French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner's visit to Iraq raised questions. What could be the use of such a visit other than to distance France from the position taken against the war in 2003? That opposition won France worldwide applause. It suggested a possibility that would be good for Europe and good for the world: the ability of Europeans to use their own good sense to reject American policies that lead to endless, futile war in the name of "anti-terrorism" or "human rights".
By his visit to Baghdad, Kouchner is trying to drag France back to his own uncritical pro-Americanism. With the United States bogged down in a long drawn out defeat that continues to destroy the devastated country, Kouchner has nothing concrete to offer. His only contribution can be to add an extra touch of confusion to a chaotic tragedy. By his comments on the notorious weakness of the non-functional Iraqi government, Kouchner merely helped his friends in Washington to shift blame for the catastrophe from the American invasion and occupation to the Iraqis themselves.
The truth is that so long as the occupation continues, there can be no "Iraqi solution". Americans themselves are waking up to this reality. Seven American soldiers who served in Iraq recently declared: "In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are - an army of occupation - and force our withdrawal." ("Iraq as we saw it", International Herald Tribune, August 19h).
It is no genuine "friendship" with America to support a disastrous policy increasingly rejected by the American people themselves. In reality, Kouchner's gesture is self-serving: an attempt to distract from the historic failure of his own "humanitarian intervention" policy by blaming the Iraqi "beneficiaries". This is the same excuse being used in Washington.
Such gesticulation serves only to prevent Europe from serious policy-making based on a realistic critical attitude toward U.S.-Israeli war policy in the Middle East. European leaders who cooperate with the occupation before the retreat of occupying forces expose their own populations to the growing anger of people in the Arab and Muslim world who see the U.S. destruction of Iraq as an assault by the West against themselves. The "war against terrorism" is a recipe for war without end, which stimulates the very terrorism it proposes to combat everywhere in the world. Enlightened self-interest and common sense demand that European leaders distance themselves and their governments from this madness, and undertake a serious effort to restore diplomacy between nations, in the place of holy war. Instead of trying to drag in Europe and the UN or negotiating with neighbouring regional powers in the hope of bringing the resistance under foreign control, the United States should negotiate directly with the resistance itself.
It is typical of Bernard Kouchner to gesticulate for the media rather than to approach problems with seriousness and modesty. His approach is the very opposite of what is needed in order for France, and for Europe, to play a constructive role in an increasingly dangerous world.
Diana Johnstone and Lieven De Cauter, for the BRussells Tribunal
(Diana Johnstone is a Paris based American journalist and peace activist; Lieven De Cauter is a Brussels based philosopher. Both are members of the BRussells Tribunal)