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Europeans Focus on UN Proposal on Iraq - 2004-05-25


There was little or no reaction in Europe to the speech President Bush delivered on Iraq, late Monday.

The conventional wisdom in Europe is that Mr. Bush, who faces re-election in November, was aiming mostly at a domestic American audience in his speech on Iraq.

One European diplomat, who stayed up to watch the speech, says the president's only new initiative was his pledge to demolish the Abu Ghraib prison, where Iraqi detainees were mistreated by American soldiers. The diplomat, who asked not to be identified, says the prisoner scandal and a mounting insurgency give the impression that the Bush Administration is losing control in Iraq.

Another diplomat, also requesting anonymity, says he thinks the United States is beginning to look for a way out of Iraq, despite the president's promise that American troops will remain there until Iraq has achieved stability and democracy.

Analyst Anthony Grayling, a contributing editor to Prospect magazine in London, says the president was right to outline the transitional arrangements to Iraqi sovereignty. But he says the widespread perception in Europe is that domestic politics in America are determining what steps the administration takes in regard to Iraq.

"There has to be a step-by-step process toward full democracy in Iraq, and, from that point of view, yes, this looks like the right way to go," he said. "But, you see, the problem is mainly one of perception and the perception is this: there is a U.S. presidential election in November. They want to put up a smokescreen, so the skeptics say, between the end of June and the beginning of November so that, if anything goes very badly wrong, if there is more chaos, and President Bush was talking about the prospect of more chaos there, then, at least, in Washington they can say, well, this is meant to be an Iraqi responsibility now."

European diplomats are reacting favorably to the proposed U.N. resolution which, as one put it, is starting to crystallize the terms for the handover to a sovereign Iraqi government. Germany has called the resolution a good start. France says more work needs to be done to ensure that Iraqis get real sovereignty. The diplomats say the mood at the United Nations is to find a compromise.

What is unresolved is how much power the new Iraqi administration that takes over after June 30 will actually be given. One skeptical diplomat says that, with the United States maintaining a powerful military force in Iraq after the handover, it is still unclear who is going to run the country, and how the new Iraqi government will be able to make its influence felt.

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