Arrogance of power - arrogance of impotence : the Iraq conflict, US"Weltpolitik", and transatlantic relations

Krell, Gert

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URL http://edoc.vifapol.de/opus/volltexte/2008/264/
Dokumentart: Bericht / Forschungsbericht / Abhandlung
Institut: HSFK-Hessische Stiftung Friedens- und Konfliktforschung
Schriftenreihe: PRIF reports
Bandnummer: 67
Sprache: Englisch
Erstellungsjahr: 2003
Publikationsdatum: 25.01.2008
SWD-Schlagwörter: Irak , USA , Großmachtpolitik , Weltordnung
DDC-Sachgruppe: Politik
BK - Basisklassifikation: 89.90 (Außenpolitik, Internationale Politik), 15.87 (USA), 15.76 (Vorderer und mittlerer Orient)
Sondersammelgebiete: 3.6 Politik und Friedensforschung

Kurzfassung auf Englisch:

On the occasion of the annual meeting of the “Foreign Policy Association” in New York on 7 May 2003, US Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a both humorous and serious address that the transatlantic alliance had left the differences of opinion over the Iraq War behind, and now it was time to ensure together a place in the world for the Iraqi people as a free, stable and self-governing country. None of the members should think that they could handle the major global challenges alone. The easing of the tension sworn to by Colin Powell may have been helped by the fact that neither the optimistic supporters nor the pessimistic critics were right on the course or outcome of the Iraq War. While one might speak of a kind of freeing of the Iraqis, the ambivalence in the Iraqi people towards this freedom by war and occupation has been underestimated by the “liberators”. Peace is still a long way off. This applies not only to the difficult material and political reconstruction in Iraq. Popularity ratings for the USA have waned since 1992, in the Muslim world they are ultimately “in the basement”. Here, support for the western fight against terrorism has also waned. To date, there has been no evidence of the given reasons for the war, the lack of credibility, perhaps even open manipulation of their own as well as the global public by the leading western power and her coalition partners may lead to further immense strain. If the project to stabilise Iraq in human terms fails, not only those directly affected but, due to the global implications, many other countries will also suffer irrespective of whether they were for or against the war. In this respect, Colin Powell is doubtless right: even those among the USA’s allies who were against the war have no choice but to accept the task of supporting post-war Iraq; not least because the historical balance of US policy of democratization through intervention is negative overall. The appeal to common values and the requirement of a partnership of convenience of course cannot hide longer-lasting ill feelings: “USA bashing” is popular in Europe, and “Europe bashing” is popular in the USA. Anti-Americanism is nothing new in Europe, it is as old as the founding of the “New World”. American reservations towards Europe extend on their part to the time of the physical and political separation from the “Old (European) World”, in this respect too, such reservations have time and again assumed different forms in the historical process. These frequently ritualised, habitual antiattitudes are full of projections and can easily be refuted empirically. More interesting than the simple fact of animosity is the question of how deep it runs and whether it impacts the substance of the transatlantic relationship. The controversy over the dealings with Saddam Hussein and his disarmament obligations are part of a larger picture in which the USA’s foreign policy goals and strategies play a part or are put up for discussion. More important than anti-American sentiment which has always been present in Germany and Europe as a whole, is the fact that a lot of basically pro-American politicians, journalists and intellectuals in Europe are increasingly concerned about a long-term trend of US global policy which has reached new heights with the Bush government: militant nationalism and unilateralism combined with militarised power politics. The following are particularly striking examples of this trend: the rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, originally an accepted return service for II the unlimited extension of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in 1995; the strong reactions by the USA to the Statute of the International Criminal Court and the associated pressure on countries who signed up to this statute; the refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on the reduction of worldwide CO2 emissions, combined with an energy policy promoting a drastic increase in the use of fossil fuels; and – in retrospect particularly piquant in the light of the war waged by the USA on Saddam Hussein for assumed non-compliance with the conditions concerning the destruction of his weapons of mass destruction – the relaxation of the inspections contrary to agreement, which the radical conservative Republicans demanded from the Clinton Administration for the ratification of the Chemical Weapons Convention and by which they have undermined the effectiveness of this exemplary convention in terms of world order politics. The question is, therefore, whether the transatlantic “ill feeling” in connection with the Iraq crisis is in fact part of a larger crisis in European-American relations. In addition to the central dimensions of relations between Europe and the USA, this report therefore gives special attention to the foreign and security policy “grand strategy” of the United States. There is (as yet) no question of irreparable harm done to European-American relations. The general public on both sides of the Atlantic are still a lot closer than the differences on the diplomatic level would suggest. Although the mutual popularity ratings of the USA and Europe have dropped compared to 2002, the have somewhat recovered from their lowest point shortly before the Iraq War. The reservations of critics of the USA are based less on the American people than on the politics of the Bush Administration. Majorities in several European NATO countries are calling for more independence from the USA, yet more important is the findings that public opinion in the USA is no less multilaterally disposed than in Europe; on the other hand, Europeans do not vote as antimilitarily as many hardliners in the USA think. However, American citizens feel (in a very much similar order) altogether more threatened by perceived problematic international developments than Europeans. This difference was already visible before 11 September 2001, but it has intensified since the attacks. And Europeans want to cooperate with the USA equally on the security policy level, but are far more critical of military expenditures than Americans. There are furthermore some differences in long-term attitudes: Americans are clearly more nationalistic than most Europeans, and for them religion plays a much stronger role, privately and in the political arena. Economic relations between the USA and Europe house a series of systematic problems and current conflicts, in no way untypical of partners who are also competitors. Nonetheless, the majority of experts do not expect that this will result in a comparable addition of divisions as in security policy or international law. The US and EU economies are deeply integrated and intermeshed, and this intermeshing has clearly increased in recent years. Transatlantic economic relations form the most closely-knit trade and investment system in the world. Economic policy integration does trail behind the development of material processes of exchange, but these are more heavily regulated than ever, in particular owing to the dispute settlement mechanism, which was substantitally improved with the foundation of the WTO. In addition to the mode of power, the mode of compromise characterises transatlantic economic relations. This balance could of course be put under pressure, if poor global economic trends and structural economic problems on III both sides of the Atlantic were to further diminish the readiness to compromise and adapt in favour of global agreements (for example in the agricultural sector or in the area of regulating international financial markets). However, decisive changes now characterise relations between the USA and her allies on the level of the “grand strategy” in foreign policy, primarily in security policy and international law. The USA has gradually revoked the liberal-institutionalist basis of its hegemonial global order policy, which dominated the period after the Second World War. The conservative revolution and the Republican majority in Congress introduced this Uturn in the mid-1990s, and it is now being continued on the neoconservative line with support from large parts of the Bush jr. Administration. The majority of relevant decision- makers among the Republicans in Congress and in the administration comprise three groups: old hardliners from the Cold War period, who are oriented towards categories of power, especially military power, Christian fundamentalists, and neoconservatives. In the fight against terror and rogue states, the three groups have found their mission around which they are redefining themselves. The new “grand strategy” has neoimperial traits: The USA will do everything she can to maintain her military advantage; no other power or group of powers should be given the opportunity to catch up with her. The new global strategy includes a dramatisation of new threats, which can no longer be suppressed with deterrence; potential threats ought to or must be fought anticipatively i.e. preventively. International rules, treaties and alliances are experiencing a clear debasement in the face of the primacy of freedom of action. The result of these ideological shifts in the USA is a long list of acts in the international arena, in which the United States reject, sabotage or do not support joint solutions in ways equal to her importance and economic capacity. How can we explain the differences in basic global ideas and their legal and specific political shaping between large parts of the ruling political elites in the USA and Europe? The “personae” in the transatlantic drama are not important for structural realism, they just act out roles prescribed by the division of power. The USA is a leading super power and she behaves accordingly. It was only under the protective shield of the USA, that Europe could unite at all, and today places the accent on the “soft” methods of power policy. The USA cannot and ought not to adopt the policy of “be nice to and get along with each other”, since, in an overwhelmingly anarchically structured global polity in which violent provocations can be expected all the time, she has the task of safeguarding the security of the West. This “division of labor”, which is reflected - if only to a certain extent - in opinion surveys, and the fact that economic relations are less asymmetric and therefore less controversial, appears to support the “realist” position. But by itself it cannot explain the differences between the main participants; the division of power still leaves a lot of room for the shaping of specific policy, as the considerable differences between individual US administrations demonstrate. Social constructivism therefore stresses the importance of political culture, differences in the experience and world views of large collectives. “Exceptionalism”, the specifically American variant of nationalism, also fundamentalist traits, which are now clear up to President Bush, can be traced back to the beginnings of the “New World”. Likewise, pronounced individualism, which shows itself in foreign policy terms to be greatly sensitive IV to curtailments of sovereignty. In this context, the paradox of strength and vulnerability must also be mentioned, which again showed itself very clearly just after the attacks, which dramatically questioned the supposed security of the USA based on the highly asymmetrical division of power in the world. Finally – the flipside of the paradox – the different experience of war between the USA and Europe. For the USA the Second World War was itself primarily a “foreign affair”, quite different to the associations the Germans (and Europeans) have of the Second World War or of war in general. Certain trends and tendencies in the USA, which are difficult to understand in Europe, can be clarified with these references to ideas and ideals, but they do not explain why the multilateral dimension obvious in opinion surveys and in the history of US foreign policy can these days scarcely maintain its hold. To understand this, we need to look at the processes of preference formation in the United States, which is the major concern of liberal international relations theory. There are a series of mechanisms which cause the orientations of the ruling bodies in the USA to clash with the preferences of the majority in many cases, even though they were democratically elected. The weakness of the American party system must be mentioned here, which opens up particular opportunities of influence to highly motivated and wellorganised ideological groupings – in particular conservative-fundamentalist trends. The governing technique of the Bush jr. Administration plays a large part in that the deficits of its domestic competence (large parts of its policy programme are not in accordance with the wishes of the majority) are successfully compensated in the area of security policy. Many prominent Democrats were not convinced by the arguments of a new threat from Iraq and suspected political staging, but they were defeated in the autumn 2002 elections – with or without opposition. To date, the manipulation of fear, and patriotically-oriented and non-critical media have also helped, has functioned such that large elements of the American public were convinced of the threat by Saddam Hussein including his involvement in the attacks on 11 September. Neomarxist analyses would carve out more strongly the crisis tendencies of American capitalism, which is in no way as stable as it appears. Spectacular deficits in regulation have led to massive fixing of the balance sheets and other deceits, many small investors have been ruined and confidence in the American economy as a whole has been seriously affected. In addition to that there is the “fossilistic” energy policy which can no longer form the basis of a lasting economic model; furthermore, old problems such as private wealth and public poverty (deficits in the infrastructure, financial crises in the cities, worsening budget deficits) or the chronically negative trade figures. These crisis tendencies are underpinned by a dramatically increasing inequality in the distribution of income and wealth, which, in the opinion of critics, endangers democracy as well as economic stability. Instead of a structurally-reformist response to these crisis phenomena, the Bush Administration has given a particularist one which – internally as well as externally – favours oil interests, the Christian-fundamentalist clientele, the rich and the super-rich, a response which it protects with a “populist façade” and the fight against “evil”. Many of the described tendencies run together in the US policy against Iraq. The neoconservatives saw in Iraq, which up until the Second Gulf War in 1991 was one of the V United States’ stability partners against the Islamic revolution in Iran, a threat to the geostrategic and energy interests of the United States and a potential support for terrorism. With the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the USA is combining hope for political change in the region, which will not only benefit her interests, but also a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She won the war, in fact faster and with less serious loss of lives than the majority of critics feared, but at the price of further major damage to the United Nations and international law, further splits in the state community and increased reservations towards US global policy. And she has not yet won the peace. The positive effects of the removal of Saddam Hussein are extremely hard to assess not just because of the politically, legally and ethically questionable attendant circumstances. And the Iraq War does not stand alone, it is part of a changed global strategy of the USA. To face the major global challenges, including security policy challenges, the United States depend on the goodwill and cooperation of not only the international community of states, but also on international society. This the Bush Administration does admit occasionally, while at the same time it defiantly declares that they can and will go it alone, when others do not want to cooperate on the USA’s terms. Her manic view of the world (if you’re not for us, you’re against us) with its decontextualisation and depolitisation of terrorism, which she stylises counter-fundamentally as “evil” per se, makes her blind to her own mistakes and prevents a prudent answer, which must be differentiated between the hard and incorrigible ideologically fanatical core of Islamic terrorists, on the one hand, and the however justified or unjustified resentment against the USA in the Arabic and Islamic world, on the other. The reservations against the USA, especially US foreign policy, have increased and not just among Muslims. The world sees the United States no way near as benevolent as the Americans see themselves. That should give a prudent world power something to think about. A prudent hegemon will, in order to extend its power, offer to limit its own autonomy and freedom of action. It will give smaller powers the feeling that it is taking them seriously, it will pick up on their matters of concern. It creates and preserves institutions finalising arrangements and agreements which last beyond the peak of its power. The biggest temptation for a hegemon is to go it alone, dictation instead of consultation, a preacher and imposer of its values. Many of the USA’s best friends and many intellectuals in the USA themselves fear that the current US administration is tempted by this “arrogance of power”. In the search for an antidote to the “arrogance of power”, advice could be taken from the founding fathers of the USA and their debates on the best constitution of the new community: “checks and balances”. It is completely possible that in the USA itself effective counterweights are already being formed against the course of the current administration. The discernible deficits in economic development and the exacerbation of social problems in the broadest sense are pointing in this direction. A lot will depend on whether there will be more big attacks giving new impetus to the siege mentality and the focus on the foreign enemy. Europe’s task must be to accept its part in the “balancing”. It is not a question of classic geopolitical counterweight politics, since, for various systematic, historical and political reasons, only a form of “cooperative balancing”, i.e. the forVI mation of international and transnational coalitions in the global political consensus formation processes is worth considering. The “old Europe” has a lot to offer these consensus formation processes, in which the use of “soft power” takes priority. Basic principles such as a system of law between nation-states, coordination via common organisations and common rules specific to political fields, non-aggression, consideration of the interests of partners and consideration also of the demands from weaker members represent expertise and experience which make the EU attractive to all states, elites and populations who are at least tentatively interested in the growing regulation and legalisation of international relations. Of course, the EU trails in many respects behind its demands and opportunities for world order. These shortcomings are more often than not hidden behind criticism of the USA’s unilateralism, even if this is justified. Or Europe herself practises an arrogance of power, as in France’s attitude towards new members who dared to speak out in favour of the American position on Iraq; or as in the German government’s attitude, which, through its unconditional ‘no’ to any form of internationally sanctioned policy of deterring a serious breach of international law by Saddam Hussein, itself incurred accusations of unilateralism and contributed to the sad fact that the Europeans could not manage to put together a common counter-position to the hardliners in the USA. The irony of such European arrogance of power is that, in view of the real power relationship, it produces only variants of an arrogance of impotence. In principle, the Europeans possess the right counterweight to the “assertive unilateralism” of the radical conservatives in the USA, they just need to position it better jointly in the scales. In addition to this, a stronger integration of their armed forces and a more efficient confederal division of labor in procurement policy is needed.


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