Behind the Headlines: Europeans Ambivalent, Divided over Military Strikes Against Iraq
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Behind the Headlines: Europeans Ambivalent, Divided over Military Strikes Against Iraq

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A leading Italian film director has compared Europe’s ambivalent approach to Iraq with its earlier ambivalence toward prewar Nazi Germany.

Describing Europe as “blind, cowardly, ungrateful, incorrigible,” Franco Zeffirelli highlighted the deep fissures within the European Union over the recently concluded military campaign against Iraq.

These disagreements over how to deal with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein have fueled doubts among some of the European Union’s 15 member states over whether their group will be able to achieve a common European foreign and defense policy.

“We are presented with a scenario which exactly resembles what we witnessed more than 50 years ago,” Zeffirelli wrote this week in the London Times. “It is inevitable that our minds will turn to the risks civilization ran at the time of Hitler, to those events and actions that led to the horrors inflicted by the Nazis.”

At that time, he wrote, the world was “shamefully divided” over the challenge presented by Hitler, “and it was only because of the moral conviction and forceful actions of the Anglo-Saxon peoples that mankind was saved.

“Again, today, it is the British and Americans who stand alone to ensure the survival of humanity and world freedom.”

Britain was alone among European states in offering wholehearted diplomatic and military support for Operation Desert Fox, the four days of U.S. air strikes that were launched after Baghdad refused several times this year to allow U.N. weapons inspectors access to suspected weapons sites.

This stood in stark contrast to the 1991 Operation Desert Storm, for which the United States had the solid backing of European and Arab states.

Regarding the latest strikes, British Defense Secretary George Robertson adopted the resolute tone of Prime Minister Tony Blair when he declared, “We have to take action against Saddam Hussein now, before he is in a position to hold the world to ransom with his weapons of terror.”

Such talk is a huge distance from the sentiments expressed by Britain’s partners in other European capitals, which tended to blame Saddam rather than support the Anglo-American initiative.

France, whose sights are set on rich economic pickings in a post-sanctions Iraq, is considered to be closer to Moscow’s pacifist position than to the interventionist approach of Britain.

French President Jacques Chirac said, “Once again it is the Iraqi people that are suffering and will suffer, and they should be in our thoughts.”

“Once again,” he added. “the Iraqi president clearly bears responsibility.”

If that could have been interpreted as even tacit approval for the air strikes, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine poured scorn on the notion that the air attacks could result in improved international controls over Iraq’s weapons program.

“The sooner the strikes stop, the better,” he said.

Germany’s Social Democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder endorsed the military action.

But his foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, said the strikes were regrettable.

The divisions within the European community were evident in Italy, where Prime Minister Massimo D’Alema said the military offensive against Baghdad was “a sad day for Italy” and appealed to Washington and London to halt the strikes.

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