Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post has written a bizarre column in which she blames the Iraq war for the fact that Europe has not caused Iran to forgo the development of nuclear weapons. Her thesis is that, because of incorrect assessments by the U.S. of Iraq’s WMD program and the resulting “shadow over our competence,” Europeans don’t believe our claim that Iran is developing nukes. Thus, they don’t attempt seriously to place pressure on Iran. As Applebaum asks, “Why would anyone ditch a lucrative trading partner [through sanctions] because of some missiles they don’t believe?”
This argument is so poor, it’s difficult to know where to begin. For one thing, our assessment prior to the war that Iraq had WMD was shared by the major intelligence services of Europe, and these services relied in part on their own information some of which they shared with us. Thus, there’s no reason why European governments should be skeptical of claims by U.S. intelligence agenices, as compared to claims by their own services.
Moreover, Applebaum provides no evidence that the Europeans do, in fact, disbelieve our claim that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Applebaum, who seems particularly disgusted by our intelligence failures in Iraq, certainly takes U.S. reports of an Iranian nuclear threat seriously; indeed, that’s the essence of her grievance — that our poor performance in Iraq is preventing the world from dealing with the Iranian threat. But if she can take the Iranian threat seriously, why does she assume that the Europeans can’t? And how does she reconcile her assumption with the alarm with which French President Sarkozy views the Iranian threat?
Applebaum’s argument falls apart entirely when she concedes that the Europeans probably will impose sanctions on Iraq (she laments the fact that they won’t work, but this just further undercuts her thesis that past U.S. intelligence errors are preventing the Europeans from brokering good results in Iran). Since, as Applebaum has argued, no one would ditch a lucrative trading partner over a threat they don’t believe in, it follows that the Europeans do recognize the fact that Iran is well on the road to developing nukes.
To be sure, they haven’t demonstrated a sense of urgency until now in dealing with it. But one hardly needs to invoke Iraq to explain European nonchalance. Iranian nukes pose an existential threat to Israel and they create the prospect of a Middle East dominated by Iran. But these are results do not concern most European states as much as they concern us. Thus, quite apart from anything that has transpired in Iraq, one would expect the U.S. to be more alarmed about Iran than the Europeans are.
UPDATE: The context of Applebaum’s piece is also noteworthy. She begins by noting how much the situation in Iraq seems to have improved. The rest of the piece represents her effort to show that no matter how well things go from now on, the war is unredeemable because of its “collateral damage.”
That may turn out to be true. But the claim isn’t very convincing when its advocate feels compelled to cite collateral damage as implausible as that which Applebaum has conjured up here.
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