Jacques Chirac is, in this respect, a similar political animal. He has managed to take over De Gaulle’s French heritage, now since 1992 as President of the Republic, and to carry it on through very adverse situations, from the Left unity government under Mitterand, where he had to steady and to rebuild the conservative opposition, to the ‘plural left’ government coming out of the popular discontent of 1995, which he has managed to defeat in 2001 – with decisive help from the neo-fascist right wing.
This is in fact so. With Germany and France (and behind them, a whole number of Western European states) against launching the war, it will neither be possible to have the UN security council legitimise a US American attack, nor to stabilize the situation in the Middle Eastern region afterwards. And it cannot be expected any more that the French and German positions will be turned. For Schröder it is a question of electoral survival, for Chirac a question of national prestige – and this will not change in the foreseeable future. It is still not to be excluded that the Bush administration goes at it alone, but there is significant internal opposition against such an option – and for the main ally, the British government under Blair, such a situation would be extremely embarrassing. So the chances are not bad that the war will not take place, after all.
This has, in fact, its roots in the European post-war experience of politics. Not that war had been profoundly de-legitimised as such – this is true only for important parts of the population, not for the majorities or the ruling elites – but international regulation has proved to provide a superior alternative. This has specially worked out in the processes of European integration and in the Helsinki processes of common security building accompanying the unwinding of the Cold War.
That the US are trying to go back to the patterns of behaviour of Teddy Roosevelt now is going against the grain of this shared experience of Western continental Europe (with their eyes turned to the British Empire, which was only really waning in British eyes since the Falklands war, the British have largely managed not to participate).
Germany had (and continues to have) good reasons for keeping French diplomacy in the driver seat, as long as the course taken and the speed are being laid down together. So both Schröder and Chirac have deep and sound reasons for their present behaviour, reasons shared by majorities in their electorate and in the leading groups of their countries.
But no European government, in its right mind, would really support them in this strategy. Being against the US war on Iraq is a very good, well understood and relatively effective, way of working against this strategy of re-enforcing the US hegemony over Europe. As the European countries have persisted in creating the Euro against rather strong US opposition, they could also persist in creating a workable EU approach to the conflicts of the Middle East, which would constitute a medium-term alternative to the US approach to the region. This is far from certain, but a real possibility.