Between the intervention in Iraq in 2003 and today, there are not only ten years, there are two worlds.
It’s a wholly different world first, because there seems to be very little in common between the America of the Bush administration and the America of Barack Obama.
A wholly different world when we look at France too, when France is leading an African coalition in Mali to fight against jihadist terrorist groups linked to Al Qaeda, with the support of the Security Council as well as the United States.
It’s also a wholly different world, in which the Arab Awakening shows that the Arab people are willing to be actors of their own history, but are stricken in terrible contradictions that paradoxically lead to strengthen Islamist movements more than ever before.
Last of all, it’s a different world because with the empowerment of China, of Russia, of Latin America, the Western countries are not alone anymore to define what’s right or wrong.
And this new world has been deeply defined by the choices of the years 2002 and 2003, after the shock of 9/11, and particularly by the debates concerning the intervention in Iraq that took place in the Security Council. As a Minister of Foreign Affairs of France under the presidency of Jacques Chirac, I’ve always had one single objective in mind, which was for me the core message and experience of my country : fighting relentlessly against terrorist violence without allowing a clash of Civilizations to occur, simply because we knew from our history that this was exactly the purpose of terrorism. You have to win the fight and the peace at once.
First, fighting the terrorists meant understanding the real nature of the new terrorist threat, which is the result of historical evolutions, so as to find the most adequate response.
It was the result of the weakness of the whole Middle-East. The terrorists presented themselves as the weak at war against the strong, as the lone avengers of a victimized Arab population. This weakness is their legitimacy and pretending to be in a regular war with them could only reinforce their political strength. That’s why we always have warned against the misconception of a “war on terror”. Counterterrorism is not counterinsurgency, that’s the whole lesson for France of the Algerian war of 1954-1962. That’s why we advocated for strong initiatives in favor of worldwide police and intelligence cooperation against criminal organizations after 2001 and built up an exemplary intelligence cooperation with our Allies, recognized by the US-government.
It was also a byproduct of globalization. Not in its ideology, but in its tools. The terrorists depended upon a sophisticated and occult financial network of tax heavens as well as upon modern worldwide communications, satellite and internet. That’s why we stressed the need to take steps on the multilateral level, through global financial and communication regulations, which were the key issues of the Security Council meeting France asked for in January 2003.
But, secondly, fighting terrorism meant at the same time politically avoiding a clash of civilizations that became a high risk in a deeply divided world. The rise of new powers led to stronger tones coming from China and Russia in particular. With a declining yet self righteous West, we were bound to break apart the international community, the West against the rest. It was the key issue concerning Iraq, particularly in regard to Russia’s position, as well as China’s, that needed to be heard and that could be brought to compromise. That’s what we tried so hard to achieve with the Germans, Gerhard Schroeder and Joschka Fischer, and with the Russians, Vladimir Putin and Igor Ivanov.
Indeed, it seemed to us incredibly dangerous in 2002-2003 to jeopardize global action against the terrorists by weakening the UN’s Security Council. My main struggle was to preserve the legitimacy and the unity of the United Nations. Resolution 1441 remained for us the right legal framework to force Saddam’s Iraq to more cooperation on WMD. It could become the basis of an international consensus with a coherent timetable and with concrete actions, the inspections of the IAEA. With this belief, in February 2003, in the name of France and after multiple efforts to bring about alternative solutions and compromises, I warned against a further endangerment of the United Nation’s legitimacy and later President Chirac said he was willing to use France’s veto right in the Security Council if a second resolution should be proposed that would not guarantee unity, which never happened.
Yes, it was a rough choice to make, but I’m still convinced that this was not a lost fight. The war took place, for sure, but we contributed by this choice to preserve the legal construction our forefathers built in the midst and in the end of World War II. By building bridges towards other worlds, more choices were let open for the future, and in particular for the influence and power of the challenged western countries. Moreover, something that could not be foreseen emerged out of this hard debate, the global awakening of public opinions throughout the world to a form of common responsibility.
Today we must keep on working towards common action in this wholly new world. This means questioning ourselves on the long war that has begun in 2001 in Afghanistan, which has not only been a response to a direct threat, but also the expression of a fascination of the West for wars and force. All the battles may have been won militarily, but the war is still getting lost politically. Because for the West, there still seems to be no other power, no other legitimacy than force, at the very time when its force is doomed to dwindle. Let me point out three exemplary challenges.
The drone war challenges our understanding of a fair warfare. It is normal that we would want to protect the precious lives of our soldiers, but what are the consequences of this dishumanized war? It’s leading us straightaway to a model of perpetual low-heat war, where some technologically advanced nations could intervene wherever they want.
Second challenge, the place of the media in these wars makes us dependent on stories, that benefit the media and the politics, but that oversimplify realities and make us blind to long-run consequences. We are led to act collectively in a permanent present, doing and undoing with the same useless voluntarism. This way, we’re bound to fail.
Third challenge, by using direct intervention too often, we jeopardize the very concept of humanitarian intervention under the chapter of the responsibility to protect. We need to define more thoroughly the red lines between humanitarian action and political interventionism leading to regime change if we want to preserve humanitarian action in the future.
It’s time to imagine another form of power for our future action. It’s time to invent a new responsibility. The terrible fate of Syria today is a call for action. We must get out of the deadlock between systematic use of force or powerlessness. Let’s act now. For this, like yesterday, we need initiative, we need legitimacy of our common action and we need to reconstruct the unity of the international community.
14th March 2013, Huffington Post