Lately, I’ve been thinking about some historic parallels that could provide a usually forgotten perspective concerning the „transatlantic rift„.
I’ve been thinking about a tale of exploitation from Eastern Europe. At least from the 1980s on, probably even before, Eastern European satellite states materially exploited the Soviet Union because they traded administratively overpriced low quality manufactured goods for world market priced raw materials. The Soviets probably knew what was going on, but thinking about Poland’s Solidarnosc experience they supposedly realised that there was a price to pay for continued hegemony in the 1980s.
I know I am restating the obvious but as the world does certainly not suffer from scarcity of misunderstanding these days – let me be clear about this: I am by no means implying that the US-European relationship is even slightly reminiscient of the Russian Cold War imperialism in Eastern Europe.
I should also say that the argument below is based on the assumption that the Iraqi government will be changed forcefully at some point this year, which I am, personally, very sceptical about. My position is probably most accurately reflected by the French one. I’m against war. But if I can’t avoid it anymore, I would at least like to retain some influence over the process, please.
Well, one interpretation of the (generalised) European attitude towards American activities to improve the reliability of Middle Eastern natural energy resource supply as well as US attempts to reshape the political landscape of the region by redistributing the oil profits – ok, the last argument is clearly speculative, but popular large scale redistributions of formerly privatised oil-income would be the obvious starting point for me if I were to convince sceptic Arab polulations of my good intentions as a hegemonic power and the benefits of „democracy“ – could be that Europe is taking advantage of American policies in a way reminding me of the former Eastern European trading patterns. It could be that Europe behaves as a rational free rider of American policy.
The world oil market is one big pool and everyone gets the same prices. Given such a pool, it is probably correct to assume that a straightforward American control of the oil-to-market interfaces in the Middle East will also benefit the European economy – in case oil prices as well as oil price volatility come down as a long term result of increased security in the region.
But should the overall impact of a hostile takeover be unfortunate (in all possible respects), Europe will still be able to say, ‚look, Dubya, we told you so.‘ Then, however, Europe might be forced out of its free rider position because its clout in the region will have grown substancially. Then it will be expected to act accordingly.
Either way, and moral troubles aside for the moment, things don’t look too bleak for Europe. If the US policy will be succesful in the short run –(definition: get rid of Saddamq quickly and without too many civilian and American victims, not too much bad press, no upward impact on the oil prices that would further shock a world economy already in doldrums, and most importantly, no large scale terrorist attacks in the US (and to a lesser extent, elsewhere in the West.)) – as well as in the long run – (definition: bringing unused Iraqi oil reserves to market thereby reducing the salience of Saudi Arabia as swing producer (easy part), establishing a pro US government as well as a longer term presence in Iraq as a local home base for the „New Great Game“ (less easy), redistributing Oil proceeds in a way beneficial to the long term goal of helping the „Islamic reformation“, that is, education, education, education (very difficult), shaking up the Arab peninsula in order to get rid of the weak autocratic regimes without creating too many Mohammed Attas) – it is clearly good for Europe.
In this case, it’s also going to be a bit good cop, bad cop (or Venus and Mars…) – the US might want reduce her visibility as hegemonic power and European nations would step in to manage the nation-building process. European politicians mostly talk about this kind of burden-sharing engagement as „picking up the reconstruction bill„.
But let’s face it – even if that were the case, if the overall outcome of the conflict is not too desastrous, it would probably be a good investment and enhance the European clout in the region. And given that nation-building (including the redistributive policies mentioned above) will in all likelihood be paid out of oil revenues (which the US will not be able to use to pay for the invasion itself) it looks like it’s predominantly the bad cop that will pay the bill this time.
Of course, the free rider argument does not explain the current situation in its entirety. But it does shed some light on the fact that European governments might have had to choose from a slightly different set of policy options if it weren’t for the determined American military presence. Do you really think that Europeans would be able to pose as noble minded people all the time if they had to the dirty work of ensuring energy supply themselves?