Thursday, June 17, 2004

Book recommendation: Allies At War 

I just finished Allies At War: America, Europe, and the Crisis Over Iraq, by Philip H. Gordon and Jeremy Shapiro, and I highly recommend it. The authors are research fellows at Brookings, and have written a balanced, thoughtful and unemotional account of the diplomatic maneuvering and blundering in the period preceding the invasion of Iraq, plus the post-war period through the end of last year.

The main thesis of the book is that the United States, France and Germany all blundered through the Iraq crisis, each at various times arrogantly subverting the interests of the Atlantic alliance out of stupidity or domestic political considerations. Some of this was the result of bad luck, or failure to plan for bad luck. For example, neither the Americans nor the French had a strategy for dealing with Iraq's partial compliance after the adoption of 1441 -- almost everyone agrees that had Blix found a major violation, France would have joined the fight, and almost everyone agrees that if Saddam had genuinely opened the kimono Blair, and therefore Bush, would have backed off. When Saddam did neither, Washington and Paris were out of moves -- or at least subtle moves -- and veered sharply in opposite directions.

Finally, some of the diplomatic failure was the consequence of changed strategic circumstances since the end of the Cold War, and the altered relevance of the Atlantic alliance even before September 11, Afghanistan, or the "Axis of Evil" speech. Nevertheless, the authors convincingly argue that the Atlantic alliance is worth preserving and reinvigorating, and at the end of the book suggest ways that this might be done.

Allies At War is not going to please partisans or ideologues in either camp. The book will rattle the confidence of supporters of the Bush Administration, because it piles up the evidence that American officials, particularly in the office of the Vice President and civilian leadership of the Pentagon, went out of their way to infuriate the French and the Germans. For example,
French visitors to Washington were berated by their counterparts, especially in the Pentagon, where officials like Paul Wolfowitz and Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith accused them of defending Saddam Hussein. To a French defense ministry visitor who had come to the Pentagon in December 2002 to discuss possible French participation in a war, Feith said "We don't want you involved! You think you can be Saddam's lawyer for two months without consequences!" Instead of discussing the possible French support, Feith made the derisory proposal that if France wanted to help, it could provide medical units to the Sinai and fighter planes for Iceland to free up the four planes that the United States had deployed there.

This was particularly counterproductive in January, when it was still possible that Blix would catch Saddam in such a clear violation of 1441 that even France would have gone to war. As late as the first week in January, Chirac was still making contingency plans for participating in a war, and
"had authorized his chief of staff ... to send General Jean-Patrick Gaviard on a secret mission to Washington for discussions about a potential French contribution of some 15,000 troops, 100 airplanes, and use of significant naval assets, including an aircraft carrier group..."

This is but one of several examples of needless, cocky arrogance on the part of American officials pushing for the war, and it has cost us in the last year:
The policy of berating opponents of the war, moreover, seemed to be based on an absolute conviction that all would go so well in Iraq -- military victory, liberation, stabilization, and democratization -- that the critics would soon be lining up to beg for forgiveness and a share of the spoils. When it turned out that the occupation of Iraq would instead be costly and deadly -- as many of the skeptics both in the United States and in Europe had warned -- the administration was hardly in a position to win the support of the Europeans whose arguments it had ridiculed. As Senator Joseph Biden put it in the summer of 2003, by snubbing our allies, we "missed an opportunity, in the aftermath of our spectacular military victory, to ask those who were not with us in the war to be partners in the peace. Instead we serrved 'freedom toast' on Air Force One. Wasn't that cute?"

Of course, the Germans and the French were equally disrespective of the alliance. Germany was the first to depart from "alliance norms," which is the term the authors give to the unspoken rules for hashing out even strenuous disagreements within the principal countries within the Atlantic alliance.
In a desperate attempt to win votes in the summer of 2002, Gerhard Schroder wrote himself out of the diplomacy over Iraq. His declared refusal to support the use of force against Iraq even if authorized by the UN Security Council was, simply put, irresponsible. It went against everything German foreign policy had stood for since the founding of the Federal Republic.

Schroder also blocked NATO from planning for the defense of Turkey in the event that Iraq attacked that NATO country, a decision that was "deeply damaging to the notion of NATO as a defense alliance on which its members could rely." Finally, Schroder's reelection campaign veered from antiwar to anti-Bush, which generated German votes but also fueled the aforementioned rage in the White House and DoD.
The climate created was one in which the justice minister's comparison of Bush to Hitler was only a particularly egregious ... example of the general tone of the German debate. Schroder's response to that insult to the President -- a letter to Bush that essentially said, "I'm sorry you chose to be offended by something my minister did not say" ... was deeply inept.

The authors argue that French policy was even more destructive to the alliance. True, some of it sprang from "legitimate and reasoned principles... Some of these concerns have proven unfounded, but others appear to have been validated by events." However,
opposing the war was a different matter from opposing the United States -- particularly after it had become clear that Washington was going to act. However arrogant and even misguided American policies might have been, they did not merit France's all out attempt to deny legitimacy to the operation once it had been decided.... Even if France felt that containment remained a better option than war, it could not argue that the Americans had no justification for their reading of Resolution 1441 and that Washington would be violating international law by acting.

French Foreign Minister de Villepin made Chirac's excessively confrontational position worse, if that's possible, by sandbagging Colin Powell at the UN in January 2003, and by routinely casting his actions "in terms of lofty philosophical principles and moral absolutes [that] infuriated his American and British" counterparts.
The French foreign minister was also capable of demonstrating a level of arrogance that matched that of some of the Americans, and it served him and his country no less badly. When asked after a speech in London in late 2003 who he wanted to win the still-ongoing war, de Villepin refused to answer.

Gordon and Shapiro finally resort to quoting Henry Kissinger, who wrote of U.S. - French relations of a different era:
...[the] conflict between France and the United States became all the more bitter because the two sides, profoundly misunderstanding each other, never seemed to be talking about the same subject. Although they were generally unpretentious personalities, American leaders tended to be cocksure about their practical prescriptions. De Gaulle, whose people had turned skeptical after too many enthusiasms shattered and too many dreams proved fragile, found it necessary to compensate for his society's deep-seated insecurities by a haughty, even overbearing, demeanor. The interaction of the American leadership's personal humility and historical arrogance, and de Gaulle's personal arrogance and historical humility, defined the psychological gulf between America and France.

By 2003, all humility had vanished, and "what remained was personal and historical arrogance on both sides."

Read the book.


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