Recently the Financial Times broke the story that Germany might join the reconstruction effort in Iraq if John Kerry wins the presidential election. This is big news. It’s not quite every day that a foreign government overtly creates an incentive for American voters to choose one presidential candidate over the other. And this report simply shatters the myth held by many of the president’s supporters that European antipathy to the Iraq war was foundationally premised on French obstructionism.
Every country that opposed the war had its own reason for doing so — in Germany’s case, a kind of default pacifism. The fact of the matter is that if France were the only country to have opposed the Iraq war, its opposition would have been irrelevant; the international community could certainly have overruled France’s moral veto (if not its UN veto) and conferred legitimacy upon the effort toward democratic transformation in Iraq.
Here’s how you know that the Bush administration was never serious about a genuine diplomatic campaign before the invasion of Iraq: An honest and competent pre-war diplomacy would have circumvented France entirely and appealed directly to Germany and other nations (but especially Germany) to support the war at least financially and politically if not militarily. Instead, the administration essentially ceded to France the role of spokesman for the bulk of the United Nations, knowing full well that the French had been bought off by the Baathists and were going to do everything in their power to block any effort at regime change.
The administration’s calculation — the perfectly obvious (Karl) Rovian calculus — is that the creation of a French bogeyman would be far more valuable for domestic political purposes than an internationally legitimized war. And indeed, the Republicans’ caricature of European opinion, reduced beyond recognition to an anti-American razzing from Jacques Chirac, served as the pivot point from which the president and his allies bludgeoned the Democrats in 2002.
Let’s be clear about where France stands. There’s more than a kernel of truth to the conservative meme that France is not an ally of the United States and really hasn’t been since the Revolutionary War. The biggest blunder in post-WWII foreign policy, it seems to me, was treating France as one of the Allied and victorious powers, when for most of the war, France was more complicit in furthering the Axis war effort and the Nazi final solution than Mussolini’s Italy. France does, of course, have a history as a global power, but French power today resides primarily in France’s cultural memory. It is indeed the consciousness of lost power and relevance that is the motivation behind France’s own brand of unilateralism (consider only France’s many unilateral interventions in Africa over the past decade).
So the goal of any sensible American foreign policy vis-a-vis Europe would be to engender a split between France and Germany and pull the Germans into a tripartite alliance along with Britain, and in so doing attain some leverage over the consolidation of the European Union. The alternative — the Bush doctrine, if you will — is to thumb our noses to all of Europe and pretend that hegemonic power can withstand near-total diplomatic isolation, until reality intervenes and at last proves otherwise.
What would it have taken to bring Germany into the pre-war coalition? The same thing that it will take to bring Germany into the post-war coalition: some combination of recognition of the International Criminal Court, willingness to negotiate over Kyoto, easing of trade restrictions with the European Union, a return to the framework of the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, international leadership on nuclear proliferation (which, pace Mr. Bush, is a lot more complicated than preventing terrorists from getting WMDs), etc.
In other words, there are things that the Germans want from us, and things we want from them. Furthermore, I could make the case — though it would take another column to do so — that what we want from the Germans is good for Germany, and what they want from us is good for the United States. So both countries have a compelling interest in bringing Germany into the fold on Iraqi reconstruction, and diplomatic grown-ups should be able to reach some mutually acceptable settlement.
Is it any wonder, now, why the president has taken so adamant a stand against joining the ICC in the presidential debates? American entry into the court might very well be the carrot that can enable us to internationalize the reconstruction and mend the diplomatic wounds of the past year. The unspoken message in Bush’s non-sequiturs on the ICC was that the price of international cooperation in Iraq is too high to pay. If you, dear reader, think that’s true, then perhaps you should vote for Bush. But if you know that it’s plainly false, xenophobic and contrary to the national interest, then say whatever you please about John Kerry’s equivocations: He’s an adult on foreign policy and something significant is at stake in his election.
Daniel Koffler is a junior in Calhoun College.