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Back to School
Crisis in the Atlantic Alliance
With Philip Gordon
Brookings Institution

Friday, Feb. 28, 2003; 10:30 a.m. ET

As differences in Iraq policy between the U.S. and key European allies come to a head what steps can the U.S. take to forge a possible military coalition against Iraq? How has the Iraq debate changed the image of America overseas?

Philip Gordon, senior fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution and director of the Brookings Center on the United States and France, was online to discuss American diplomatic options.

This discussion is part of the washingtonpost.com Brookings Forum on Iraq series.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Philip Gordon: Thanks for all these good questions. This is an important topic and I'll do my best to answer as many as I can as well as I can.

Brookline, Mass.: Am I right in thinking that the costs of alienating our allies over Iraq will not be felt so much in the short term, but will present obstacles to us for years to come?

And does the current situation offer diplomatic opportunities to Russia and China, in terms of building consensus against U.S. hegemony on a number of issues, reaching out to some of the smaller nations on the Security Council whom we are bullying to go along with us on Iraq, etc., that we'd obviously rather they didn't have?

Thank you.

Philip Gordon: I'm worried that it will have long-term costs. One of the great triumphs of US diplomacy after World War II was that we managed to remain the dominant power in Europe and Asia not because we imposed our power but because our allies saw us as a benevolent power and wanted us to be there. Today we are immensely powerful and can do many things without allies--but if we alienate others by imposing our will on them, they will seek to resist our power. As important as the Iraq issue is, if it leaves us alone in the world and resented by others we will pay a price. Thus one of my criticisms of the administration is that they seem to think we can simply impose our will on allies and they will follow rather than going out of our way to win their support. I don't think Russia and China offer much of an alternative in the short term, but if we become so arrogant in our power that we push others toward them in the long run we will regret it.

Cumberland, Md.: In hindsight don't you think that going to the UN Security Council was a mistake? I think today's column by Charles Krauthammer was on point -- what did you think of it?

washingtonpost.com: A Costly Charade At the U.N. (Post, Feb. 28, 2003)

Philip Gordon: As always Krauthammer has done a provocative piece that is not completely wrong. The UN is a highly flawed body, and there is something strange about the idea that it's in part up to Guinea or Cameroon whether we can go to war or not. But if the current UN system is flawed, what's a better idea? Who should decide on international legitimacy? The United States? Charles Krauthammer? We may think we will act responsibly and therefore it can be up to the US alone to decide these things, but the rest of the world may not think so, and what if Russia, China, and lots of other powers (India? Pakistan? Israel?) took it upon themselves to launch preemptive wars whenever they felt like it rather than when the had UN approval? That would be problematic to say the least. As for your specific question about not going to the UN in the first place, I think that would have been a mistake. It is certainly true that having gone there has brought a lot of trouble. But imagine if the US had simply announced last August that we had decided to attack Iraq, and we really didn't care what others said? The uproar would be even greater than it already is, and you can be sure that we wouldn't even have the support of the Britains, Spains, and Italys, and possibly not some of the Arab regimes as well.

Cumberland, Md.: Do you think the permanent members on the Security Council should be expanded and if so who would you add? India comes to mind, but who else?

Philip Gordon: We all know the current makeup of the Security Council is not representative and is based on victors of World War II. The problem has always been how to fix it. You could add India, but what does that mean for Pakistan. You could add Brazil, but what does that mean for Argentina. You could add Egypt, but what does that mean for South Africa. Japan and Germany also come to mind, but they don't tend to take part in the military enforcement of Security Council resolutions, so that might not be right either. I think you could imagine a better system of expanding it to 10 permanent members, perhaps rotating them among some of the countries I just mentioned. It would also make sense in theory to have an EU seat instead of British and French, but I doubt that will happen anytime soon. Since all 5 current permanent members have a veto, we're probably stuck with the current makeup for a while, and need to make the best of it.

Arlington, Va.: Has NATO outlived its usefulness? An alliance of nations sharing similar interests regarding security is a good idea; it just seems that NATO doesn't fit that bill anymore. Nations like France and Germany that have huge unintegrated Muslim populations within their borders are more interested in appeasing unrest/terrorism in this community than realistically facing the problems of the outside world. Given that reality, can NATO ever deal with the problems coming from the post-Cold War hotspots?

Philip Gordon: NATO has definitely been dealt a blow in all this, and it will probably never act as the integrated defense alliance it once was. Still, I think it remains useful. It is a good place to ensure that allies who probably will be acting together in the future can maintain inter-operable armed forces and political contacts. The new members value the defense guarantee and it has been a good tool for encouraging political reform there. It is a place to talk to the Russians about common security interests. It can be very helpful in generating and organizing forces for peacekeeping in places like Afghanistan and the Balkans. And why not postwar Iraq? It would be a mistake for Americans to write NATO off. We should be trying to win over allied support for our policies, since we don't want to have to do all of this ourselves in the coming years and decades.

Chicago, Ill.: The problem I have with any discussion about how "we've alienated our allies" is that it assumes that it's only the U.S. that is behaving badly, and that every other country is behaving rationally and honorably. In reality I can't believe that's actually the case. Where is it written that the less France and Germany agree with us, the worse our foreign policy is? What aspects of current French, German, Russian, etc. foreign policy towards the U.S. do you most find fault with? Thanks.

Philip Gordon: I think there's plenty of blame to go around, and it almost seems that we're in a competition with some of our allies as to who can be the least constructive and most unilateral. Indeed, French and German approval should not be the standard for good foreign policy. At the same time, we can be faulted for the way we have pursued the Iraq war. Denouncing France and Germany as "old Europe" and comparing Germany to Cuba and Libya may be satisfying, but what purpose does it serve other than to push them to dig in in their opposition? Our changing justifications for the war, and seeming willingness to exaggerate Iraq's links with terrorists, haven't helped either. The Post quoted a senior US official the other day who told other security council members that they didn't really have to decide on Iraq because that decision "is ours, and we have made it. It is already final. The only question now is whether the council will go along with it or not." Is this the way to win allies to our side?
That's why I say we've alienated allies. As for their mistakes? Germany, for example, excluded use of force under any circumstances, in what seemed a transparent ploy by Gerhardt Schroeder to get re-elected, which hardly helped us put pressure on Saddam. And France seemed to accept in 1441 that Iraqi noncompliance would mean "serious consequences" but now seems to be going back on that--the French may have good substantive arguments against war, but this seems to fly in the face of what they agreed at the UN. I also think it was a big mistake for Germany and France to block NATO aid to Turkey as a preventive measure. That was a reasonable Turkish request, and the French and German position undermined NATO solidarity.

Athens, Ga.: Which would have a greater positive impact on world opinion of the US: a peaceful resolution to the Iraqi crisis or a successful (quick, few casualties on all sides) military campaign?

Philip Gordon: I agree with your premise that much will depend on how the war comes out, and none of us can know that yet. If we win quickly with limited casualties, find out that Saddam was actually hiding major weapons of mass destruction programs, and build a stable and free Iraq, the US and its supporters like Tony Blair will prove to be modern day Churchills, who did the right and courageous thing in the face of widespread opposition. If, on the other hand, the invasion proves costly, and leads to instability throughout the region and more terrorism against us, and if it turns out Saddam didn't have too much to hide, the US in particular will be held responsible, at great cost. I do think it would have had a positive impact on world views of the US if Bush had given inspections a chance to work even if possibly having to go to war later, but we're beyond that now. So stay tuned.

Harrisburg, Pa.: What economic stake, if any, does France have in a war with Iraq? In how much trade do France and Iraq engage? Also, and perhaps this is more of a person comment: while many Americans are criticizing the French for their position on Iraq, shouldn't we also consider that there may be some validity to their position?

Philip Gordon: I think the French economic stake is less important than most Americans believe. France used to have major commercial dealings with Iraq, but that was more than a decade ago. In the mid 1990s, France was a leading partner for Iraq in the oil for food program, but now they've fallen to around 11th place in dealings with Iraq. French imports from Iraq account for around 0.3% of French overall imports, and exports to Iraq about 0.2% of overall French exports, so it's hard to see how that effects French foreign policy. Iraq owes France around $5bn in debt, but the French know they'll never get that money so long as Saddam is in power. And while French oil companies reportedly have reached agreements to develop the Iraqi oil industry if sanctions are ever lifted, the French know that this will also not be the case so long as Saddam is in power. So I don't think commercial interests are irrelevant, but they're far from being the driving factor. Indeed, I think if all France cared about was oil or trade they would get on board for the war and simply insist on part of the booty--but they're clearly not doing this. As for your second question, I do think they have some serious arguments about how hard it will be to impose stability on Iraq and how invasion might lead to more terrorism. That's why we're wrong to simply say "it's about oil", excluding the possibility that maybe the French (like most Europeans, including those who have no commercial interests in Iraq) genuinely think invading Iraq is a bad idea.

Bethesda, MD: Newsweek has just reported that when Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein's son-in-law, defected to Jordan in 1995, he told the CIA, MI6 and UNSCOM that Iraq had in fact destroyed all of its weapons of mass destruction in 1991 -- just as Iraq has claimed. However, according to Newsweek, this information has been suppressed by the American and British governments and UNSCOM. (The leaked transcript of an UNSCOM interview with Kamel, in which he states that "all weapons -- biological, chemical, missile, nuclear, were destroyed" is available here (Editor's Note: this is a PDF file and will launch Adobe Acrobat Reader)

Given that George Bush, Colin Powell, and Dick Cheney have repeatedly cited Kamel as THE key witness regarding Iraq's weapons programs, how damaging will this revelation be to the credibility of the U.S. as it attempts to persuade the Security Council to pass a second resolution?

Philip Gordon: I haven't seen that report on Kamel, but I do know that he did tip inspectors off to the documents about Iraq's biological weapons program that were hidden at his chicken farm--a program that the Iraqis had denied for 4 years (and which had not, by the way, been found by inspectors.)

Alexandria, Va.: I think there is a fundamental question that is not being answered by France, Germany, or the other anti-war groups who are proponents of continued inspections for containment. We cannot keep 210,000+ troops in the Persian Gulf indefinitely. If we draw down, what makes France, Germany, etc. believe that Saddam will continue to even allow inspectors into Iraq? Or that the very small amount of cooperation offered to date will grow? There will be no army at his doorstep to enforce the inspections. Or do France, Germany, Russia, and China intend to send troops to replace ours?

Philip Gordon: All true, but the Europeans think we were premature to deploy all those troops in the first place, and don't want to have to go to war just because we've done so. Remember also that it's going to be a lot more costly and dangerous to send them into Iraq than it would be to leave them there or bring them home--note General Shinseki's comments the other day in Congressional testimony that it may take "hundreds of thousands" of troops to police Iraq after an invasion. It might have been possible to test serious inspections before putting our full forces in place (which the Euros read as a sign that we were determined to do this all along anyway...) but that's a moot point now. As for whether others will supply troops, one reason we should want as much support as possible is so that we don't have to do and pay for all this alone afterwards.

Baton Rouge, La.: The US seems to be getting a lot more support from European leaders (with obvious exceptions) than from the European public. It looks as though Tony Blair will be in really serious trouble if he goes to war without a new UN resolution. Aznar in Spain is also going to suffer.

Being as how those are democratic governments that eventually will have to respond to popular will, I worry that U.S.-Europe relations are going to get a lot worse before they get better.


Philip Gordon: As I said in a previous answer, so much will depend on the outcome of a war. If it goes badly, these leaders will be in huge trouble, as will US-Europe relations... My biggest fear is a terrorist strike in Europe as a response to an Iraq invasion--which many Europeans will blame on the US.

Washington, D.C.: To what extent do you think our diplomatic relations are affected by the argument that the National Security Strategy has elements that show a desire by the U.S. to remain the dominant world power and to resist attempts by even friendly countries to increase their power in relation to ours? It seems to me that this policy by the U.S. would weigh heavily on the minds of foreign diplomats when interpreting and reacting to U.S. diplomats, and that the diplomatic reactions of other countries should be looked at in this context.

Philip Gordon: The problem with the NSS was that it gave the impression that we think it's up to us when and how to use force to preempt others. I think preemption can make sense as a last resort in a case like Iraq, but I would have preferred to reserve this right on a case by case basis rather than elevating it to the doctrinal level that we'll probably never implement anyway (are we likely to invade Iran or North Koreas? and does this doctrine not just push them to develop nuclear weapons more quickly so that we can't?) I think that making this case in the NSS was counterproductive--it goes without saying that we'll act if needed, and it should have been left unsaid.

Philip Gordon: Thanks for all these excellent questions. I fear relations with Europe may well get worse before they get better. But once the Iraq issue is dealt with one way or another, we will discover we need each other again, and leaders will have to take steps to pick up the pieces. If either side fails to do that, we will all pay the price.

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