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Does Europe actually want to play a part in the world?

Posted by Helen Thursday, March 17, 2005

Silvio Berlusconi has announced that he is thinking of gradually withdrawing Italian troops from Iraq. At present there are 3,000 there and some will be withdrawn by September, some by the beginning of next year.

Or maybe not. It all depends how Berlusconi’s election campaign will be going. There is no doubt that his announcement has more to do with domestic politics than with international affairs and the American government appears to be treating as such.

The point is that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction in Italy with that country’s involvement in what they still perceive as America’s war. The dissatisfaction tends to be on the left and in the main stream media but that is enough for our own main stream media to perceive it as being widespread throughout the country. Other people and other opinions do not exist.

Berlusconi clearly shares the opinion that he is vulnerable and, even more clearly, he does not want to be that in his battle with Romano Prodi for the government of Italy. Hence the rather disgraceful and self-defeating payment of ransom for Italian hostages, first the two left-wing aid workers, then the communist journalist. It is still not clear which of those ransoms Berlusconi provided out of his own pocket.

This policy is completely suicidal, as Italian civilians will now be seen to be fair game by all groups in Iraq or Afghanistan that want to augment their budget. It has also led to the tragic events of last week, which ended with the killing of a brave and admirable Italian intelligence officer. And it has added fuel to the traditional “Yankee out” cry of the left, though at present it consists of “Italia out”.

Berlusconi’s semi-announcement comes after a number of other European countries that have supported and participated in the war in Iraq have made similar semi-announcements.

Poland will withdraw several hundred of its 1,700 troops in July with the rest, possibly, at the beginning of the year. The Netherlands have started withdrawing some of its troops and Ukraine is talking of it. (Whether the Ukrainian soldiers will be all that happy remains to be seen. They are unlikely to get as well paid back home as they are in Iraq.)

In Britain, there has been no official announcement and not likely to be, though Sir Menzies Campbell has been jumping up and down and demanding that a similar decision be made. What happens in Iraq itself or surrounding countries matters little to him, though he will undoubtedly jump up and down again if things do not go right.

By contrast, Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, secure in his recent electoral victory, has mooted the possibility of more Australian troops going to Iraq.

According to the ISN Security Watch:

“Australia announced last month that it would deploy an additional 450 soldiers to southern Iraq to provide protection for Japanese engineers working there and to help train Iraqi troops after the Netherlands withdrew its 1,400 troops.”
Unlike the self-regarding and complaining European politicians, the Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer stated that it would be “catastrophic for the international community, in particular the Americans, to abandon the Iraqi community in the wake of their elections”.

In itself the various decisions to withdraw troops are of little importance. Other troops from various countries have been withdrawn and replaced. Indeed, the plan has always been to review the situation as soon as there is a stable Iraqi government, which is not yet the case.

What remains disturbing is the European attitude to the whole war against terror and the most exciting developments in the world. It seems that the Middle East may well change in the next few years and the countries may well become democracies. If that happens, then the various seats of terrorism will slowly disappear, which is a far more important necessity than the European Arrest Warrant for such crimes as “sabotage” and “xenophobia”.

But Europe and the Europeans do not want to be there or to be part of it in any shape or form. Let’s get out, let’s go home, let’s huddle over our own problems and argue incessantly about rebates and subsidies, seems to be the general attitude.

A new act has been introduced in both Houses of Congress, in the Senate by the Democrat Liebermann and the Republican McCain, in the House of Representatives by the Democrat Lantos and Republican Wolf. (You can do this sort of cross-party legislation there.)

Called the Advance Democracy Act, it
“Declares that it is the policy of the United States to promote freedom and democracy as a fundamental component of U.S. foreign policy, to see an end to dictatorial and other non-democratic forms of government, and to strengthen alliances with other democratic countries to better promote and defend shared values and ideals.”
Well, that’s nice. But will the Europeans be part of this alliance to “promote and defend shared values and ideals”? Do they, in fact, share those “values and ideals” or are they so engrossed in the beauty of Europe being superior to America that they have, together and separately, forgotten important political truths?

It could be argued that all this Gladstonian, Wilsonian liberalism is a very bad idea and we must not go along with it, though, if that is so, why is the European Parliament passing endless resolutions to condemn this, that and the other in countries about which they know next to nothing?

And why is the EU straining to build battle groups that are to be sent all over the world in order to promote "European values"? Or something of the kind. At least, the Americans and their allies may well mean what they say.

In any case, if Europeans as the EU or as separate countries and peoples dislike the idea of all this Wilsonian liberalism, then they should put up some ideas of their own against it. But just to keep saying that this is wrong, this is American, we will not support it, is hardly sensible.

One cannot help thinking that Europe no longer wants to play any part in the world at all. It will sit in the corner and moodily throw its toys around, while exciting new things will happen elsewhere.