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READING EUROPE WRONG
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
August 10, 2004

August 10, 2004 -- AS the American presidential election campaign moves into top gear, what looks like a double misunderstanding is taking shape on the two shores of the Atlantic.

Some on the American side, notably Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry, seem to believe that a change of administration would suffice to heal the wounds of last year's diplomatic duels over Iraq. In fact, Kerry appears to have based his Iraq policy, which remains a mystery, on the assumption that it would win instant and practical support from countries such as France, Germany and Russia.

The misunderstanding is even deeper on the European side.

"With the Bush administration, nothing is possible," says a senior French diplomat. "Kerry, however, has shown that he lives in the real world."

Similar sentiments are aired by other European, notably German and Belgian, diplomats and politicians. They believe that Kerry will move fast to get the American troops out of Iraq, thus endorsing the French and German view that the war was a mistake from the start.

"We like Kerry's emphasis on multilateral efforts, consultation with allies and acting through international organizations," says a member of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder Social Democrat Party. "With Kerry in the White House, we would be able to reopen a host of issues, from the Kyoto Protocols [on gas emissions] to the international criminal court, both of which the Bush administration has opposed."

To be sure, both French and German governments are careful not to appear to be taking sides in the U.S. election. But they make no secret of the fact that they prefer Kerry. French President Jacques Chirac's party, for example, signaled this by sending a high-level delegation to last month's Democratic convention.

So, where is the misunderstanding?

On Kerry's side, it is in his assumption that France, Germany, Belgium and (to a lesser extent) Russia opposed Iraq's liberation not because of their own political calculations but because they were chagrined by President Bush's supposedly "cowboy" style. Kerry is also wrong to assume that these countries would reverse a policy for which they have fought so hard.

To persuade their publics that their opposition to the liberation of Iraq was right, the European governments involved in the anti-U.S. axis of 2003 portrayed the war as a cynical move by Washington to assert "imperialistic hegemony." They succeeded beyond their expectations: A majority of the people in those countries are opposed to any intervention in Iraq.

People like Chirac and Schroeder, now in deep political trouble at home, would not be able to offer a putative Kerry administration any meaningful support in Iraq.

Schroeder's party has lost every election held in Germany since last year, and appears to be sinking under the weight of domestic- and foreign-policy mistakes. A sudden switch to a pro-American stance on Iraq would alienate its last remaining support base on the left.

As for Chirac, his party's share of the popular vote dropped to 14 percent, an all-time low, in the most recent local and European elections. Plagued by internecine feuds and unable to develop a coherent strategy, the loose coalition headed by Chirac is in no position to abandon the only one of its policies, opposition to the liberation of Iraq, that remains popular, especially with Muslim voters that provide a key part of its support base.

So, here is a safe prediction: Even if Kerry is elected, the anti-Bush Europeans will not offer any meaningful support to the U.S. in Iraq. Instead, they will press Washington to eat humble pie and organize a speedy retreat from Iraq.

What of the misunderstanding on the European side?

To start with, there is the assumption that Kerry will aim at a quick departure from Iraq. This is not at all certain. Kerry has been dropping hints about a mysterious "secret plan" for Iraq. This has reminded some Europeans of Richard Nixon's "secret plan" for Vietnam in the 1968 presidential election.

Kerry's claim that he is using "the lessons of Vietnam" in shaping policy on Iraq is disturbing, to say the least. But there is, as yet, no reason for thinking that he is thinking of a cut-and-run policy in Iraq. If he were, there would be no need for a "secret plan": One does not jump out of a burning building in accordance with a plan, secret or otherwise.

Iraq is no Vietnam. And it is unlikely that Kerry could, even if he wanted to, persuade the American public that a replay of the "last chopper from Saigon" scenario is the best that the U.S., routinely described as "the only superpower in the world," can hope for in Iraq.

The anti-Bush Europeans must also remember that, even if Kerry wins the White House, it is unlikely that his Democratic Party will secure control of Congress at the same time. And a Republican-dominated Senate and House of Representatives are unlikely to embrace Kyoto and other schemes so dear to the Europeans.

There are other reasons why Kerry, if elected, would not be able to rewrite U.S. policy to please Chirac & Co. One reason is that the U.S.-led Coalition consists of 33 nations, including such important allies as the United Kingdom, Japan, Italy, Poland and Australia. A majority of the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) support the key aims of U.S. policy in Iraq, as do a majority of the members of the European Union. It would make no sense for Kerry to antagonize a majority of U.S. allies simply to please a minority that opposed the liberation of Iraq.

A volte-face on Iraq will also discredit America in the region. Despite their usual tactic of speaking with a forked tongue, all Arab states were happy to see the end of Saddam Hussein.

Iraq's liberation has weakened reactionary forces in the regions, and forced some Arab regimes to embark on a course of (as yet modest) reforms. Any hint that a would-be Kerry administration is not prepared to stay the course in Iraq would encourage the supporters of the status quo, and scupper chances of further reform, let alone democratization in the region.

There is one more important reason why a Kerry administration would not be able to adopt the Iraq policies of Chirac & Co. This is the fact that Iraq now has a broad-based interim government backed by virtually all of that nation's political forces apart from diehard Saddamites and the offshoots of al Qaeda. By distancing itself from the interim government and its plans for elections next January, the Kerry administration, which would also be unable to make a deal with diehard Saddamites and al Qaeda gangs, could find itself with no interlocutors in Iraq.

Finally, we have to reckon with American public opinion. Rightly or wrongly, a majority of Americans may not be happy with the way things are going in Iraq right now. But this does not mean that they would be prepared to support a cut-and-run policy that is sure to create much greater risks for the future.

E-mail: amirtaheri@benadorassociates.com

 

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