Monday, February 10
The Widening Atlantic
The Guardian (Leader), February 11, 2003

Iraq split points to far deeper divisions

Amid talk of Nato's imminent disintegration, transatlantic trench warfare and the UN's collapse into League of Nations oblivion, it is vital to stay focused on the issue from which these disputes directly stem: US plans to wage war on Iraq.

During George Bush's two years in office, tensions over US unilateralism and the UN's collective authority, Nato's changing role, and diverging US and EU priorities - on issues such as climate change and Palestine - have been readily apparent. But it is Iraq that has crystallised them and brought them into the open.

Recent public recriminations and yesterday's Nato row over Turkey show how broadly damaging and divisive the Iraq issue is. This makes it even more important, not least for Britain, to agree an Iraq policy that most, if not all, can support.

This requires, first and foremost, some political candour. It is now plain that Mr Bush and Tony Blair have largely failed to persuade Europe, the Arab world (and many Americans) that there is no alternative to the early use of pre-emptive force.

It is evident that the objection of France, Germany, Russia and China to a premature aborting of UN inspections is but the tip, to use Hans Blix's metaphor, of an iceberg of popular opposition.

It is condescending to imply, as Mr Blair seems to, that people have not understood what is at stake. They do.

Nor is it convincing to suggest that other national leaders fail to appreciate the threat of terrorism and proliferation. In decrying a cure more dangerous than the disease, they are in part responding to informed public opinion in a way Mr Bush and Mr Blair have failed to do so far. The latter's "we know best" approach damages our democracy. It also makes a unified, workable policy more difficult to obtain.

Nato splits are hardly a new phenomenon. Likewise, the alliance's usefulness has been in doubt since the end of the cold war.

But US criticism after Kosovo, its sidelining of Nato after September 11, particularly in Afghanistan, and Bush officials' often crude disdain for European capabilities and willpower have imposed unnecessary strains. [...]
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