Berlin, Baghdad and a bogus line of argument

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The Independent Online

President Bush's latest tour of Europe has been carefully constructed to convey several small messages and one big one. For the Baltic States, which won independence with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there was moral support in the simple fact of a US presidential visit; and, along with the plaudits for their success so far, subtle warnings about the need to "reach out" and display tolerance towards minorities.

President Bush's latest tour of Europe has been carefully constructed to convey several small messages and one big one. For the Baltic States, which won independence with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, there was moral support in the simple fact of a US presidential visit; and, along with the plaudits for their success so far, subtle warnings about the need to "reach out" and display tolerance towards minorities.

In Georgia tomorrow, the message will be similar: praise for the Rose Revolution, which swept the current government to power, coupled with quiet reminders about not exacerbating tensions with Russia. And in Moscow, Mr Bush will deliver sharp public warnings to President Putin about democracy in Russia, while reassuring him privately that the US will do nothing to destabilise his rule.

By commemorating VE Day at a US military cemetery in the Netherlands, alongside Queen Beatrix, Mr Bush sent three separate messages to "old" Europe. He renewed the US commitment to the transatlantic relationship, communicated that the US would not overlook small countries and reinforced Washington's new acceptance of the European Union as an entity. It was, surely, no coincidence that the cemetery where he paid homage to US war dead was on the edge of the emblematic European city of Maastricht.

While there is little in any of these messages for anyone - including President Putin - to take exception to, the bigger theme of Mr Bush's tour is another matter. Both in Latvia and in the Netherlands - and doubtless again in Moscow and Tbilisi - Mr Bush treats the defeat of Nazi Germany as though it were all of a piece with the war he launched in Iraq. He sees one long line of US armed intervention which began with the liberation of Europe 60 years ago and is destined to culminate in the victory of democracy across the Middle East.

It suits Mr Bush to lump together the epochal turmoil of a world war - which was no war of choice for the Europeans who resisted Nazi Germany - with the largely peaceful transition to democracy of the countries held in thrall to Soviet communism, and the electoral processes in train in places such as Palestine, Lebanon and Egypt. And Iraq is seen through the same prism as just one more achievement for democracy and freedom along the way.

Sixty years hence it may be possible to chronicle Iraq's progress from tyranny to democracy. To claim the invasion of Iraq as a success from the standpoint of today, however, bears no relation to reality. To interpret the Iraq war as proof of a lesson learnt from the war against Nazism is at best self-delusion and at worst cynical self-justification. There is no direct line that links Berlin to Baghdad.

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