Pre-emptive casualties

February 12, 2003

NATO HAS BEEN split in two. The immediate blame for that must lie with Germany and France, which, abetted by Belgium and Russia, are trying to conduct a symbolic campaign - though one that will have very real consequences - to halt the American march to war. But the larger fault belongs to the Bush administration, which has seemingly gone out of its way to push its two big allies into opposition.

The actual question at issue is whether NATO should deploy forces to help protect Turkey in the event of a war in Iraq, and it's very close to being a meaningless question because military aid to Turkey will materialize no matter what.

The White House pressed nevertheless for a formal NATO decision, and, when it was rebuffed, insincerely protested that the alliance was letting the Turks down. France, Germany and Belgium have argued that NATO action now would signal acceptance of the inevitability of war. Now the future of NATO hangs in the balance.

The problem with the French and German position is twofold. First, a decision by NATO to bolster Turkey would not mean that war is unavoidable. It just isn't so. Second, France and Germany devised their opposition to NATO action as if they were still the only European countries that counted. In fact, most of the alliance's other members are furious at that sort of presumption and have consequently gravitated to the American side.

So NATO cohesion within Europe is fractured, and, inescapably, that means that the European Union will be equally divided. The EU once hoped to achieve a common foreign policy - but that won't happen with Paris and Berlin conducting their own secret diplomacy.

But how did this happen? The fact is, however botched their tactics, France and Germany genuinely don't want war. The French and German people don't want war. Until last week, the Bush administration had done precious little to try to win them over. Disrespect from Washington has reaped the inevitable harvest in Old Europe.

Yesterday the Chinese joined the Russians and the French in saying that more time for inspections is needed in Iraq - so it looks as though the United States won't be getting the backing of the United Nations Security Council if it goes to war. NATO remains at loggerheads, so there probably won't be an institutional endorsement there, either.

Hawks in Washington are confident that everyone will scramble to hop aboard once America starts shooting, and especially after Iraqis begin dancing in the streets at the prospect of American liberation, as Kenneth Adelman, a former Reagan aide, told CNN yesterday. That may turn out to be the case, though prewar predictions are tricky.

Already, then, America's Iraq policy has driven apart friends at the United Nations, in NATO, and within Europe. The deep wounds that have been inflicted will be a long time healing. And the fighting hasn't even begun.

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