Soft Europe

Is the Continent willing to fight for anything, besides a welfare check?

BY LEON DE WINTER

After two years of disastrous dialogue, and more of the same in recent days, we can conclude that no diplomatic initiative can stop Iran from getting the bomb. The International Atomic Energy Agency meets again this week to discuss the mullahs’ nuclear ambitions, while Russia floats a plan to get Iran to enrich uranium on its soil. But before we got to this point, we had the Europeans in the starring role. The foreign ministers of the leading European Union countries–Britain, France and Germany–did try for years to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions, most recently at Friday’s meeting in Vienna that ended up in yet another failure. But Iran knew all along that this threesome, formally the "Troika," had no real negotiating authority and would never resort to serious measures.

And yet Britain’s Jack Straw, France’s Philippe Douste-Blazy (and his predecessor, Dominique de Villepin) and Germany’s Joschka Fischer (and his successor, Frank-Walter Steinmeier) talked on, clinging to a postmodern European belief in a world where any conflict can be resolved with enough reason and mutual understanding. The Troika offered the mullahs economic carrots and alternative sources of nuclear power–as if energy had anything to do with it–while Iran did what any football team does when it’s ahead: It played for time. This it used very well to push ahead with its clandestine nuclear program.

Did the Troika know that Iran knew that Europe was weak? Of course. Europe’s posturing was empty from the start. The only weapon that the EU was willing to consider, as a last result, was an economic boycott that would harm Europe’s commercial interests more than Iran’s.

The mullahs also knew that the Troika couldn’t back up its threat of an economic boycott with the threat of military action. If the EU couldn’t muster the will to fight in its own backyard in the Balkans without America leading the way, it surely wouldn’t put any lives at risk beyond the frontiers of the Continent.

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