Skip to comments.Allies, After All?
Posted on 09/14/2002 7:41:27 AM PDT by Pokey78
IN HIS ADDRESS to the United Nations General Assembly last Thursday, President Bush, perhaps without meaning to, used a word that always jolts Europeans like a burst of electroshock. The word--which came up towards the end of his case against Saddam Hussein's weapons buildup--is "irrelevance." That afternoon, at a European "constitutional convention" in Brussels, the Spanish eurodeputy I igo Mendez de Vigo lamented: "The president of the United States never speaks of the European Union. Only of Spain, the United Kingdom, France, and so on." In other words, "Europe" and "European opinion" and "the European leadership" suddenly looked like fictional terms for airy entities.
Meanwhile, the political landscape of the real Europe--the Europe of countries--has been transformed by the president's speech. One after another, the countries fell into line. Norwegian prime minister Kjell Magne Bondevik called the speech "multilateral," which is Norwegian for "Count us in." Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the prime minister of Denmark (which holds the rotating E.U. presidency), had already expressed his (and Bush's) view that Iraq's violation of the U.N. resolutions passed during the Gulf War was sufficient casus belli, and that no new resolution was necessary. Spanish prime minister Jose Mar a Aznar went further, saying, "Spain does not want the U.N. to become an obstacle to military intervention if that is decided on." Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi described military action as the "logical consequence" of Saddam's deeds. (Causing Milan's pro-Berlusconi newspaper La Stampa to write, without irony: "The Washington-London-Rome triangle is functioning marvelously.")
France had appeared for weeks to be the toughest diplomatic nut to crack. The French snickered privately at the suivisme ("follower-ism") of Tony Blair, and insisted that Washington produce a link between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and al Qaeda before they would support an invasion. What's more, polls indicated growing antipathy to the United States. A survey taken for Le Monde in early September showed not only that the French opposed a U.S. incursion into Iraq by 67 percent to 24 percent, but also that French voters ranked the United States and Israel as two of the top five "threats to world peace."
But France has moved from sniping skepticism to heartfelt (if ad hoc) support. On Thursday, the Ministry of Defense announced that its own evaluation of Iraq's biological and chemical weapons capabilities was "very convergent" with those of Washington and London. The next day, Defense Minister Michele Alliot-Marie told an interviewer on Europe 1 television that, even should the U.N. Security Council vote against an American invasion, "Nothing is ruled out."
What France gets out of this shift is relevance. Following much-publicized consultations between Bush and Chirac, the speech allowed Chirac to take credit for rescuing Bush for multilateralism. France also gets an economically crucial say in how any post-Saddam regime would be run. And the Chirac government may even reap a political benefit, for the same polls that show an impatience with the United States also show a steadily growing panic in France over Islamic extremism.
By contrast, the president's speech has thrown Germany into a foreign policy crisis. Two months ago, lagging badly in the polls, Socialist chancellor Gerhard Schroder began to attack the United States for war-mongering. The problem is, his electoral libido got the better of him. Like Bill Clinton, Schroder is most alive when he's on the campaign trail, and his rhetoric quickly spun out of control. Having been more forward than any Western leader after the September 11 attacks in declaring his "unconditional solidarity" (uneingeschrankte Solidaritat) with the United States, he now threw at the United States what the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung called an uneingeschranktes Nein.
Schroder quickly made up a 10-point deficit in the polls, pulling ahead of his conservative Bavarian rival Edmund Stoiber. It was tough to tell if his Nein on Iraq deserved the credit. A recent poll by ZDF television showed 50 percent of Germans opposed to an American invasion of Iraq and 49 percent in favor. Schroder's Iraq demarche coincided with devastating floods on eastern Germany's rivers, which washed away tens of billions of dollars in newly redeveloped property, most of which had been underwritten by the German taxpayer. Schroder was omnipresent, consoling the washed-out locals with Clintonesque assurance.
Schroder spoke of Iraq at every appearance, and his team insisted it was his statesmanship, not his hugging prowess, that had boosted him. Stoiber's people behaved as if they believed it, too. Stoiber, like Bill Clinton in 1992 or George W. Bush in 2000, is short on foreign policy experience. He reacted to Schroder's Iraq challenge by trying to duck it. Germany had too few troops to send to Iraq anyway, he said, so who cares what we think?
Within hours after Bush's U.N. appearance, this entire dynamic had shifted. Stoiber praised the speech as a strengthening of the U.N. But at an election rally in Regensburg, Schroder did not mention it. Interior minister of Brandenburg Jorg Schonbohm, a Stoiber ally, attacked Schroder by invoking the past in a way that is almost unheard of in German politics: "If the United States had behaved towards Hitler the way this government wants to behave towards Iraq, the Germans would never have been liberated from National Socialism."
By the time Friday morning's papers came out, it appeared the mood of the country was shifting Stoiber-wards. Predictably, the Frankfurter Allgemeine sneered: "The leaders in London and Paris are working to win back America for the United Nations and to win back the United Nations for America. The leaders in Berlin are working to stay in office." But the center-left Suddeutsche Zeitung took the same tone: "With his thoughtless remarks, chancellor Gerhard Schroder has mired the Federal Republic even deeper in geopolitical irrelevance. The decisions will be made by others, and the only countries consulted will be those ready for dialogue. Germany may find it has isolated itself--from Europe and from the world. . . . If we're to take the chancellor at his word, while the world community fights to avert a 'grave and gathering danger,' Germany will be the only country that sits it out."
In the Bundestag on Friday, during the last parliamentary debate before the elections, Schroder said he stood by the anti-terror coalition. He mocked Stoiber, saying he was unfit to be chancellor. But his uneingeschranktes Nein was suddenly nowhere to be heard. Stoiber, meanwhile, went on the offensive. Schroder's Green party foreign minister Joschka Fischer had said Bush's speech "reinforced [his] profound worries" that a war against Iraq would link fundamentalists and Arab nationalists in a coalition against the West. Stoiber accused the pair of them of "campaigning for anti-American votes."
Schroder's is now the only important dissent from the American ultimatum on Iraq. Given that he fought a pitched battle for weeks last winter to get his own party to commit troops to Afghanistan, it is the consensus of German political observers that he wishes to retreat from his position should he be reelected on September22. The problem is that he has stated his position with such inebriated vehemence that it will now be difficult to climb down from it. That may explain the timing of Tony Blair's September 24 presentation to Parliament, where he will release his "proofs" of Iraqi weapons-of-mass-destruction capacity. Perhaps they will suffice to bring Schroder on board. If only I had known!, he will say. French, British, and Americans will refrain from mentioning that much of the evidence concerning Saddam's production of chemical and biological weapons over the years has come from German sources.
Sounds like the left is eating its own.
President Bush, perhaps without meaning to, used a word that always jolts Europeans like a burst of electroshock. The word--which came up towards the end of his case against Saddam Hussein's weapons buildup--is "irrelevance."
Hahahahaha! Dubya, that "stupid, unsophisticated cowboy" told the U.N. off great. They blowed up real good!
Since then he's made mincemeat of the career diplomats of the world. Pulling out of Kyoto will ruin us? Somehow it didnt. Oh no, that crashed jet in China will lead to war...oh wait, W saved the day. Pull out of the ABM treaty?!? Russia will attack! Oh wait, the president got them to agree even though he technically didnt have to. Not to mention how he built a huge coalition to level Afghanistan and now he is getting the world to line up yet again when frankly I thought they never would. The guy is just plain good on the world stage. He has respect and credibility and he somehow knows just the right way to pull strings without having to kiss butt. Gotta love it!
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
All politics is local. As to Germany, too bad Stoiber didn't take the bull by the horns and go for supporting the US. The polls give that position 49%, which isn't a majority but both Schroeder and Stoiber won't get over 40% in the election. The remaining 20% of the vote will be split between the Greens, Free Democrats, former Commies and left and rightwing splinter parties. That would've made Stoiber into a more serious candidate. He's been too cautious in his campaign.
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