Help Is Not On the Way

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If
the United States is the Earth’s last great imperial power, then
the election of its leader is indeed a global event. On this event,
in fact, the world has already spoken – in opinion poll terms at
least. According
to a recent Program on International Policy Attitudes poll (pdf
format)
of 35 countries on their election preferences, in only
three (the Philippines, Poland, and Nigeria) was George Bush by
relatively close margins the preferred candidate; in two (India
and Thailand), the vote was split; in the rest the response was
resounding. Kerry, for instance, swept Latin America and took Europe,
Poland aside, by enormous margins (Norway, 74% to 7%; Germany, 74%
to 10%; France, 64% to 5%; Italy, 58% to 14%; Spain, 45% to 7%;
and Tony Blair’s UK by a remarkable 47% to 16%). Overall, Kerry
was favored globally by a 2-to-1 margin. Even in most countries
whose governments had contributed troops to Iraq, significant majorities
favored Kerry and believed strongly that U.S. foreign policy was
“on the wrong track.”

This may simply be an
accentuation
of the anybody-but-George vote in the United States
raised to a global level and magnified. Because we Americans live
in our own off-planet bubble, we have at best only a partial sense
of exactly how much dismay, puzzlement, and anger has built up globally
around Bush administration policies and George’s own person – and
how much this has affected views of the United States. In
Egypt
, for instance, “just two years ago, Zogby [International]
found that 76 percent of Egyptians had an unfavorable impression
of the US. Today, that number is 98 percent.” On a planet never
lacking in at least a modest percentage of “don’t knows,” such figures
are unheard of.

As it happens, of course, only Americans are eligible to vote on
the fate of the planet – and only a little more than half of those
eligible to do so will. Still, part of John Kerry’s amble to the
rescue here, has been a claim, when it comes to our disaster in
Iraq, that he will fix matters by somehow bringing our allies and
their troops into the mix. His is really a Vietnamization policy
globalized – others should die for our mess – that’s hardly likely
to appeal to those allies. To give him credit, though, his plan
is far less vague (and a good deal more venal) than it’s usually
made to sound. If you look at his
NYU speech on Iraq
, given last week, buried deep inside it is
the following telltale, if hardly discussed, line:

“The
president should convene a summit meeting of the world’s major
powers and of Iraq’s neighbors, this week, in New York, where
many leaders will attend the U.N. General Assembly, and he should
insist that they make good on the U.N. resolution. He should offer
potential troop contributors specific but critical roles in training
Iraqi security personnel and in securing Iraqi borders. He
should give other countries a stake in Iraq’s future by encouraging
them to help develop Iraq’s oil resources and by letting them
bid on contracts instead of locking them out of the reconstruction
process.”

While the Bush plan had been to turn over the “development” of what
his administration carefully referred to as Iraq’s sacred “patrimony,”
aka its oil, to American energy companies like you know which one
(and in the process cut the weakling Europeans and clamoring Russians
out of the mix), Kerry’s is clearly to reshuffle the deck and redistribute
some of those Iraqi oil rights to our allies. Below, Swiss journalist
Bruno Giussani, in a calm review of European attitudes toward a
future Kerry administration, suggests that, when it comes to Iraq
at least, whatever the offer, help will not be on the way.

Interestingly, even in the months before our invasion of Iraq, polls
reflected the American public’s desire not to go to war essentially
alone; and evidently the unending war in Iraq has only magnified
an American urge toward multilateralism that was never on the Bush
agenda. In the latest, authoritative (if underreported) Chicago
Council on Foreign Relations poll, according
to Jim Lobe
of Inter Press Service, “overwhelming majorities
of both the public and the elite said that the most important lesson
of 9/11 is that the nation needs to u2018work more closely with other
countries to fight terrorism’ as opposed to u2018act more on its own.’”
Similarly large majorities rejected both a vision of the United
States as the globe’s sole “policeman” and the President’s policy
of “preventive war.” (“Only 17 percent of the public and 10 percent
of leaders said that war was justifiable if the u2018other country is
acquiring weapons of mass destruction that could be used against
them at some point in the future.’”)

And yet, if the Europeans aren’t going to ride to John Kerry’s rescue
in Iraq, neither will they be capable of doing so in the election
campaign. Kerry’s recent attacks on the President’s Iraq and al-Qaeda
policies – (“The
president continues
to live in a fantasy world of spin”) –
have been simple, clear, effective, and backed up by the news from
Iraq. But if his only solution to the Iraqi mess is bringing in
allies, he’s in trouble nonetheless.  ~ Tom

Memo
to Kerry from Europe:
Help
(for Iraq) Is Not on the Way

By Bruno Giussani

As the series of presidential debates starts off in Florida, it
is easy to guess what the candidates will say about Iraq.

President Bush will repeat that things there “are going in the
right direction” and reiterate his intention to “stay the course.”
John Kerry will describe the situation as a “crisis of historic
proportions” and point to his four-point plan, outlined in a speech
last week at New York University, to turn things around. The first
point has now made it into his television ads as a four-word sound
bite: “Allies share the burden.”

I am in doubt about the exact meaning that Senator Kerry gives
to the word “allies.” He may well be thinking of Russia or Pakistan;
but if, as I suspect, he means Europe, well, here is another four-word
sound bite: “That will not happen.”

True: as recent surveys have shown, if Europe could vote in November
Kerry would be elected in a landslide. American travelers to Europe
these days can expect to be asked time and again, in a hopeful
tone, whether Kerry is going to win come November. Earlier in
the campaign, the Democratic candidate himself contended that
foreign leaders privately favor him over President Bush: an admittedly
clumsy claim, not backed up by names, that nonetheless wasn’t
wrong.

Not since the 1960s has a U.S. presidential contest stirred such
passions, hopes, and fears across Europe. Most Europeans feel
that they have much at stake in the November election; that its
outcome will also determine the shape of their future. Citizens
and elites alike are broadly convinced that a change of leadership
in the White House is necessary not only to modify the terms of
the Euro-American relationship (which are abysmal) but also for
the future of the world’s governance.

In designing his foreign policy plans however, Senator Kerry may
be counting on that European sympathy a bit too much. Let’s recap
a few of his recent statements.

During his speech at the Democratic Convention in Boston (July
29), he said that he knows what to do in Iraq: “We need a president
who has the credibility to bring our allies to our side and share
the burden, reduce the cost to American taxpayers, and reduce
the risk to American soldiers.” And he made the crowd recite with
him the mantra: “Help is on the way.”

A few days later, on August 3, he got more specific in an interview
with the Los Angeles Times, saying that he thinks he could
attract enough international help in Iraq to make it a “reasonable”
goal to replace most of the 140,000 U.S. troops currently stationed
there with foreign forces within a first term as president.

On August 9, talking with reporters during a campaign stop in
Arizona, he upped his commitment by saying that his goal as president
would be to reduce American troop levels in Iraq during his first
six months in office – that is, by August 2005. “I believe if
you do the kind of alliance-building that is available to us that
it is appropriate to have a goal of reducing our troops over that
period of time,” he said.

On September 1st, while addressing members of the American Legion
convened in Nashville, he repeated almost word for word the lines
from his Boston speech.

And on September 20, in that speech at NYU, he encapsulated his
plan in the following words: “The principles that should guide
American policy in Iraq now and in the future are clear: We must
make Iraq the world’s responsibility, because the world has a
stake in the outcome and others should share the burden.”

From a European perspective, this is funny talk, particularly
from a man who knows Europe well and who, by the admission of
his own advisers, has not so far held any discussions with foreign
leaders about committing more troops. Kerry is promising something
whose likelihood is very close to zero. Help is not on the way
for Iraq. Europe will not rush to “share the burden,” nor to significantly
reduce the cost of the Mesopotamian adventure to American taxpayers.
Truth is, the United States will have to see Iraq through mostly
by itself.

On one matter, Kerry is right: It is undoubtedly in everyone’s
interest to encourage some form of democratic stability in Iraq
and to prevent it from becoming a failed state. But European politicians
are not suicidal and that won’t change even if John Kerry is elected.

A reminder: on March 15 the citizens of Spain voted out Prime
Minister Jos Maria Aznar. He had supported the war despite overwhelming
domestic opposition and had then, for political convenience, tried
to manipulate the significance of the terrorist attacks that hit
Madrid four days before the voting took place. (191 were killed,
1800 wounded.) Even though, in the American political narrative,
the Spanish vote was translated as “surrendering to the terrorists,”
the ousting of Aznar was a textbook example of a healthy democracy
at work.

It was also a powerful reminder of just how widespread public rejection
of the war in Iraq is, not just in Spain but in Europe as a whole.
(I know that “Europe” is a simplification of a complex reality,
but bear with me.) Despite sympathy for American and British soldiers
serving in the Middle East and for their families, a vast majority
of Europeans consider the war in Iraq not only unnecessary and unjustified,
but manufactured by the Bush administration for its own ends.

European politicians have continued to put on polite faces but
public opinion, particularly in France and Germany, countries
that could make a difference, is vehemently against the idea of
sending troops to Iraq or offering any other kind of significant
direct help to “clean up Bush’s mess” – a sentiment I heard again
and again during my two trips to Europe this summer. Those countries
already engaged in Iraq (notably Italy and Poland, along with
Britain which is a special case) will probably remain there, at
least for the time being, despite growing public discontent: Their
governments have no interest in opening a rift with the U.S. and
feel, in any case, that they can’t afford to contradict their
own positions domestically. However, they are unlikely to step
up their efforts.

Other European countries seem open to providing modest support,
such as offering to relieve some of Iraq’s debts (though why exactly
Iraq should be given priority over poorer countries on this matter
has never been adequately explained by American officials). Limited
developmental and reconstruction aid or aid in training future
Iraqi police and technocrats are also possibilities. But no country
is eager to send soldiers.

A vast engagement of European forces under the NATO flag also
looks improbable – at least without a serious American commitment
to real partnership in the development of the alliance. Even Kerry’s
recent suggestion that a United Nations High Commissioner might
be appointed to oversee reconstruction and elections wouldn’t
modify the situation significantly, unless the Commissioner’s
mandate included command over U.S. troops in Iraq – something
that goes well beyond what even Kerry seems willing to concede.

This is not to say that as president Kerry wouldn’t enjoy significant
leverage with his European peers. Europeans have not forgotten
9/11. They agree that terrorism is a very serious threat; they’ve
suffered from it for decades and understand it better than most.
However, Europeans strongly disagree with the whole notion that
invading Iraq was a necessary step in fighting terrorism. They
believe, as do a growing number of Americans, that the focus on
Iraq and on its delusional dictator has been a severe distraction
from the very real dangers that have arisen from the debris of
the Cold War: network-based catastrophic terrorism, nuclear and
biological weapons proliferation, and the failure of global governance.

To “bring the allies to our side,” Kerry will have to take the
bold step of explicitly and categorically uncoupling the war in
Iraq from the wider fight against terrorism. On this premise,
there will be plenty of support and help available from Europe
for reconstructing Afghanistan, tracking down Osama Bin Laden,
sharing intelligence, disrupting terrorist financing networks
and blocking their assets, identifying and neutralizing sleeper
cells, stopping the spread of WMDs, dealing with rogue states,
devising a real(istic) path to peace for Palestine, supporting
moderate Islamic governments and organizations with democratic
leanings, securing global networks and transportation systems,
and so much more.

The sympathy for Senator Kerry in Europe relies neither on his
fluency in French, nor on the boarding-school year that he spent
in Switzerland, although these are pluses. Nor are Europeans naive
to the point of believing that a Kerry Administration would steer
America in a fundamentally different direction on matters of security
and foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East: the differences
between the two presidential contenders are mostly in the nuances.
But Kerry is perceived as having a more multilateral and pragmatic
approach that favors consensus-building over threats and empiricism
over ideology, and his election might at least make a dialogue
between ever more estranged friends possible again.

A
Bush second term, on the other hand, would probably make the current
transatlantic gap a permanent feature of the global system, with
unpredictable consequences for that system’s stability. President
Bush is almost universally despised in Europe (as in most of the
rest of the world). In polls, less than one out of ten Europeans
rates him positively. His administration’s arrogant “with-us-or-against-us”
attitude has alienated significant numbers of genuine friends
of the United States, who have turned suspicious, if not outright
hostile. Many can’t fathom how a majority of American voters could
even consider re-electing him, a feeling that is creating a curious
state of suspension in Europe. Many prefer to imagine that the
last three years have been but an anomaly in history that will
end on November 2; after which, with a new tenant in the Oval
Office, normalcy in international relations will resume.

Let’s
be clear: most Europeans believe that the United States is a force
for good in the world and they can differentiate between a people
and the policies of its government. Most of the current aversion
focuses in remarkably personal terms on President Bush and his
inner circle. A change in administrations could therefore by itself
ignite renewed transatlantic cooperation. It would certainly yield
a general sigh of relief in Europe and simultaneously, without
Bush as a collective excuse for inaction, it might force Europeans
to get their act together and take the global responsibilities
of the “old continent” more seriously.

But none of this should be mistaken for a blank check for a future
Kerry presidency, nor for a commitment of more European boots-on-the-ground
in and around places like Fallujah and Samarra. By now, in many
respects, Iraq is, as journalist James Fallows termed it, the 51st
state of the United States, and Europeans have no desire to interfere
in the “domestic affairs” of an ally. For the rest of the world’s
troubles, here is the European four-word sound bite for Kerry: “John,
let’s talk.”

September
30, 2004

Tom Engelhardt [send him
mail
] is editor of TomDispatch.com,
a project of the Nation
Institute
. He
is the author of several books, including The
Last Days of Publishing: A Novel
and The
End of Victory Culture
. Bruno Giussani [send
him mail
] is a Swiss writer, a 2004 Knight Fellow at Stanford
University and an Affiliated Fellow at the Stanford Institute for
International Studies. His work has appeared on the New York
Times’ website, in the European editions of Time and of
The Wall Street Journal, and other European and American
venues.

Tom
Engelhardt Archives

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