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February 14, 2003

Old Europe vs the USA: a polite debate


I attended a very interesting debate last night, sponsored by the Smith Family Foundation here in New York.   The topic was USA vs. Europe: Who's Right About the War on Terror?, and the speakers were:

Dieter Dettke
Executive Director, Friedrich Ebert Foundation

Richard Perle
Chairman, Defense Policy Board, Department of Defense
Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute

The Rt Hon Michael Howard QC MP
Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, United Kingdom
Chairman, Atlantic Partnership

Moderator

Max Boot
Olin Senior Fellow, National Security Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
Former Editorial Features Editor, The Wall Street Journal

The audience was a mix of NY policy oriented types, journalists, well-dressed young conservatives, CUNY graduate students (the event was held at CUNY's Graduate Center on 34th street) and the usual activists who live for events like this.   Fortunately, the organizers had opted for only accepting written questions from the audience, so we were spared the tedious speachifying that usually passes for questioning at public fora.

The major topic for the evening was, not surprisingly, the recently emerged split between "Old Europe" (France, Germany and Belgium ("the caboose attached to the Franco-German train" as Michael Howard described them)) and the US over war with Iraq.   I would estimate that half of the audience appeared to be supportive of the US hard-line on Iraq while there was a hard-core group of perhaps 10 or 20% who were firmly in the anti-war camp. Gratifyingly, all behaved in a extremely civil manner, with polite (though occasionally enthusiastic) applause providing the only direct audience feed-back.

I was pleased to see that one issue on which near-unanimity emerged was on the question of "Old Europe" blocking Turkey's request for NATO to provide it with defensive assistance under Article Four of the NATO charter.   Herr Dettke labored valiantly to defend the legalistic position that mutual aid could not be requested to defend against "a threat of its own making".   However, after a withering attack from Michael Howard, who described the Franco-German position on military assistance to Turkey as "shameful", Dettke emphasized that Chancellor Schröder had "just this afternoon in a speach before the Bundestag" promised that Turkey would receive all the assistance it had requested.   (Perhaps Schröder had belatedly realized that at least some of Germany's large Turkish minority could vote in German elections.)

A couple of other comment-worthy points were made:

  • Richard Perle described how France and Germany sought to create a unified European foreign policy to act as a "counterweight" to the US in world affairs.  While the US has supported the notion of a unified Europe in the past, Perle raised the question of whether or not it was in the best interests of the US (and, indeed, of a stable world order) to promote the creation of a competing world military and diplomatic power.

  • Dieter Dettke responded to questions from the audience regarding whether or not the Franco-German opposition to "regime change" in Iraq was due to a desire to avoid disclosing illegal arms deals with Saddam Hussein by saying that "surely this question is a joke".  When pressed, he denied that Germany had anything to hide and said, in any case, that seeking to assign blame for past actions was counter-productive and a waste of time.

  • Michael Howard, among others, emphasized that France and Germany do not speak for Europe on Iraq policy and that eighteen European states had publicly expressed their support for US policy.   He also unreservedly praised Labor Prime Minister Tony Blair for his principled (and politically costly) stand in support of the US position on Iraq, while noting that it not in his own political interests to do so.

While nothing particularly surprising was said, it was an interesting evening, and a chance to see our democratic and pluralistic society at its civic best.   On behalf of all public spirited New Yorkers, I offer my thanks to the Smith Family Foundation for making this event possible.

February 14, 2003 at 01:04 PM | Permalink

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