WorldNow: Europe's role in post-Saddam Iraq.
(EDS: THIS IS THE SECOND OF THREE ARTICLES BY LEADING INTERNATIONAL COMMENTATORS ON A POSSIBLE U.S.-LED WAR AGAINST IRAQ)
As the prospect of war in Iraq looms larger everyday, the contrast between what the debate is and what the debate should be about is becoming slightly surrealistic.
The real issue today should not be any longer whether France, together with Russia or alone, will veto a second U.N. resolution. It should focus instead on the role Europe can and should play in the post-Saddam Hussein Middle East.
The Americans will go to war and win it, but they and ''we'' with them are running the risk of losing the peace. What Europe is prepared to do in the region in the aftermath of a quick war will have a decisive impact on her future role as a relevant actor on the world stage, on the state of transatlantic relations, and even on the way relations between the Western world and the world of Islam will evolve in the years to come.
Of course the way each party behaves today -- as the war has not yet started -- will greatly impact the way they will be able to maneuver tomorrow, once the war is over.
The case of France is a perfect illustration of this general dilemma. From the Security Council of the United Nations, where French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin's speech was met with applause two weeks ago, to the streets of Algeria where French President Jacques Chirac was warmly met, not to mention the huge demonstrations all over Europe against the war, internationally ''France never had it so good.''
In fact the excessive and irresponsible French-bashing campaign of a certain conservative Anglo-Saxon press, can only reinforce the image of France in the world.
At long last a country, and of course the country of De Gaulle, dares to challenge the arrogant and dangerous behavior of the ''emperor of the world.''
Yet this diplomatic success may be short-lived, even if at the last minute France is not be betrayed by Russia, speaking like the French but acting as the Chinese -- abstaining at the Security Council in the case of a second resolution.
It is one thing to be in tune with the popular feeling of the majority of the planet, it is another to transform this public opinion support into real diplomatic clout.
France cannot reconcile a vision of herself as the spokesperson of the resistance of the world against the unilateralism of the United States, with a European role.
Europe, the ''old'' as well the ''new,'' will not exist tomorrow against the U.S. To create a multipolar world in which she would play a significant role, Europe needs all its potential members. Such an enlarged Europe will at least in a foreseeable future have a Euro-Atlantic identity.
One may reject the present incarnation of the U.S., disagree with its strategy and its tactics, and fear the consequences for the world of its combination of excessive confidence and ambition permeated by an explosive mixture of religion and nationalism.
Nevertheless, at the end of the day, ''We are in the same boat.'' The value of geography that links us with Russia or the other side of the Mediterranean should not take precedence over the geography of values that still links us with Washington.
To be applauded in the streets of Khartoum or Tripoli should not constitute the litmus test of France's diplomatic success. In the same manner, one cannot play with the re-creation of an anachronistic and potentially dangerous intellectual reconstruction.
There is no future in a Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis -- that would not save the regime of Saddam from his inevitable and legitimate demise -- but would constitute an additional nail in the coffin of any future European construction.
The crowds that are demonstrating in the streets of Europe against the war have very little appetite for the dubious charms of Europe's 19th century balance-of-power games.
Europe's debates today should no longer concentrate on war prevention, but instead on the collective exercise of damage limitations.
War is now inevitable and European leaders should engage in a dialogue among themselves and with the Americans on the best ways to limit the damages inflicted on the European construction and transatlantic relations by the present crisis.
We have been burning too many bridges, it is time to start thinking how to rebuild them. The prerequisites are simple. The U.S. has to stop insulting the Europeans -- the French in particular -- and Europe has to prove to herself, to the Americans and to the rest of the world that she can be relevant.
The world has become too complex to be managed by one actor only, too costly for any single country. The experience of the post-colonial era Europe will be crucial for the U.S. as it will engage in the reconstruction of a post-Saddam Iraq and of the Middle East.
The Americans can conquer Baghdad, but only the international community, including the U.N. and the European Union, can ''liberate'' Iraq. A success in Iraq that would not be followed by a deep involvement of the quartet -- Americans, Europeans, Russians and the U.N. -- in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will prove to be very dangerous.
It is the duty of the Europeans to press in such a direction which is vital for the long-term survival of the Israeli state and the cooling down of tensions between the West and the Muslim world.
Dominique Moisi was born in 1946 and received degrees in politics at Paris Institute of Political Studies and Harvard University. Moisi has been deputy director of the French Institute of International Relations since 1979, professor at Paris Institute of Political Studies, and the author of Crisis and War of 21st Century (1981).