Appeasing Bush at Munich
At an international security policy conference, "old" Europe went over backwards to appease old friends, writes Abdel-Azim Hammad from Munich
German Foreign Minister Jochka Fischer and United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld seem to have become the protagonists of the trans-Atlantic tug-of-war over Western security policy. Last year, the two took centre stage in the Munich international security conference, as they butted heads in front of international television screens over the Iraq war. They stole the spotlight again in this year's session of the conference, held from 6-8 February, but for different reasons.
Last year, Fischer pressed for the pursuit of a peace settlement between the Palestinians and Israel while airing his vehement opposition to the imminent American and British-led war against Iraq. Since then, his priorities have shifted. Now an Israeli-Palestinian settlement is not nearly as urgent as democratic transformation in the greater Middle East from Morocco to Afghanistan. Towards this end he has launched what he termed a trans-Atlantic appeal to the Middle East and Asia to confront that great challenge to US-European security, "jihadist terrorism".
Fischer stressed that success is contingent upon two conditions: persistence and good planning, and the refusal to allow the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to jettison the initiative from the outset.
Couched in these terms, Fischer, and with him the rest of Europe, has moved considerably closer to Washington's outlook. Namely, this considers the overall political and economic realities of the Arab and Islamic worlds, and not merely the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to be the primary source of tension and violence in the Middle East.
The US outlook was laid out clearly in President Bush's State of the Union Address, in which the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, or the so-called question of peace in the Middle East, was conspicuously absent. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, in Munich, drove the point home yet more explicitly when he said that the spread of democracy in the Middle East was the only guarantee for peace. According to Rumsfeld, the world had already begun to put this strategy into effect through the coalition that mounted the military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. NATO, he said, was a fundamental part of this strategy and he expressed his hope for expanding the scope of trans-Mediterranean dialogue, thereby signalling his recognition of the Fischer initiative.
The convergence between Fischer and Rumsfeld, championing Europe and the US respectively, was also manifested in Fischer's pledge not to go against the consensus of NATO if it decided to participate directly in military operations in Iraq. Germany, along with France and Belgium, had earlier threatened to use their veto last year to block NATO forces and equipment from being sent to Turkey in the course of the preparations for the US-led invasion of Iraq, although ultimately they abstained.
Eyes were trained on Fischer and Rumsfeld this year, not only because of the rapprochement in ideas, but also because the climate between the two contrasted so markedly with that charged standoff of last year. There were no flaring tempers and Rumsfeld, in particular, kept his tongue in check, even if they did have their differences. For one, Germany is still adamant that sovereignty be restored to an Iraqi government that would derive its legitimacy and credibility through free and open elections. Fischer also insisted that the UN must play the pivotal role in the transfer of sovereignty and democratic reconstruction. "Only the UN can guarantee the necessary legitimacy of the process," he said. At the same time, he argued that developments in Iraq had proven that Germany had been correct in its opposition to a military solution to the Iraqi problem last year. These same developments, he said, gave him cause for "profound misgivings" over NATO participation today, "for failure under certain conditions could have grave consequences for NATO".
Naturally, Rumsfeld was not about to corroborate Fischer's assessment of Germany's stance last year or accept Germany's current demands with regard to bringing peace to Iraq. His purpose at the conference was to put as much pressure as possible on NATO's European members to agree to intervention in Iraq under the NATO umbrella.
The broader area of difference was over the role NATO countries can play in the democratisation of the Middle East. The Fischer initiative epitomises the European view eschewing the military option and espousing all possible peaceful avenues towards this end, especially through the expansion of economic cooperation -- beginning with the establishment of a free trade zone comprising all the countries of the Mediterranean basin. The initiative also calls for expanding cooperation in the fields of media and education, the development of which are fundamental to the spread of a democratic culture and the establishment of governing institutions subject to the rule of law. Ultimately, Fischer envisions a collective declaration of a common future in the Middle East, the purpose of which would be to promote peace and security through reforms, disarmament, collective security arrangements, the fight against terrorism and tyranny, and the establishment of sound government that abides by the principles of human rights and ensures broad popular participation in the decision-making process.
The Rumsfeld vision for NATO's role in the Middle East consists of six points: fighting terrorism, eliminating WMDs, peacekeeping, patrolling borders, training local personnel to be attached to NATO missions and conducting joint peace-keeping training programmes. Not surprisingly, when the Palestinian ambassador to Germany asked whether Israel would be included in NATO's function of eliminating WMDs, Rumsfeld responded that he did not see the need for that.
While both Fischer and Rumsfeld felt that the next NATO summit in Istanbul will offer the opportunity to establish a common NATO strategy over the democratic transformation of the Middle East, there are no signs as of yet that either Fischer's peaceful vision or Rumsfeld's militaristic strategy will prevail.