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Jewish World Review March 21, 2003 / 17 Adar II, 5763

Michael Barone

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Diplomatic debacle? Not so Countering the president's critics

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com |
"I'm saddened, saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to war. Saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn't create the kind of diplomatic effort that was so critical for our country." Those were the words of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle speaking to a union audience on Monday, March 17, after it was announced that President George W. Bush would speak to the nation that evening.

These are startlingly harsh words from an opposition leader as the nation is on the brink of war. They are a vivid contrast to the words of Michael Ancram, the Conservative Party shadow foreign minister, who in the House of Commons rose and praised the diplomatic efforts of Prime Minister Tony Blair and Foreign Minister Jack Straw. Like a vulture hovering over the battlefield, Daschle is seeking gains from deaths in war. It is not an attractive posture.

But his complaint ought to be dealt with. Has the administration failed miserably at diplomacy? Even some who back the administration's policy in Iraq say so. It seems to me that there are two complaints about the Bush administration's diplomacy, one general, one specific. The general complaint in my view has no validity. The specific complaint has something to it but is less important.

The general complaint is that George W. Bush and his administration have been throwing sand in the eyes of the Europeans for two years, and so it is no wonder that the United Nations Security Council failed to agree on an 18th resolution condemning Iraq. This administration has baldly rejected the Kyoto Protocol and the International Criminal Court treaty; it abrogated the antiballistic missile treaty of 1972. It has shown contempt for international projects dear to European hearts and so has alienated Europeans to the point that they have rejected our call for military action to disarm Saddam Hussein.

The problem with this complaint is that it is just not true.

The list of European governments supporting us on Iraq is long. It is worth repeating. First and foremost, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Spain. Portugal. Italy. Denmark. The Netherlands. Ireland. Poland. The Czech Republic. Hungary. Estonia. Latvia. Lithuania. Slovenia. Slovakia. Romania. Bulgaria.

And who is against? France. Germany. Belgium.

And was their opposition caused by our rejection of Kyoto, the ICC and the ABM treaty? Not at all.

Germany is opposed because Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was in danger of losing the September election. He decided to appeal to the very small number of German voters who support the neo-Nazi and former Communist parties by opposing the United States and making nationalist sounds. He succeeded, narrowly. Analysis of the election returns shows that he reduced the percentages the neo-Nazi and former Communist parties got just enough to give his Social Democrats a narrow parliamentary majority.

Up until August 2002, Schroeder had solidly supported the United States on Iraq. He assured George W. Bush in Berlin and in the Oval Office that he would stick with him on the issue. When I was in Berlin in July, I was assured by high-level Social Democrats and Christian Democrats, including the then defense minister, that the consensus in Germany was to support the United States on Iraq. Schroeder switched in August in a cheap political maneuver to win the votes of people who believe in totalitarian government. This was not a principled response to Bush administration diplomacy. This was the response of a second-rate, shifty politician on the verge of a well-deserved electoral defeat. It tells us nothing about long-term German policy. Schroeder's party has since been repudiated in state elections. It is unlikely that he will be chancellor very much longer. It is not at all clear that his current position will be followed by later German governments.

France is different. On November 8 France voted for Resolution 1441, which recognized that Iraq was in material breach of its obligations under other United Nations resolutions, which demanded immediate compliance with them, and which stated that in the absence of complete compliance there would be "serious consequences." In other words, Iraq must immediately disarm or we would be justified in going to war. Then this year, France denied that Resolution 1441 meant what it said. It announced last week that it would oppose any resolution which called for military action in response to noncompliance. On an intellectual level the French position was inconsistent with its support of 1441. The motive was clear: France wants to cabin in the power of the United States. It sees us as a "hyperpower" whose strength is inconsistent with French interests.

There is nothing in France's position to indicate that it would have done anything else if the Bush administration had made approving cooing noises about the Kyoto Treaty, if it had said it just wanted some minor modification in the International Criminal Court, if it had refrained from saying out loud that it was abrogating the ABM treaty. The French objection is more fundamental. It is opposing the United States because it is the United States. No amount of appeasement on these other issues would have changed its mind.

As for Belgium, it is a corrupt and powerless country which sails along in the wake of France. It is not worth serious comment.

Note that all or almost all of the European countries that support us on Iraq nonetheless disagree with the Bush administration's positions on Kyoto, the ICC, and the ABM treaty. Those positions did not prevent them from supporting us on Iraq. And those issues were not decisive with Germany, which was motivated by cheap political considerations that are likely to become obsolete soon, or France, which was motivated by a grand ambition to cabin in American power.

So the general argument that the Bush administration's diplomacy has been disastrous is without merit.

What about the specific argument? That argument is that the United States was unwise to get itself in a position where it could not win support in the Security Council for an 18th resolution condemning Iraq. The embarrassing withdrawal of that resolution Monday morning in the face of sure rejection showed, the argument goes, that the administration miscalculated and put itself in a position where its critics and enemies could argue that our military action does not have the approval of the world.

There is a little something to this. We are now proceeding to war under the claim that national self-defense and Resolutions 678 and 687, passed in 1991, and Resolution 1441 justify military action. It is a strong legal position. If so, why not just have eschewed the attempt to get an 18th resolution?

A good question. And there is a fairly good answer. George W. Bush didn't particularly want an 18th resolution, as he made clear in his joint press conference with Tony Blair at Camp David in January. But Blair, as he made clear in that same press conference, did. He had told the House of Commons he would seek such a resolution, he was facing vocal opposition from Labour Party backbenchers and cabinet ministers, and he wanted the additional weight that he felt such a resolution would provide. He evidently did not, as George W. Bush and Colin Powell evidently did not, think that the French would take a position that logically was utterly inconsistent with their vote for Resolution 1441. At Camp David ,Bush could have demanded that Blair not seek a second resolution. Blair would probably have acceded. But Blair has been a steadfast and brilliant ally. It was not as clear, as perhaps it should have been, how perfidious the French would be. Bush let Blair go ahead, and actively supported his drive for an 18th resolution. In retrospect, that seems a mistake, at least from an American perspective, though it may look different from Westminster. But it was not a "disastrous" mistake. We still have as good a warrant for going to war as we had before. And, as those who accuse Bush of showing contempt for Europeans should note, if there was a mistake, it was one made in accommodation to a European ally.

It is not clear whether Tom Daschle was referring to the general complaint or the specific complaint when he said that George W. Bush's administration was guilty of "disastrous" diplomacy. It is clear that he speaks in the accents of the Senate Democratic cloakroom, in which Bush is regarded as an illegitimate president, a usurper who is trying to impose crazed conservative policies, a stupid man incapable of understanding a sophisticated world, who must be opposed ferociously at every step and on any ground. No Democratic campaign consultant whom I know, and I know all the leading Democratic campaign consultants, would have advised Daschle to make the comment that he did. If the war goes badly, Bush and the Republicans will pay a political price, whatever the Democrats say now; if the war goes well, comments like Daschle's will work powerfully against the Democrats and for George W. Bush. Daschle's words can only be explained as the product of a kind of hatred, unbuttressed by any serious intellectual argument, likely to hurt the party of the speaker far more than the party of the president they were directed against.

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JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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