Gerhard Schröder is no longer the lone statesman steadfast in his opposition to war in Iraq. Who's isolated now?
It's going to be one helluva week. All the more so because of the way transatlantic tensions peaked in this last one. On Tuesday, the day after UN inspectors turn in their report on what they have or haven't seen so far in Iraq, US President George W. Bush will deliver his State of the Union speech and Europeans will be watching and listening very closely. Last year, Bush rattled nerves around the world with his "Axis of Evil" rhetoric and pretty much blew away what remained of the world's outpouring of sympathy and emotional solidarity with the US that followed 9/11.
This year, Europeans may well wonder if Bush will expand the "Axis" to include them. Well, the Germans and the French, anyway. "Germany has been a problem, and France has been a problem," US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said last week. They're "old Europe", falling behind and out of favor as "the center of gravity shift[s] to the east."
The comments have not gone down well in the French and German press. As Natalie Roller reports for Telepolis, the front page of Friday's Libération derided "American Contempt" while Le Figaro noted -- as does Goedart Palm in Telepolis -- that a steady slew of insults from across the Atlantic intended to isolate France and Germany is only strengthening the two countries' resolve to do all they can to block Bush II's headlong plunge into Gulf War II.
Let's back up for a moment. Last Monday, a roundtable of German intellectuals implored Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to stick to his opposition to the war. "Hasn't everything already been said and yet, still, there's nothing that can be done to stop it?" asked novelist Christa Wolf. But Schröder assured them, first, that his position was no mere campaign tactic, neither for last September's national elections nor for next week's regional elections in Hesse and Lower Saxony. What's more, he assured them that Germany "not only has the right but the duty" to express its differences with the US, even as it remains a steadfast friend and ally.
Then came Wednesday, Franco-German Day, and a joint declaration that the two countries would do all they could for peace. French President Jacques Chirac had been sitting on the fence for months but, hearing either the call of his conscience or noting the latest polls showing three quarters of the French opposing war in Iraq, he finally teamed up with lone crusader Schröder.
Washington is slowly coming to the realization that a broad coalition for peace is taking shape that includes not only "old Europe" but also heavyweights like China and Russia. Whether or not, hopefully history will give credit where it's due for instigating and coalescing opposition to it -- to Gerhard Schröder.
An intriguing pair. Eric Alterman, an American, visits Europe and writes a piece about Anti-Americanism in Europe for The Nation, while Timothy Garton Ash, a European, visits America and writes a piece about Anti-Europeanism in America for The New York Review of Books.
Both have their highlights. Ash has a wonderful aside about the sexual imagery that's been conjured up in the conflict, but perhaps his most important insight is that while the focus is on Iraq at the moment, in the long run, with US policy being shaped by an administration chock full of fundamentalist Christians, and with Europe all but thoroughly secularized, the Arab-Israeli conflict is going to remain the tinder box of further US-European clashes for years to come.
Alterman's thesis basically rests on the idea that there are four demographic groups at play here: European "elites", US "elites", everybody else in Europe and everybody else in the US. Polls show, he argues, that three of these groups agree on just about everything but the renegade group that doesn't -- US elites -- holds the reins of global power. (David Hudson)