Four panelists representing an array of political perspectives offered their opinions on the state of United States-European Union relations and the impact the debate about the war on Iraq is having on these relations Monday evening. Discussing transatlantic attitudinal differences toward Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian debate and terrorism, the panelists explored how such issues shape American and European perceptions of the Middle East.

The two European panelists split with their American colleagues on the justification for and consequences of war with Iraq. Stefan Froehlich, visiting fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at Johns Hopkins University, explained the tough stance Germany has taken against war stems from the belief that Saddam Hussein can be deterred and does not pose an imminent threat. “The United States shouldn’t ignore the criteria it defined last year to decide on war,” he said. “The inspection team has not established that he has weapons of mass destruction, that there’s a nuclear threat, or that [Saddam] would be a threat.”

Georgetown Professor Robert Leiber, however, disagreed, saying that the current debate has an “Alice-in-Wonderland quality” about it. He called allegations about lack of evidence and blood-for-oil as “absurd and irrational perceptions.” Leiber argued that the difference in European perception is driven by an intense desire to avoid war at all costs, failure to confront the harsh realities of the region and failure to imagine the consequences of Saddam’s regime with weapons of mass destruction.

“Saddam can’t be deterred because he’s a reckless expansionist, a gambler, terrorizes his own people and maintains a fascist regime,” Leiber said. He claimed that the risk of inaction would be worse than the potential negative consequences of a war. “For all the religious and reverent invocation of U.N. multilateralism by the Europeans, they ignore Saddam’s defiance of U.N. resolutions since 1991,” Lieber said, warning that the U.N. must avoid being reduced to the “impotence and irrelevance” of the League of Nations.

Former Ambassador to NATO Robert Hunter, now a Senior Advisor at the RAND Corporation, cautioned against ignoring the message of the Europeans by “shooting the messenger.” Hunter condemned France’s use of NATO to block assistance to Turkey because it was harmful to the alliance. He did not, however, perceive an irreconcilable split between the two countries. “At the end of the day the French are with us, but they are trying to say that before taking the last step into conflict we should think through all of the implications,” Hunter said. “Even the French say Saddam needs to be disarmed, and if it comes to war France will take part.”

Hunter criticized the American media for lack of debate about the Iraq issue while castigating the Bush administration for promoting the “greatest assault on civil liberties since the cCarthy era.” He applauded the debate and demonstrations currently taking place by contrasting them with those that occurred three years into the war in Vietnam.

Patrick Jarreau, journalist for the French newspaper Le Monde, said that disparate American and European views toward the Middle East stem from different perceptions about the links between the iddle East peace process, Iraq and terrorism. “Europeans see the Palestine-Israel issue as more related to Iraq than the U.S. does,” Jarreau said, “whereas the U.S. sees Iraq as linked to terrorism and Sept. 11.”

That act of terrorism showed the danger of American exposure and entanglement in the Middle East, asserted Jarreau, especially when coupled by the lack of the Bush administration’s support for the peace process and bias toward Israel.

Froehlich said that the U.S. needs to pursue a more comprehensive strategy toward the Middle East. He cited a host of potential objectives for the region, from overarching goals like democratization and conflict prevention to more targeted ones like preventing the spread of weapons of mass destruction or terrorism.

By then end of the event, the panelists asserted their commonality by affirming their common objective to oust Saddam Hussein. More than 60 students and professors attended the event, which was sponsored by the German and European Foreign Service Association.

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