Jewish World Review Oct. 10, 2003 / 14 Tishrei, 5764
Europe vs. Bush
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | KRONBERG, Germany Say this for European critics of President Bush's invasion of Iraq: Shocked and awed they are not.
The guerrilla campaign in Iraq's Sunni Triangle is spawning political insurgencies in the United States and abroad. Many of those who lost the long, contentious debate about going to war have shifted to small-scale harrying actions aimed at crippling a presidential behemoth over time.
The steady attacks on American troops and growing challenges to Bush at home have encouraged many of the war's critics abroad to conclude that they can outlast the Bush administration's emphasis on military preemption and perhaps the administration itself.
Bush should be under no illusion: As things stand now, he will not receive the benefit of the doubt that incumbent presidents seeking reelection are usually given by foreign governments and publics, which are generally reluctant to see "the devil they know" replaced by a devil they don't know.
Talk to German, French, British and Russian think-tank experts and officials under London's Chatham House rules the speaker can't be identified by name and the sense you get is that many Europeans are waiting for the Americans to give up on Iraq and come back to their senses, so U.S.-European relations can get back to the intimacy of Cold War days.
"The main lesson to be learned from the Iraq war is to be learned in Washington: You have to plan and cooperate with others under established rules," says a German academic. His country's strong and understandable Cold War fear of being left alone is alive and well.
But waiting for Cold War attitudes to return is a futile wish, not a strategy for improving transatlantic relations, which are now outwardly more polite but still full of unresolved conflict over Bush's war on terrorism. Europe's major countries cannot afford to be that uncreative, and that unengaged, in Iraq.
Here the blame for friction in U.S.-European relations and at the United Nations is focused narrowly on Bush, Vice President Cheney and the administration's doctrine of preemption. This gives foreign leaders and publics that hold that view every incentive to work to defeat Bush and to aid, indirectly at least, his Democratic challenger in 2004.
To be effective, such political opposition from abroad will have to be subliminal and deniable. The all-out prewar battles at the United Nations will not be repeated. Instead, there will be subtle campaigns of political attrition. This is of more than academic interest to Bush: Not since Jimmy Carter headed to defeat in 1980 has a president triggered such an intense backlash within countries that consider themselves important U.S. allies.
The recent skirmishing around a new Security Council resolution on the occupation of Iraq contains elements of the emerging attrition strategy that Bush aides need to counter.
Surprisingly enough, the impetus for the resolution came from the Pentagon, which wanted to avoid the politically painful decision of having to call up fresh reserves units this autumn to maintain U.S. force levels in Iraq. Quick passage of the draft resolution circulated last month by Secretary of State Colin L. Powell might have led to the creation of a multinational division for Iraq and avoided a new reserves call-up.
This is how attrition works: France and Russia promised not to veto the resolution, but then made it difficult for Powell to secure support. Germany, struggling to get back in Bush's good graces while maintaining its new alliance with France, was carefully unsupportive. And in a rare act of public advocacy, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan criticized Powell's effort, rather than acknowledge that his traumatized staff is reluctant to work in Iraq, where the United Nations is still distrusted by many for its past involvement in sanctions, weapons inspections and other programs.
The message from Annan's demoralized staff to the Bush administration was summed up by a senior U.N. official speaking to the Financial Times: "We wish you well, we hope you succeed, but we want to maintain our own integrity in case you don't." In other words, abandon ship.
Not surprisingly, the resolution did not gain traction in this atmosphere. In late September the Pentagon had to go ahead with the reserves call-up. The Pentagon then lost interest in the new resolution, which could yet attract reconstruction aid at an Oct. 23 donors' conference in Madrid.
The Bush administration needs to fashion a nimble strategy of engagement to surmount the insurgencies it faces inside and outside Iraq. Its recent rejoining of UNESCO is an example of what it needs to do on a broader scale. Reestablishing allied unity and international cooperation will help the United States succeed in Iraq sooner rather than later.
Both the Bush administration, which has been overly dismissive of other nations, and its guerrilla critics need to remember Rule One of crisis behavior: When you are in a hole, stop digging.
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109/02/03: The need to focus on Iraq
109/02/03: The need to focus on Iraq