The Middle East is the most important region where diverging strategic
perspectives between the United States and European countries cause
transatlantic frictions. As the unending cycle of violence between
Israelis and Palestinians continues, transatlantic tensions concerning
the appropriate approach to this conflict have risen to the forefront.
Diverging policies towards Iran have heightened once again with the
U.S.-classification of Iran as a "terror state." But the largest
possible transatlantic discord is embedded in conflicting attitudes
towards Iraq. Washington justifies its aggression against Baghdad with
the doctrine that preventing future wars entails acting against
dictatorships that strive for weapons of mass destruction. While many
in the United States seem to hope that a new regime in Iraq will
positively alter the (geo)political situation in the Middle East, the
successful outcome of a war with Iraq, especially a long and extended
war, is far from certain.
Many in Europe fear that war against Iraq could cause massive regional
destabilization, bearing unintended consequences for the transatlantic
relationship. Even under most optimistic assumptions, the question of
how to deal with a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq within a broader regional
security structure will be challenging for transatlantic relations.
In the wake of September 11, another set of issues has become more
salient, especially for the United States. These include the lack of
democracy and the dismal human rights situation in Middle Eastern
countries, as well as the deficit in American policy towards the region
- namely the clear priority to nurture relations with friendly
authoritarian regimes while neglecting democracy and human rights
issues. How to pressure these countries to open themselves politically
and, at the same time, avoid revolutions in the process will be a
question of growing relevance for transatlantic policy coordination.