NATO playing politics with Iraq

Divisions between the United States and European allies threaten Iraq’s future.

By all outward appearances, last week’s G-8 summit in Sea Island, Ga., marked a period of renewed cooperation between the United States and its European allies over Iraq. But handshakes and rosy rhetoric do not cover up the divisions that now threaten the future of Iraq.

The summit laid to rest President George W. Bush’s hope that nations like France and Germany would contribute NATO forces to help provide security in Iraq. Even as they voted for a U.N. Security Council resolution endorsing a new Iraqi government and a U.S. troop presence passed unanimously earlier last week, those nations remained unwilling to go beyond empty rhetoric and assist in the reconstruction of Iraq.

Last week’s summit came at a critical time for Iraq. As the United States prepares to formally transfer sovereignty to a caretaker Iraqi government later this month, the country’s oil and electricity infrastructure remain vulnerable to insurgency. This makes the situation precarious for a fledgling government that will be judged by its ability to give Iraqis more peace and prosperity than they had under Saddam Hussein.

Opposition to the Iraq war in 2003 was justifiable. The link between Iraq and terrorism was always tenuous, and much of the intelligence on Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction programs has now been proven false.

What powers like France and Germany cannot justify is the refusal to work toward the success of a new Iraqi government by contributing badly needed NATO security forces. Whether Iraq builds a peaceful democracy or goes the way of Lebanon – splintered and paralyzed by division – will affect stability throughout the Middle East and across the world. Iraq soon faces a test all countries have an interest in seeing it pass.

NATO troops could play a critical role in Iraq by guarding oil or electricity installations, while avoiding combat situations. Attracting those troops would be easier if the United States had secured U.N. backing for the war and internationalized its occupation 15 months ago. But those mistakes do not excuse a French and German intransigence that increasingly smacks of payback.