Friday, 31 January 2003
On September 14, 2001, the German destroyer GFS Lutjens made a breathtaking gesture of support to America: The crew of the Lutjens lined the rails in their dress blues, flew the American flag at half mast, and saluted the USS Winston S. Churchill with a handmade sign declaring where they stood in the war against terrorism. It was a dramatic and touching message of solidarity, and one that America will never forget.
I like to imagine that, wherever the GFS Lutjens is today, her crew wants to honor that promise. I imagine those sailors want to do more than just stand on the deck and watch while the Churchill sails off to do battle. They're professional military, and they know the score: They know Iraq can't be "contained" like the Soviets for much longer—and the Germans can hardly forget the terrible price of containment, paid in misery and pain by those on the wrong side of the wall.
They realize, but don't like to admit, that Europe has become the soft underbelly of Western civilization. That Al Qaeda is sizing up targets of opportunity, in places like Bali and Kenya—and, recently, London and Italy and Spain—and that their own leaders offer no coherent plan to stop them. They remember the Munich Olympics and the bombing in West Berlin, and they know that a passive defense won't suffice any longer—that Al Qaeda has opened a Pandora's Box of atrocities, and they don't want to wait and see what the fanatics pull out of the box next.
I imagine they believe the issues at stake here transcend elections and party politics. They don't want war—no one does—but they know the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of putting faith in sanctions or inspections. They don't believe for a moment that Iraq has disarmed itself, or that Saddam Hussein will ever lie down with the lamb. They know that he bankrolls Palestinian terrorism, harbors notorious fugitives, sought to assassinate foreign leaders, and used nerve gas on Iraqi citizens. Searching for his link to Al Qaeda is like searching for a needle in a stack of needles.
The crew of the Lutjens knows what must be done. They know their only lasting hope of peace comes from confronting and shutting down the sources of terrorism. They know the Americans are convinced that containment is no longer a reliable strategy, and that we're going to shut down the sources of terrorism before the next one pops up with an A-bomb. They know all this, and they want more than anything to support us, because they know too much about history to put their heads in the sand, and the alternatives are much, much worse.
That's what I like to believe.
I know all the rabidly Jacksonian bloggers are calling for Germany and France to be treated as traitors, that their failure to toe our line on Iraq is a betrayal, coming from nations we once counted as friends and allies. They view Germany's Gerhard Schroder as an America-bashing opportunist who would say anything to get re-elected, and France as, well, a nation that's been in denial since 1945 about its current role on the world stage.
Frankly, I can't say the warbloggers are wholly wrong in either case (though I might ask those bloggers to look at some real betrayals, and then think again about the message we want to send today). Germany and France are neither traitors nor cowards, nor vassals whose loyalty is ours for the purchase; they are democracies (yes, we all know why, thank you), and their policies are enacted by the will of their people.
They are, as we are, not above pursuing self-interest in international politics. They perceive the Bush administration as putting narrow short-term American interests ahead of all Europe's broader initiatives for peace and security; they see Iraq not through the eyes of America, making the world safe for western civilization, but through a distorted lens of American self-interest triumphing over European concerns.
But Iraq is different! the warbloggers cry. This isn't some trade or environmental dispute we're talking about here, this is the safety of the free world! Of course it is. Left-wing nuts aside, we Americans all know that the war in Iraq isn't about oil, or imperial ambitions, or the Mossad pulling strings or whatever the crackpot theory du jour is. It's about the gaping hole in lower Manhattan where the World Trade Center used to be. It's about America's complete unwillingness to live under the threat of terrorism on American soil. It's about our belief that freedom and democracy are the tonics that cure all ills, and that the best and only solution to terrorism in general, and Iraq in particular, is to put them on the road to liberty.
The Europeans don't always share this mindset. For one, they've lived with terrorism for decades; to some degree, they would consider the idea of a war to end terrorism to be as far-fetched (and unlikely to succeed) as a war against earthquakes. For another, their view of the American tonic is more like the patient's than the doctor's: They understand that it's good for them, but they don't really like the taste. They prefer a little socialism to make it go down more smoothly, and they're not convinced it's a wonder drug that will cure any country's ills.
And, of course, France and Germany are far less likely to believe in American altruism after repeatedly seeing George W. Bush pursue naked, personal self-interest over international solidarity or security. The warbloggers raged about Schroder's America-bashing campaign, but somehow missed that Bush's Kyoto smackdown was timed to coincide with Schroder's arrival in Washington, to embarrass him and weaken his re-election hopes. Bush pandered to right-wing paranoia and trashed the International Criminal Court, even though the Court would put multilateral solidarity behind our WMD warnings to Iraqi generals. Bush's North Korea rhetoric shows a baffling indifference to South Korea's interests or security, setting up the DPRK as a missile-defense punching bag, or a token non-Muslim on the Axis of Evil—and then we wonder why they're acting up.
But the observation that we've been giving Europe the finger for the past two years mostly falls on deaf ears in America—or, worse, gets you lumped with the Chomskyites in the blame-America-first corner. (There are levels of analysis between "self-hating doubt-plaguing navel-gazing paralysis" and "lack of introspection is what keeps America strong, you commie freak!", but you wouldn't know it from the blogosphere.) Some of Bush's admirers believe he has a strategy of "jujitsu diplomacy"—that he gives his opponents plenty of rope, and then hangs them with a brilliant U.N. speech or other surprise maneuver. I don't see that as brilliance. I see it as a sign that Bush has no respect for diplomacy—that we could have had broader support all along, without putting ourselves and our allies in difficult positions.
In the long run, I think alienating France or Germany helps Al Qaeda more than it helps us. We will need their help: Not to defeat Iraq, of course, but to keep it from turning into Yugoslavia or Vietnam afterwards. It helps us to have allies, because their presence helps win the propaganda battles—and, frankly, anti-U.S. propaganda overseas is strong, loud, and generally unanswered. (Last week Australian television aired a documentary alleging U.S. involvement in a massacre of Taliban POWs; aside from a tepid denial by the Pentagon, the program simply went unchallenged into the homes of millions of Australians. It was like watching a bizarro WWII newsreel that blamed America for failing to stop vigilante killings of French and Italian collaborators. They could be airing pro-U.S. documentaries, about Afghan women attending college, or the end of the Taliban's reign of terror, or the Afghan National Army on its first deployment, but, as far as I know, no one is even making any of those films, much less broadcasting them.)
....But I digress. Next week we'll make our case before the UN, and it will give Chirac and Schroder political cover they need to save face and reverse their positions. (Not that I especially care about their political fortunes, but I realistically don't expect either man to fall on his sword—especially if they think Dubya has been plotting their seppuku all along, which may well be the case.) I know we'll go to war whether they join us or not; indeed, at this stage we must go to war: After all the saber-rattling we've done to date, it will do irreparable harm to the United States' reputation if we fail to confront and remove Saddam.
So we'll make our case, and the UN will hear it, and hopefully we'll give our allies enough maneuvering room to reverse course. I think we'll put a new resolution before the Security Council, make it clear that we're invading Iraq whether the resolution passes or not, and let Chirac decide whether to use his veto and destroy the UN. Under the circumstances, I think Chirac will find our presentation remarkably compelling; France, after canvassing Russia and China and finding no support, will either abstain or vote yes. Schroder may find himself trapped, given that his Green Party coalition partner nearly brought down the German government over Afghanistan; I suspect what will happen is that, after carefully making sure its vote doesn't affect the outcome, Germany will vote no—and then graciously announce that, although it opposed the war, it must abide by the will of the Security Council and support the UN enforcement effort.
The Jacksonians, of course, will gloat about our "victory" over the Euro-weasels, and start (continue?) thinking about suitable punishments for Germany and France—can't get back on our good side that easily, y'know. I think the more important thing, though, is that the Lutjens will uphold her promise to the Churchill—and that means more to me than the political weasels of any nation.