Lessons from five years of war in Iraq

Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac (picture Presidential Press and Information Office)

Five years on from the unleashing of shock and awe over Baghdad, what have we learned? I’ve written an analysis for the Federal Union news pages, which you can read here, but I am not confident that the right lessons have been properly understood.

The trouble is that different political issues are dealt with separately, rather than seen as being intrinsically connected. It is not possible for any European to come up with a realistic response to what happened in Iraq without thinking in terms of Europe as a whole.

At the time of the war, Tony Blair tried to rally the rest of Europe behind the American policy, while Jacques Chirac tried to gather European support for an alternative policy. Neither succeeded, and we ended up with the worst of all worlds.

The Americans duly invaded Iraq as they planned, but without a broad enough coalition to be able to bring order to Iraq once they had kicked the door in. A common European policy would have been much better, but are we any closer to it?

The Lisbon treaty includes some interesting and useful steps towards a more effective voice in the world – the High Representative and the External Action Service, for example – but it only makes that voice possible rather guaranteeing that it will speak. The decision-making system remains broadly the same: unanimity for policy decisions, with qualified majority voting for implementation.

(As an aside, one might point out that there has been a change in the decision-making system: the requirement used to be unanimity among 12 member states at the time of Maastricht; now it is unanimity among 27, which is likely to be rather harder to obtain.)

The European Convention that produced the first draft of what is now the Lisbon treaty conducted its debates in almost complete ignorance of the crisis that was unfolding in Iraq. (We wrote about it in Federalist Letter to the European Constitutional Convention #8, which you can read here.) There should have been a fundamental and intimate connection between the two: the whole point of the European Union is to enable Europeans to respond better to collective problems. But the pigeon-holing of European issues as somehow distinct from the rest of politics makes this so much harder to achieve.

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