At the End of the Day: France, Germany, and the War on Iraq

Revolutionary Worker #1188, February 23, 2003, posted at

We received the following article from A World to Win News Service:

10 February 2003. A World to Win News Service.The US has treated a last-minute proposal by France and Germany to avoid war as the diplomatic equivalent of an ambush. Bush and his respective high priest and executioner Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld responded with almost as much hostility as if their convoys had been fired upon. Washington accused France of "systematic obstruction" of its preparations for war. Yet this European opposition to US war plans, while a welcome spoke in the wheels of the US juggernaut, also represents a potential trap for many antiwar forces. The people must not allow themselves to be lulled or fooled by it. There is a grave danger that at the end of the day the result might be a compromise that would give the US what the British press are calling a "fig leaf resolution" by the UN.

Even if such a resolution did not expressly authorize a war, it would enable the US to claim it has UN authorisation. Tony Blair, in particular, is desperate for this, hoping it will divide and confuse the massive opposition in Britain to this war. It might also allow the governments of the majority of the UN Security Council who have opposed this war to go along with it or even join it anyway.

The counter-proposal to the US planned invasion--currently backed by Security Council members France, Germany, Russia, China and other countries--is to triple the number of UN inspectors and send French and German spy aircraft, among others, to conduct permanent aerial surveillance of Iraq. This would be combined with an even stricter embargo on anything that could have possible military use. Thousands of UN troops would also be stationed throughout the country. The stated intention is to render Iraq powerless and make sure that it stays that way. As the British Independent newspaper noted, this plan would itself reduce Iraq to the status of a "UN protectorate".

In this context, the US could not have been more dismayed over what UN inspectors called "the beginning of a change of heart" by Iraq to more fully comply with all their requests for documents and private interviews with Iraqi scientists. While last week Bush said the only real issue was whether the UN would back the disarming of Saddam Hussein or the US and the UK would have to do it on their own, Rumsfeld, visiting the diplomatic front lines in Europe, mounted an emergency American counteroffensive right within the enemy camp. He bluntly told the French newspaper Le Figaro that the Franco-German proposal would be ignored because "Saddam must go".

In other words, the US is determined to invade and occupy Iraq, and it will accept nothing less. This is exactly what France and Germany oppose. That's why they have even called for sending UN "peacekeeping" forces to Iraq, which would pre-empt a US occupation. The European powers have no problem with the great powers dictating to Iraq. Nor is the potentially horrendous human cost of the war of any real concern to them. They are unhappy because an American occupation of Iraq and its subsequent increased control of the Middle East and its oil would enable the US to further dictate to them too. And they are also worried that such a war might result in disaster for the Western powers, backfiring on the battlefield and bringing about perilous political consequences, not least of all from among the people of Europe themselves. But the problem is that the US will not be dissuaded from its chosen course by any diplomatic manoeuvring, and faced with a US-led war whether they like it or not, the European powers may accept some sort of UN arrangement that saves face for them all while allowing the US to go ahead with its crime.

If any of this were a laughing matter, it would be funny to hear Rumsfeld trying to throw Germany into the same box as Libya and Cuba--"countries that have said they won't do anything.... That won't help in any respect." In his speech in Rome, Rumsfeld's underlying point was that Germany would have about as much chance as these other two countries to participate in the division of the spoils in postwar Iraq--that is, no chance at all. Meanwhile, speaking before the US Senate, Powell clarified what these countries won't get a chance to be part of: a "different Iraq", "where its riches, its oil, will be used for constructive, not destructive purposes" and the whole region would be pacified, including the Palestinians.

Actually, Germany is doing quite a bit to help this war, first and foremost trying to pacify its own people, who are broadly opposed to it. Many thousands demonstrated as Rumsfeld was speaking in Munich. Germany is also allowing the US to use Germany as a forward staging area for the invasion of Iraq. Germany's armed forces were built in anticipation of a war on its borders, and it lacks rapid troop deployment capacity and the right transport aircraft. At this time, it does not have the military means to be of more direct use to the US, except in a symbolic way. (This is not to say that this symbolic support is not important, which is why there has been so much controversy about the tiny German armoured unit in Kuwait and whether or not it will fight.) As for France, its nuclear aircraft carrier is reportedly now carrying out joint exercises with the US Navy in Middle Eastern waters. Working day and night, France's Air Force is being retrofitted with communications and other devices that would make it compatible with American warplanes in battle. After putting up a show of opposition, France's advanced aircraft and troops played an important role alongside the US and UK in the first Gulf War in 1991. It has explicitly said it would not rule out French participation in the war.

In fact, France's position toward a US-led invasion has been deliberately ambiguous. French officials stress that despite their differences France remains a close US ally. Although France took credit for coming up with the idea of reinforced UN inspections, what Germany presented as a "proposal" was labelled by French spokespeople as a simple "idea", leaving open the door to dropping it without too much loss of self-respect. France's real position seems to be that it may go along with the US if it feels it has to, but it intends to keep its options open and jockey for position until the very last minute, and even during the course of the war itself.

The closer this war comes, the more certain imperialist forces inside and outside the US are worried that it may not go smoothly, and a smooth war seems about all the US is prepared to handle ("six days or six weeks, not six months", predicted Rumsfeld). This factor could enter into dynamic interaction with opposition to the war. This is so strong that the European edition of Time magazine reported that in a poll on its Web site more than four out of five readers said they considered George Bush far more of a threat to the world than Saddam Hussein.

There is no place American troops could be sent where they would be more intensely hated than Iraq and the Middle East. The British were unable to put down Iraq's people once and for all when it was their colony. Israel rolled over the Lebanese armed forces and occupied southern Lebanon, but it could not prevail against the people. Palestine itself has not been crushed despite more than a half century of brutal occupation. The US spent far more resources and lives in Vietnam than it is willing to pay in Iraq, inflicting over a million deaths on the Vietnamese people, but in the end it was driven out anyway. Saddam Hussein is no Ho Chi Minh. But it would be a deceptive fantasy to think that this is nothing but a conflict between George Bush and Saddam Hussein.

After a week of UN meetings and diplomatic sorties and ripostes, a Moroccan newspaper seller had this to say: "No matter what they say about each other all day long, at the end of the day they shake hands and all sit down to eat at the same table." Then he added that the main course at the feast of the rich is always the same--us, the world's downtrodden, and in this case, the people of Iraq and the Middle East.

All the imperial powers great and small are determined to join this feast. What is going on is to a large degree a dispute over how much each of them will get. But there is another element as well: the fear among the ruling circles of more than a few countries that the US and/or others at this particular banquet may choke on the hatred and fierce resistance of the people all over the world.

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world's Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organisations.

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