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Aired February 14, 2003 - 19:30:00   ET


In this edition, NATO shudders with dissent from within. We look at the European media reaction.

Plus, Americas are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus. One columnist's theory of what's really behind the United States-European rift.

But first, they've been called the axis of weasels, chorus of cowards, and a bunch of cheesy things -- surrender monkeys -- Europe, that is, through the eyes of the American media.

The perception that France and Germany have hatched a secret plan to thwart America and avert war in Iraq has caused this vitriol. But it's not just one sided, and it's not just one side slinging the mud.

Joining me now, in New York, Richard Cohen, columnist with the "Washington Post," and here in the studio, Christophe Boltanski, the London bureau chief for the French newspaper "Liberation."

Richard, let me start with you first. There is the most unbelievable media chatter coming across about the French, about the Germans, about the whole European thing here. I mean, one columnist, and actually a congressman, has said, "Had it not been for our military commitment, France, Germany and Belgium today would be Soviet Socialist republics."

I mean, have we really gotten to a point where it's gotten to this low point here?

RICHARD COHEN, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, it's gotten pretty low. A lot of the rhetoric is, I think, unfortunate and intemperate. I mean, the tabloids in this country are having a field day, and the radio talk shows, and a lot of congressman are sounding off.

But I think there's a kind of consensus in the United States that we've been betrayed, that our goodwill towards Europe and two world wars now amount to nothing, that America is willing to risk its troops and its lives and its fortune in what we think is a good cause, and the Europeans are just snubbing us and, in fact going -- obstructing us -- not being constructive at all.

AMANPOUR: Christophe, is that how the French press is portraying it? Or rather, is that how it's viewed over here, that the French, the Germans, they're snubbing the United States? Or do you think it's much deeper than that? Do they have real reasons for not backing the U.S. other than just being obstructionists?

CHRISTOPHE BOLTANSKI, "LIBERATION": Well, there are many reasons, many different assessment of the situation. Some difference on the timing of the war, maybe, rather than on the war itself.

And also on the methods and the way that the American administration has criticized the German and the French in the past few weeks is part of the problem.

This administration is considered on this side of the Atlantic Ocean as very one sided, very arrogant, not willing to dialogue. And if you are not with them, you are against them.

AMANPOUR: Richard, some in Congress are now talking about retaliation. I mean, let's stop importing bottled water from France, for instance, I don't know, perfume, whatever is might be. Do you think that reflects the majority view in the United States, or are we talking about a small group of, I guess hard-liners, who are basically belittling Europeans for so-called questioning their patriotism?

COHEN: I don't think it's the general consensus in this country. I don't think we're about to give up wine or Perrier or anything of value. I think this is sound byte idiocy on the part of some people who just think this is a way to get on television.

But I do think there's a growing anger in the United States about the pose, the European pose. I mine, I'm not about to defend some of the things that Secy. Rumsfeld has said or the posture of the Bush administration. They've been unilateralist on some occasions and some of the rhetoric has just been down right juvenile.

But the fact of the matter is, let us get past the atmospherics of this. Let us say that there is a serious matter here that concerns war.

The French voted for Resolution 1441, and they did so because the Bush administration stuck it to Iran, Iraq, rather, put 100,000 or more troops in the Middle East and said to the U.N. put up or shut up.

The French went along with 1441. Now what would the French like us to do? The United States is not going to keep its troops in the Middle East until France says so. We have our own timetable and our own urgent needs, and I think the French, when they voted for 1441, should have realized that this was a step on the road to war.

AMANPOUR: Well, that -- actually, Christophe, that's a very good point to make, because what did the French think when they were signing on to 1441? I mean, not just what's in the public domain right now, but is there some sort of misunderstanding? Did the French not think that serious consequences meant military action?

BOLTANSKI: Well, first of all, 1441 provides the grounds for the return of the inspectors, and that's a main thing.

AMANPOUR: Yes, but serious consequences, that's the nub of 1441.

BOLTANSKI: Let's go back to the resolution. I mean, the first thing is to allow inspectors to go back to Iraq and to resume there work.

And what the French diplomats are saying -- I'm not a diplomat, I'm a journalist, let's get things straight. I mean, we are sometimes put in a position which are not ours. But what the diplomats are saying is the fact that the inspectors, between '92 and '98, destroyed much more weapons, and all the bombing during the Gulf War, and that inspection works.

And those who are saying the contrary are not accurate, and that because these inspection are working, we should just allow them to continue.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you about the French people and what their getting from the French media, and as you have described, what the American media are saying. Are they -- do they get how angry America is right now? Do the French understand this?

BOLTANSKI: Well, first of all.

AMANPOUR: At them, at you.

BOLTANSKI: You would never find in the French press, even in the tabloids, the kind of insults you have read in the American press in the last few days. I mean, we are much more politically correct than the American media.

And we -- there have been a lot of talks about anti-America feeling in France or in Germany, but in fact it's not reflected in the press at all. "Le Monde," which is one of the main daily newspapers in France, was -- wrote just after the 11th of September, we are all Americans.

So this kind of very aggressive liberals are absolutely absent in the French media.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, Richard, a lot of Europeans do bring up that point. They say, look, even in the United States, it's not like the whole country is gung-ho. The polls are not simplistically pro-war and there's quite a lot of sort of soul searching in terms of whether to go it alone, and that doesn't get that much reflected in the American press. Am I right about that?

COHEN: I hate to say it, but you're wrong about that. There's a poll earlier this week, a front page story in the "Washington Post," talking about the divisions within the American society.

There's a page-one story in another newspaper, "The New York Times" today, talking about divisions in American society.

This country is by no means unanimous, especially about going it alone without the United Nations or without our European allies. We would much prefer to proceed to war, if it's going to take war, with our traditional allies and with the sanction of the United Nations.

So I think it's clear that this country is divided. But I think it's also clear, though, that the reason the inspectors got back into Iraq in the first place is because the Bush administration was steadfast in pushing a military build-up. You cannot start this process and then start delaying it and playing around with it and equivocating, or else Iraq will take advantage of it.

AMANPOUR: Richard Cohen, in New York, and Christophe, here, thank you very much indeed both for joining us.

And up next on the program, it's not just France and the U.S. causing this wave of controversy, but a split within NATO as well, when we get back.


AMANPOUR: Welcome back.

It's caused much strain and stress on both sides of the Atlantic. The split within NATO has dealt a serious blow to European and U.S. relations. And it's called into question the relevance of the organization itself.

France, Germany and Belgium have blocked plans to send U.S. surveillance planes, Patriot missiles and chemical and biological detection teams to protect fellow NATO member Turkey if there is any interference from Iraq.

They say that agreeing to such a move would damage efforts to resolve the crisis peacefully.

Joining me now, in Brussels, Guldener Sonumut, correspondent with Turkey's NTV, and in Hamburg, Germany, Siegesmund Von Ilsemann, foreign editor of "Der Spiegel."

Let me start first with Guldener. How is this playing in the Turkish press? I mean, does Turkey feel like it's been stabbed in the back?

GULDENER SONUMUT, NTV: Of course, a little bit.

At least Turkey feels itself being squeezed between the war amongst France, Germany and Belgium on the one side and the United States on the other side.

The thing is, what Turkey asked clearly is at least preventive measures given by NATO to Turkey, so that the Turkish citizens who are living near the Iraqi border could feel themselves secure.

Unfortunately, until today, France, Germany and Belgium have refused to give help by the or from the alliance. They have proposed to give bilateral help, but this is not what Turkey asked for. Turkey asked directly for help from NATO and for very bizarre, very controversial reasons, France, Germany and Belgium say no.

And this is very hard for me, as a Turkish journalist, to explain why France, Germany and Belgium refused to give help to Turkey, and it's very difficult to give the explanations for the citizens in Turkey, and this is very bitter for the Turkish population.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask Siegesmund then; you've heard Guldener saying the Turkish population are very embittered, that he has characterized the German, French, Belgian decision as bizarre and controversial. I mean, what is your answer to NATO countries refusing the basis of their doctrine, which is to protect a fellow NATO member?

SIEGESMUND VON ILSEMANN, "DER SPIEGEL": Well, I think the question put to Germany or to the whole of NATO is a bit bizarre too, because there is no threat so far to Turkey. There is no war ongoing, and any move to plan for war or even prepare for war, as NATO was asked to do, would be counterproductive to what these nations that were mentioned already are still trying to reach, a peaceful solution of the crisis around Iraq.

So I don't think that there is anything bizarre about it, especially because Berlin, as well as Paris and Brussels, Belgium capital, have told Turkey and NATO that they are absolutely willing, in the case of an emergency, in the case of a real defense case, to assist, of course, a member like Turkey or any member else.

AMANPOUR: Now, how is this playing in Germany, I want to ask you, Siegesmund? How is this playing in Germany, because it's not just about, you know, a spat between your countries and Turkey, but it's a fundamental rift in NATO right now over a really serious issue, the possibility of war with Iraq. How does this issue play amongst your readers, for instance?

VON ILSEMANN: Well, you know, there is a lot of criticism in the media put on the Schroeder government right now, more for the technical side of all of this -- how it was played, and played diligently, I might say, not so much on the essence of it, because everybody knows that there is no real rift, there is no unwillingness to help Turkey, or whoever gets thrown into a military crisis or being attacked or whatever.

In the public, I don't think that it plays so much against Schroeder because the mood in Germany, the overwhelming mood, is totally against war and Schroeder would be suicidal if he would retreat from his campaign promise to work against war.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, Guldener, the Turkish population is also against war, like so many people around the world. Turkey, though, is a frontline state. How is this playing -- I tried to ask you this before -- but how is this playing with the Turkish people?

SONUMUT: Obviously, 84 percent of the population in Turkey are really against war. But on the other hand, those who are living near the Iraqi border, and it is roughly between 15 and 20 million people, they are really scared that if the war happens, then no one will go and help them.

AMANPOUR: So Turkey doesn't take much comfort, then, from what Siegesmund has just said, which is that three countries, NATO as a whole, will provide assistance if there is an emergency?

SONUMUT: I mean, this was obviously the argument that was put forward, particularly by Germany. But Germany said also that they need the approval of the Bundestag to send batteries to Turkey, and they can't have now the approval, that's why they will just give (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and they have asked the Netherlands to send the Patriot batteries to Turkey, whereas Belgium has no assets, neither (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Patriot, biological or chemical protection to send to Turkey, so the only relevant thing might be a bilateral agreement.

But then on the other hand, you can't blame the United States to build a coalition of the willing for war on Iraq and try to build a coalition of willing within NATO to protect Turkey. Turkey made an obvious case, and they should answer to that case.

AMANPOUR: OK. Point taken.

Siegesmund, I want to finish with you, but on a different issue. It was your newspaper, your magazine that broke the story of the so-called secret plan to increase the number of inspections and to essentially avoid war. How is that playing out in Germany right now?

VON ILSEMANN: Well, it's about the same as the NATO issue, because it was criticized, and I think to a large degree rightly so, for how it's been played.

Well, of course, we were very glad that we got the scoop, but on the other hand, diplomatically it was probably quite splash and not very helpful for Schroeder. So that is how it works.

On the basics, the blue helmet stuff is already out of discussion right now, despite being brought up first by Mr. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) and then by the United States during negotiations on 1441, and the other, well, we have to find our (UNINTELLIGIBLE) on the table in the Security Council whether there is an extension of the UNMOVIC work in Iraq and whether there will be a two-fold or three-fold increase of inspectors.

AMANPOUR: All right, gentlemen, thank you very much indeed. And that will be no doubt the focus of debate -- what to do about Iraq -- for the next several days, at least. Thank you both for joining us.

And still ahead on INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, we talk to one man who says that he can explain what's really driving a wedge between the United States and Europe.


AMANPOUR: You're watching INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS, and earlier on this show we talked about the split in NATO and how the European and United States press are reporting on the unprecedented trans-Atlantic divide over Iraq.

But what are the cultural and ideological differences that underlie this rift? Are there any? Can they be solved? Or is it just that Americans and Europeans inhabit different planets?

Well, one man thinks so, and he joins me now. Robert Kagan, columnist and author of "Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order."

Robert, thank you very much indeed for joining us.

American's are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus. Are we really from different planets, are can we just have good solid differences of opinion?

ROBERT KAGAN, AUTHOR: Well, we're not entirely from different planets, but we do, I think, have evolved very different world views when it comes to questions like legitimacy of military power, the possession of military power, and even the way we'd like to see the international order structured.

I would say over the last 20 years, the United States and Europe have moved so far apart on these issues that we don't even fully understand each other when we talk about common strategic questions.

AMANPOUR: Now, is that entirely fair, because obviously the United States and Europe have worked together over several issues, you know, just over the last several years, whether it be Kosovo or Bosnia. Granted, there were difficulties during some of that.

But here we're talking about a major potential war, where people, it seems to me, different countries, are having a serious debate about which is the most justified course of action, military action or containment and deterrence. Why is that not a legitimate thought process?

KAGAN: Well, it is a legitimate debate, and I think that the European view is entirely understandable, and I think the American view is understandable, but, you know, if you look at someone like Colin Powell, the secretary of state, who obviously is not an American hawk -- he is a moderate, he's not someone who rushes to war -- if you look at the gap between the views of someone like Colin Powell and, say, the French foreign minister or the German foreign minister on this issue, it's really quite extraordinary.

Powell says enough is enough, it is time to go war, and I, you know, one gets the distinct impression that the French government will never think it's time to go to war.

Now, it's a legitimate debate, but I think what's interesting is why these very, very different perspectives have emerged on a problem that perhaps one ought to be able to find agreement on.

AMANPOUR: Let me ask you, in terms of the media reaction, because, after all, we are a media show here. The American press and the European press have essentially been engaging in a great deal of mud-slinging over the last several weeks. It's really reached a crescendo with a lot of in the American press reflecting what a lot in the American political elite think, and that is that they're being patriotic and those pesky Europeans are essentially thwarting their macho military aims.

What do you say and how do you explain how your thesis, Mars and Venus, is being taken, for instance, by the American media and really being turned into vitriol?

KAGAN: Well, I hope it isn't being turned into vitriol. I certainly don't intend it in a vitriolic way, and I'm not sure I accept that characterization of the American press.

I think one of the things that is very different is the perception of the threat. It's very difficult to live in Washington, D.C. or New York these days, where most of the American journalists who cover these issues do live, and not feel very frightened. You know, we've got anti-aircraft missile batteries in Washington right now.

And so, Europeans, in my experience, living in Brussels and traveling around Europe, simply don't feel the same degree of threat, not by a long shot. And I think that leads to a view in Europe that the Americans must be crazy or warmongers, because they can't understand why the United States is so bent on taking the current action.

AMANPOUR: A very influential reviewer called your first opening line, "Americans are from Mars and Europeans are from Venus," as one of the best one-liners in any foreign policy intellectual offering to explain the perineal trans-Atlantic dispute. How do we get beyond where we are now? Is it always going to be like this?

KAGAN: Well, I do think we have to recognize that some fundamental things have changed.

The great disparity in power between the United States and Europe, and I'm talking about military power, has certainly opened a gap in perceptions concerning strategic issues and threats and what to do about those threats. I don't see that gap closing very quickly.

The ideological gap that's opened up as a result of the European Union developing a new way of dealing with international relations, I think that gap is going to continue too.

But I don't think we have to be in the kind of crisis that we're in right now. Iraq is like "The Perfect Storm." You couldn't have picked an issue more likely to divide Americans and Europeans. It's about the Middle East. It's about war. I think that when we get past the issue of Iraq, the things that do bind us together, the common cultural values, the economic ties, will probably come to the fore, and the things that divide us may lessen a little bit.

AMANPOUR: Thank you very much indeed for joining us, Robert Kagan.

KAGAN: Thank you very much.

AMANPOUR: And that is all for this edition of INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENTS. I'm Christiane Amanpour, in London. Thank you for joining us.



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