European intellectuals’ fears of a new war: dangerous lack of self-critique
There is something substantial that changed in Europe’s intellectual landscape during the last 1-2 months: talk of a new “big war” (some intellectuals even say “world war”) is no longer taboo.
“The Drums of War in the Middle East” – that is the title that the former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer has chosen for his opinion piece for Project Syndicate. “This World War that Ambushes Us” – the prolific French writer Max Gallo, former secretary of state in the French government under president Francois Mitterand in the 1980s, echoes Fischer’s fears in the French daily Le Figaro. “The Virus of a Total War” – that is the title of an article by Gueorgy Mirsky, a veteran pro-Western Russian Arabist and a brilliant intellectual, in the Moscow-based Nezavisimaya Gazeta.
What happened? When reading these articles, one gets an impression that the dangerous war nearing us is not a man-made affair, but some natural disaster that comes from nowhere. There is no sign of repentance or self-critique, despite the fact that this time the destabilization again came from Western Europe – just like during the previous two world wars, both started by West European powers.
“No one can predict in which direction the Islamist Sunni president of Egypt and his Islamist parliamentary majority will take the country,” writes Fischer, adding a bleak prediction of “a combination of grave economic and political crises, that may produce a cumulative effect at some mega-decisive moment.” At the end of the paragraph he adds: ‘The Sunni Islamists are drastically changing the regional politics [of the Middle East]. This new regional realignment of forces does not have to be anti-Western, but it will certainly become anti-Western if Israel or the United States attack Iran militarily.”
How very interesting. Can Mr. Fischer, one of the architects of modern Western foreign policy, name just one of the aforementioned crises that would not be Western-made? Who hastily supported the so called “Arab spring” in Egypt and Libya despite Russia’s warnings and doubts? Wasn’t it this support, as well as the Western engagement on the rebel Sunni side in the mutiny in Syria that brought about a dramatic growth of Islamist Sunni influence in regional politics? Which “economic and political” crises does Fischer mean? If he means the debt crisis in the Eurozone and the rising unemployment in Greece and Spain, it is a direct consequence of HIS policies, as well as the policies of his colleagues from the European Union (it was under Mr. Fischer as the foreign minister that euro was introduced and whole branches of traditional European industries were made redundant by the EU integration). And if Mr. Fischer means the crisis of international law, it was HIS support for the illegitimate war against Yugoslavia in 1999 that brought to fruition the crisis that we saw in Libya and continue to see in Syria.
Mr. Fischer’s negative attitude to Russia and especially to its president, Vladimir Putin, is well known. But, strangely, in his article Fischer in fact voices the same concerns which Putin voiced in his electoral campaign in winter this year – with a six months long delay. The arbitrary nature of the joint handling of the Iranian nuclear issue by Israel and Iran, the lack of regard for international law and long-established rules of foreign policy – Putin spoke about those things months earlier, but at the time these concerns were dismissed by European politicians, including Mr. Fischer, as “anti-Western propaganda.”
“If Iran is determined to prevent the regime change in Syria by all means at its disposal, does it mean that the militias of Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon will get involved in the civil war in Syria? Will such an intervention revive the memories of the civil war in Iran, that took place in 1970s and 1980s?” Fischer asks rhetorically. There is no doubt that both of his fears have a very high chance of materializing, but whose fault will it be? Who destabilizes Syria and continuously harasses Iran by economic sanctions and aggressive political pressure? The EU and the US. Who brought about the creation of Hezbollah? The Israeli attack against Lebanon in 1982. But there is no word about it in Fischer’s text. And, of course, no shadow of remorse.
Max Gallo, also a former government member, but now more known as a historian and a political thinker, talks about a new global conflict – a disaster of the same proportions as the World War II, which, as he concedes, shaped his writer’s personality. “The UN and the WTO are powerless,” he complains in his article for Le Figaro, painting a picture of global disorder not only in the Middle East, but also in his native Europe. The question looms however: who conducted the wars in Yugoslavia and Iraq without UN’s approval and who barred Russia from entering the WTO for 13 years under artificial pretexts?
Max Gallo writes that he is afraid of a chain reaction of conflicts, which, starting in Syria, may get other countries involved – with the Middle East playing the same role of a fuse that the Balkans played in 1914. A wise comparison, but why is Mr. Gallo so pessimistic about Europe’s ability to stop this chain reaction? After all, one of the saddest details about the World War I was that there were so few European intellectuals who raised their voice against the war in 1914, dismissing lots of mutual (and largely imaginary) fears that led to this fratricidal conflict.
Unfortunately, some modern European intellectuals play an incendiary role, raising the flames of unfounded fears instead of extinguishing them.
Here is one example. Andre Glucksmann, France’s most anti-Russian “philosopher,” when answering questions from Der Spiegel magazine this week, says: “In this anarchist context, Europe must reaffirm its power and take a position of attack, not defense, against the threats facing it. Putin’s Russia, with its desire to reconquer a part of its former power, is one such threat.”
Here we are again in 1914, with somber predictions and invented enemies.