The question of how the international community should deal with Saddam Hussein, Iraq's ruthless dictator, is rightly the year's dominant theme. In one sense it has been answered: the United Nations is and will continue to be involved, and the United States has and will continue to play the leading role. Containment of Iraq by intervention is the method that now seems most likely. In the process of reaching this decision, however, several long simmering issues have come to the fore.
One, of course, concerns the supposed "clash of civilisations": how do we keep a focused and limited conflict between the UN and Iraq distinct from the need to maintain a relationship of dialogue between world religions? Another question may seem more parochial to some but is of equal significance globally: what are we to make of the differences between Europe and America that have become so manifest in the Iraq debate? Is this its own form of "clashing civilizations."
No doubt, the differences that now exist between America and Europe are profound, and are not confined to a temporary cooling of German-American relations or to a half-serious exchange of invectives about "gun-slinging America" and "old Europe." Indeed, even intellectuals are caught up in the emotional undertones.
When the British historian Timothy Garton Ash, writing in the New York Review of Books, distinguished the US and Europe by paraphrasing the title of a bestselling book, saying that "Americans are from Mars, Europeans are from Venus," some American readers objected to the sexual portrayal of an effiminate Europe and a macho America. Yet Garton Ash is among the most pro-American Europeans, whose views of a united Europe are closer to those of his many friends in the "new", postcommunist Europe than to those of France or Germany.