a jocular allusion to U.S. isolationism. "A recent poll established that only 17 percent of the American people knew where Iraq was. But" -- pause -- "they were all in the Marines."