The Bush administration invaded Iraq ex-pecting to establish hegemony in the Middle East and the world stronger than that achieved by Clinton. Instead, Bush’s blunder has severed alliances built up over half a century, and is now threatening America’s core relationship—with Britain.
If Tony Blair falls, Britain will move out of the American camp and much closer to the mainland European position. A recent speech by the British Finance Minister Gordon Brown, considered by many as the likely successor to Blair, articulated that vision. In his eagerness to go along with Bush, Blair lied to the British parliament and public, and subverted the procedures of the bureaucracy. A dissident British defense scientist committed suicide after the war, apparently due to the harm to his reputation caused by Blair loyalists in the cabinet. This added great emotional fuel to the criticism of Blair. America exploited Blair’s loyalty and treated Britain like a client state. The American president and Congress considered it more important to invade Iraq than to rescue the British political system from the dilemma that the invasion posed. That is a lesson that will not be forgotten soon in Britain. The transformation of Britain that will flow from this realization will change global politics profoundly.
There is a growing bond between France, Germany, and Russia. This is the first time in the last half millennium that these three states have been aligned. France has played the bad cop toward America in Iraq diplomacy while Germany and Russia have played the good cops, but their objectives are virtually identical. European voters favor the Franco-German position even more strongly than their governments. If Britain becomes at least an outside supporter, this European coalition will emerge as a strong counterweight to American power, certainly in the economic and diplomatic dimensions, and even to a modest extent in the military dimension.
The break between America and Europe has three deep causes—the end of Soviet power, differences in socioeconomic and environmental ideologies in the era of globalization, and an American betrayal of a tacit bargain among Western countries. But the last factor is the immediate cause of the rupture. Presidents Clinton and Bush, the father, were careful to obtain a Western consensus before they used force, and acted within the consensus when they did. The decision in 1991 to refrain from occupying Iraq was the prime example of America keeping its end of the bargain. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Western Europe and Russia rushed to assist America. Putin sacrificed Russian geopolitical interests by agreeing to help the U.S. set up bases in Central Asia to fight in Afghanistan. The U.S. repaid this solidarity with its contempt for these powers on the question of Iraq.
In the future, even if Bush renounces the prerogative of invasion or is replaced at the next election, American leadership will not be restored to its earlier level. Unipolarity will not be restored. The Iranian nuclear program will be the first major test of the new world order. All major powers agree that Iran should not build nuclear weapons. They disagree on what should be done if it does. The U.S. is no doubt less eager than before to invade Iran, as the occupation of Iraq has soured. It still favors much tougher action than Europe and Russia. Having used up international goodwill in Iraq, Washington will find it much harder to rally the other powers in relation to Iran.
The process of economic globalization should survive this political realignment. European countries have gained less from globalization than America and are less happy with it, but that does not mean they could escape it. Throughout most of the history of the capitalist world economy, the most advanced countries have been divided politically. Indeed, those very divisions have forced them to compete for capital and thereby to follow relatively free trading policies. The alternative is financial suicide.
The central challenge for America, once it clears its head, will be to rebuild the international legitimacy of its power, and to negotiate a cooperative multilateral order to the extent possible, and then to keep its end of the bargain. The U.S. will have to recover from major losses in both international diplomacy and public opinion. Americans will have to recognize the depth of Bush’s error before a sustained recovery can begin. The Iraq experience reveals the high cost of a unilateral militaristic policy. The U.S. remains the hub of the global economy. That can be the foundation of a new beginning.
For India, the new world does offer new opportunities. Having damaged old partnerships, the U.S. will need to develop new ones. Indo-U.S. relations were on the upswing and should so remain, even if India does not rent out its soldiers in Iraq. Indian relations with Western Europe have been tepid. While the European Union is the largest market for goods exports, political cooperation between India and Western Europe has been quite modest. But Western Europe is as dependent on the strengthening of a liberal multilateral world order as India. Until now, Europeans viewed India as simply a backward region where advice must be given. Now that they are more on their own, they will have to take a second look at India.
Sanjoy Banerjee teaches International Relations at San Francisco State University. He writes about India, America, and the world.