Blessed Are the Warmakers?

The United States and the European Union both want peace in the Middle East—but that’s about all they agree upon. While Washington believes that regime change in Iraq will usher in an era of regional peace and stability, Brussels worries that U.S. adventurism will make the clash of civilizations a self-fulfilling prophecy. Will war in Iraq prove to be an act of creative destruction, or simply destruction? Two outspoken thinkers from opposite sides of the Atlantic—Richard Perle, a key national security advisor to the Pentagon, and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, leader of the European Parliament’s Green Party—traded views and barbs at a recent debate in Washington, D.C., at the invitation of Helga Flores Trejo, the new Director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit: If I could sit down with the president of the United States, I would say, Mr. Bush, I am no pacifist, and I know military intervention can be absolutely necessary. When the Allies landed in Normandy in 1944, my parents took the first opportunity to conceive a child as a celebration of their new freedom.

Richard Perle: I never imagined we owe you to former U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower.

Cohn-Bendit: Thats life. But recently, your government has been behaving like the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution. You want to change the whole world! Like them, you claim that history will show that truth is on your side. You want the world to follow the American dream, and you believe that you know what is best for Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Africa, Liberia, Yemen, and all other countries. Like every revolutionary, you have good ideas, but your problem lies in the means you want to use to realize them. Suddenly you want to bring democracy to the world, starting with Iraq. What happened to this administration, which began with promises and plans for a humble foreign policy and nonintervention?

Perle: A fair question. We are interested in democracy in Iraq because we are, in the first place, interested in disarming Saddam Hussein. Now, if we are going to remove Saddam to get rid of his weapons of mass destruction, consider democracy as an added benefit. The Middle East is unstable, and, in many ways, it is becoming more unstable. Democracies do not wage aggressive wars. We want to bring real stability to the region. Thats why we want to change the political system in Iraq.

Cohn-Bendit: I do not question the value of democracy. On the contrary, I am asking how best to achieve democracy. First of all, remember former French General and later President Charles de Gaulle, who insisted to Dwight Eisenhower in 1944 that he, as a French leader, had to enter liberated Paris, however weak he was. The point was that only the French themselvesnot an American generalcould remake France after the shame of the countrys collaboration with the Nazis. Second, you are making a mistake as you try to lead the region down the path toward democracy. The key to a peaceful and stable Middle East is Iran. In contrast to Iraq, Iran has a strong, organized civil society that is already very close to making a breakthrough toward democratization. Or, in a different category, we should really solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel does not comply with U.N. resolutions any more than does Iraq. You will say that I cannot compare the two. But the Arab population makes this comparison. And as long as many people do not believe in you, you will have a difficult time in Iraq.

Perle: You are imagining a U.S. general riding roughshod over Iraqis and confirming the worst fears of Muslims around the world that we are an aggressive, imperialist power. I have another view. We have Ahmed Chalabi, chief of the opposition Iraqi National Congress, to enter Baghdad. Ending the current Iraqi regime will liberate the Iraqis. We will leave both governance and oil in their hands. We will hand over power quicklynot in years, maybe not even in monthsto give Iraqis a chance to shape their own destiny. The whole world will see this. And I expect the Iraqis to be at least as thankful as French President Jacques Chirac was for Frances liberation.

Cohn-Bendit: Oh, come on. Its not true.

Perle: Nobody has to say, Thank you. It is quite sufficient for us to know that people in Iraq will no longer live in abject fear.

Cohn-Bendit: With Iraq, you are talking about nation building. Yet we have not finished our job in Afghanistan. We see a backlash against women and deteriorating security. We have barely secured the capital, Kabul. It is my biggest fear that Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar will take over Kabul while you are fighting in Iraq. After the war, you will neglect Iraq and shift your attention to Syria, then Saudi Arabia. Because you are Americans, you have the biggest army in the worldyou can do anything you want. This is revolutionary hubris.

Perle: I do not know that this is any American officials view.

Cohn-Bendit: Dont say that. After the war in Iraq, you will adopt this view. Syria is financing the Hamas terrorist organization, right?

Perle: Yes, and Syria is not alone. But I think we will have a very good opportunity to persuade Syria to stop sponsoring terrorism. I promise we will be more effective in that if we remove Hussein, rather than crawling back from where we are today, throwing up our hands, and saying, Its too hard. We couldnt do it, we had too little support. Would you rather talk with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad about terrorism before or after the liberation of Iraq?

Cohn-Bendit: Before.

Perle: You think you would achieve anything?

Cohn-Bendit: Thats why I am saying. Lets change the agenda together! Europe and America have to agree on means and ends if we want to trigger a peaceful domino effect in the Middle East. Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be part of this agenda. I accept wars that are necessary, but I still believe that war against Iraq is not necessary. I have proposed to contain Saddam Hussein with U.S. troops in the Gulf, and to convene a summit like the Helsinki Conference for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1975. The U.N. should declare a Palestinian state, and, with an international mandate, we should secure Israel and Palestine. This is where we could reach a mutual understanding! And if you put this project on the agenda, the whole region will look at America with different eyes.

Perle: The chances for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will improve as soon as Saddam is gone. Iraqi opposition leader Ahmed Chalabi and his people have confirmed that they want a real peace process, and that they would recognize the state of Israel. There is no doubt about that if they come to power. We cannot expect the peace process to be any more promising than it is now as long as Saddam Hussein actively works against itincluding raining rockets on Israel as he did during the 1991 Gulf War. President George W. Bush presented his vision for the Middle East on June 24, 2002. Yet his plan has not received the attention it deserves. Bush said, if the Palestinians establish themselves as interlocutors who operate without corruption and terrorism, then the United States will support the creation of a Palestinian state. Yet the Europeans are supporting Arafat and sending checks from Brussels. We have reached a dead end. The checks are standing in the way of the kind of democratic reform needed in the Palestinian National Authority that can open the door for peace.

Cohn-Bendit: This difference of opinion is not limited to Arafat. America has to learn that, after a war with Iraq, the trans-Atlantic relationship will change. Hitherto, it has been like a traditional male-female relationship: Man calls, woman follows. Then, there was emancipation. I do want something new in Europe, and not the French wayanti-Americanism no matter what. Europe can take on responsibilities, and I dream that it will be able to handle alone something like Bosnia in the future. This new relationship is not against America, but it is not for America either. It is for Europe. European interests are not equal to American interests. You Americans did not believe in Europe before, with the euro. You laughed at us. We did it, and it is not so bad. And you will see, we will do much more. We have differing views on the Kyoto Protocol, and on the International Criminal Court. I understand the American position, because the two continents have completely different understandings of sovereignty.

Perle: If my predictionthat everything will go well with Iraqbecomes reality, then the damage recently done to trans-Atlantic relations will rapidly be repaired. We will still have the problem of French ambitions to build a Europe in opposition to the United States. And if the French are indeed creating a counterweight, do not call their relationship with the United States an alliance anymore. In that case we, as Americans, will have to consider how we deal with this European departure from the trans-Atlantic axis.

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