European Affairs

The U.S. and Europe Share the Blame for the Iraqi Crisis     Print Email
Louis R. Golino

Allies at War: America, Europe and the Crisis over Iraq
By Philip H. Gordon and Jeremy Shapiro
McGraw-Hill,New York. 2004
266 pages

Reviewed by Louis R. Golino

The Iraq war is almost universally regarded as the cause of the worst shock to Transatlantic relations since World War II, or at least since the 1956 Suez crisis. Historians and political scientists will doubtless debate the long-term significance of the war and its impact on U.S.-European relations for many years to come. In Allies at War, Philip Gordon and Jeremy Shapiro offer the first indepth analysis of how and why the war led to such bitter strains in the alliance. Gordon is a former director for European affairs at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration and a frequent commentator on Europe and Transatlantic relations. He is currently director of the Brookings Institution's Center on the United States and Europe, where Shapiro is associate director.

The book is divided into three main sections. The first traces the historical origins of the Atlantic alliance and the post-Cold War evolution of America's relations with its European allies. The authors explain that tensions between the United States and Europe predated the Iraq war and continued to build throughout the 1990s. For example, NATO almost broke apart over the Kosovo war, and Europeans became increasingly frustrated with growing American reluctance to adhere to international agreements during the latter years of the Clinton administration.

The second part contains a detailed account of developments leading up to the war in Iraq, focusing on the Bush administration's efforts to obtain United Nations Security Council authorization for military action. As it turned out, the Council agreed to send UN weapons inspectors to Iraq, but the United States decided not to seek a second resolution explicitly authorizing the use of force, both because of lack of support in the Council and because Washington believed that prior resolutions provided the necessary legal authority. In a balanced discussion of the diplomacy surrounding the war, the authors place plenty of blame on both the United States and its opponents.

In a recent interview, the authors said that Bush administration officials decided to launch "a war of choice with very little consultation with important allies. In doing so, "they exaggerated the threat, they treated allies with disdain, and they acted with an inexcusable disregard for the health of the Atlantic alliance and the wider war on terrorism. But Gordon and Shapiro also fault France and Germany for refusing to enforce UN resolutions for which they had voted, and for placing their own desires to act independently above the common needs of the alliance. The authors argue that the actions of France and Germany helped turn a debate over whether to invade Iraq, which was hardly unexpected given past differences on how to deal with Saddam Hussein, into a crisis that called the future of the alliance into question. The book's main thesis is that events did not have to unfold this way. That they did so was primarily because of decisions made by leaders on both sides of the Atlantic, which were influenced by such factors as clashing personalities and the misreading of each other's intentions.

But the rift in the alliance was not a straightforward clash between the United States and Europe, as it has sometimes been portrayed. Far from it. The authors also draw attention to the differences inside the European Union over Iraq. Most Europeans opposed the war, but governments were split on the issue, with a majority of the now 25 EU member governments supporting the United States and a minority backing France and Germany. These differences helped spur extensive reflection in Europe about how to develop a common EU policy toward the United States, although the deep divisions exposed by Iraq are unlikely to be resolved any time soon. The third section looks at how to repair the rift over Iraq and battered U.S.- European relations in general. It proposes a joint agenda for Europe and United States that would include working together to stabilize and rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan, to promote peace and democratic reform in the Middle East and to continue waging what is expected to be a long struggle against international terrorism and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Allies at War is in part the authors' response to the widely discussed arguments of the American foreign policy analyst Robert Kagan, or more precisely what they refer to as a common but incorrect interpretation of Kagan, which holds that the allies are destined to continue drifting apart because of their divergent geopolitical perspectives. As the authors explain, far more unites the United States and Europe than divides them. Both face the same main threats and "only an alliance with a democratic Europe can give the United States the resources and the legitimacy it needs internationally.

The main implication of this analysis is that repairing the Transatlantic rift will take hard work and a willingness to compromise on both sides. On the one hand, any U.S. administration will face many of the same problems in dealing with its European allies as the Bush administration did in the run-up to the war. On the other hand, a greater emphasis in Washington on the value of allies and consultation than has been evident in recent years would help to overcome the bitter legacy of Iraq. For their part, France and Germany should review their decisions not to provide troops to help pacify Iraq and consider other ways to assist WashingtonÁÃs efforts to promote the emergence of a stable, democratic regime in Baghdad.

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number V, Issue number III in the Fall of 2004.

 
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