The US-led invasion of Iraq called into question the efficacy of today's international system. While the US will probably not achieve all of its goals in Iraq, the war has clearly confirmed and strengthened its global supremacy. How should Russia respond? Where do its interests lie, and what kinds of policy should its leaders pursue? In particular, how should Russia position itself vis-à-vis the incipient rivalry between Europe and the United States?
The Iraqi crisis revealed deep differences between the US and Western Europe in matters of political culture, ethics, approaches to international politics, and the role of military force. These differences will hardly break the basic trans-Atlantic alliance built on the foundation of common values and interests. But they will necessarily heighten elements of competition, including competition for Russia.
The war in Iraq has also revealed the critical state of the European Union's foreign and defense policies. Attempts to have Europe speak with one voice obviously failed. In light of even greater differences resulting from the enlargement, they are not likely to succeed in the near future. Moreover, as confrontation with the US intensifies, Washington will probably act to forestall any trend toward the unification of EU foreign and defense policy. In the absence of such common policy, the EU and its leading members will remain in the second league of world-class players for the foreseeable future.
In this context, it was a mistake for Russia to side so strongly with France and Germany against the US. It was not as bad as during Soviet times, when we used to side with the Third World against both America and Europe, but it was still not in Russia's long-term interest.