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Transatlantic Turmoil

By David W. Huebner

While we may be used to hard-nosed debate between Europe and the U.S. over genetically modified organisms or the environment, the war in Iraq has created remarkable tension over the Atlantic. If ignored, ultimately both sides will deeply suffer.

A poll published Tuesday in one of the most reputable French newspapers, Le Monde, showed a full quarter of respondents identifying themselves as “more on the side of Iraq” in the current war. Thirty-one percent said they did not feel an affinity with either side, and 10 percent did not care to answer.

In other words, over half of those polled either felt closer to Iraq than to the U.S. or equally distant from both.

These numbers go beyond a simple opposition to the war. They belie a profound enmity towards the United States—a not-so-subtle hope for the death of American soldiers. The U.S. government should have done more to prevent such anger.

The American government made no attempt to camouflage its contempt for the French alternative to war in Iraq, disrespecting and offending much of the international community. In engaging in debate with the U.S., France was simply questioning the means to best solve the Iraqi problem. On March 16 French President Jacques Chirac said “we are not anti-American…but if there is a friend or somebody I dearly love, and if you see that they are going down the wrong path…then friendship demands that we tell that friend, that we warn him.” However, many U.S. officials still viewed the French position as being somehow pro-Saddam, and therefore antagonistic to the United States.

As the diplomatic standoff on Iraq continued, France became the new foe in this conflict. Whether it was Congress or President George W. Bush himself, name-calling, mockery and general disrespect flew from Washington. Every media outlet picked up the news that the House of Representatives had decided to change the prefix ‘French’ to ‘Freedom’ in both its fries and its toast. Despite the amusing nature of the replacement (mocking the French always elicits a giggle), this change symbolized a more worrisome trend. More recently, Republican Jim Saxton of New Jersey proposed a ban on Pentagon participation in this year’s Paris Air Show, Florida Representative Ginny Brown-Waite proposed to have the bodies of those American soldiers who had been buried in France during World War II exhumed and returned to the United States and House leader Dennis Hastert has talked about imposing sanctions on French products, targeting water and wine specifically. These postures sent out a clear message to the American people, France and the world: if you disagree with the U.S. government, it will avoid debating the issue, while mocking you and promoting animosity to boot.

Worst of all, at no point does it seem as though the United States was sincerely considering any other options. They were hoping that “negotiating” meant everyone jumping on the bandwagon, and a rubber stamp from the U.N. In the end the Bush administration was determined, not convinced, that war would be the end to the Iraqi situation. When Bush went before the U.N. Security Council last September to reiterate the importance of the Security Council’s enforcement of its resolutions, his strong words came after Vicen President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had both described the inspections as a sham. At the same time, there was a continuous military build-up in the Middle East. These examples perfectly embody the hypocrisy and doubletalk of this administration. And while war may turn out to be the best way to solve this issue, the disregard for other positions, and the vilification of countries that held opposing views will only intensify the animosity between French and Americans. More importantly, though, it will alienate the United Sates from the world. And the government will have not been innocent in this alienation.

The first place the United States must look to mend some of these diplomatic wounds is in the post-war rebuilding of Iraq. However, it does not seem as though that is part of the Bush administration’s agenda. The two government contracts in Iraq already awarded were only bid on by American firms. The biggest contract—for $600 million—has not yet been given out, however. As the editor-in-chief of the Middle East Economic Digest told CNN, “There’s an almighty political scrap going on at the moment. Ignoring the fact that the United Nations is trying to muscle in on post-war control, U.K. International Development Secretary Clare Short has questioned the legality of the U.S. to rebuild Iraq.” The Bush administration does not want to see any other finger in the pot of the rebuilding process, not even a British one or that of the U.N.

The conclusion to this war will thus not only be a test of how to rebuild Iraq but also how the United States will rebuild its image internationally. The United States will have to convince the international community that it is not an arrogant bully that has no interest in the rest of the world’s opinion.

David W. Huebner ’05 is a social studies concentrator in Quincy House.

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