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Sunday, November 09, 2008

We will soon learn whether we can rely on our "traditional allies" 


For seven years of war, we have been told that our "traditional allies" would help us more if only our president were more consultative and less, well, detestable. Well, we are about to learn whether that hypothesis is true, or if it has been nothing more than a Democratic attack point and a nifty excuse for other countries to abdicate their responsibilities to the Atlantic alliance. Thomas Friedman calls them out in his column this morning:

To all those Europeans, Canadians, Japanese, Russians, Iranians, Chinese, Indians, Africans and Latin Americans who are e-mailing their American friends about their joy at having “America back,” now that Obama is in, I just have one thing to say: “Show me the money!”

Don’t just show me the love. Don’t just give me the smiles. Your love is fickle and, as I said, it will last about as long as the first Obama airstrike against an Al Qaeda position in Pakistan. No, no, no, show me the money. Show me that you are ready to be Obama stakeholders, not free-riders — stakeholders in what will be expensive and difficult initiatives by the Obama administration to keep the world stable and free at a time when we have fewer resources.

Examples: I understand any foreigner who objected to the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the gross mishandling of the postwar. But surely everyone in the world has an interest in helping Obama, who opposed the war, bring it to a decent and stable end, especially now that there is a chance that Iraq could emerge as the first democracy, albeit messy, in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world. Obama was against how this Iraq war started, but he is going to be held responsible for how it ends, so why don’t all our allies now offer whatever they can — money, police, aid workers, troops, diplomatic support — to increase the odds of a decent end in Iraq? Ditto Afghanistan.

The U.N. says it doesn’t want Iran to go nuclear and doesn’t want the U.S. to use force to prevent Iran from going nuclear. I agree. That’s why I want all those people in China, France, Russia, India and Germany who are smiling for Obama to go out and demand that their governments use their tremendous economic leverage with Iran to let the Iranians know that if Tehran continues to move toward a nuclear weapon, in opposition to U.N. resolutions, these countries will impose real economic sanctions. Nothing — and I mean nothing — would more help President-elect Obama to forge a diplomatic deal with Iran than having a threat of biting Chinese, Indian and E.U. economic sanctions in his holster.

President Bush, because he was so easily demonized, made being a free-rider on American power easy for everyone — and Americans paid the price. Obama will not make it so easy.

So to everyone overseas I say: thanks for your applause for our new president. I’m glad you all feel that America “is back.” If you want Obama to succeed, though, don’t just show us the love, show us the money. Show us the troops. Show us the diplomatic effort. Show us the economic partnership. Show us something more than a fresh smile. Because freedom is not free and your excuse for doing less than you could is leaving town in January.

Commentary

It always amazes me that liberal internationalists who argue that Iraqis will not take responsibility for their own security until America withdraws fail to see the same dynamic in our relationship with Western Europe. Tom Friedman, who is a smart guy, is going to end up very disappointed, because the election of Barack Obama is not going to cause Germany to spend a larger proportion of its GDP on national defense or be any more willing to live up to its obligations under the NATO treaty. Quite the contrary, Barack Obama is so popular in Western Europe precisely because the Euros expect that he will relieve them of those obligations. If President Obama actually makes good on his promise to win in Afghanistan and drive al Qaeda from its refuge in western Pakistan, the Europeans will almost certainly find another excuse to free-ride on American security. I hope I am wrong, but as predictions go in international affairs mine seems like a safer bet than Friedman's.

27 Comments:

By Blogger SMGalbraith, at Sun Nov 09, 11:47:00 AM:

the Euros expect that he will relieve them of those obligations

When candidate Obama addressed that largely German crowd at Brandenburg and pointed out that Germany would have to bear a larger burden in Afghanistan, you could hear the Teutonic crickets chirping.

Yeah, they chirp in unison.

As TH points out, much of the support by the Europeans (certainly the elites if not ordinary citizens) comes from the belief that Obama will alleviate their obligations by reversing those neocon confrontational policies of the Bush White House.

They're in for a big surprise.

So is President Obama.  

By Blogger Escort81, at Sun Nov 09, 12:54:00 PM:

Friedman's column is puzzling because he lumps together countries that have solid multi-party representative democracies with those that probably do not (Russia) and definitely do not (China, Iran). I suppose in theory, the rabid Obama backers in the other countries could pressure their governments via the ballot box to follow his lead, whether or not it was in their sovereign national interest to act. If Obama in fact has that kind of global appeal -- persuading citizens in other countries to do what he thinks is right in international affairs, such that governments change when his wishes are not met -- he would be by far the most powerful politician in the modern history of mankind. POTUS would be too small of a title -- perhaps Chairman of the World?

I would be happy if Obama's sheer popularity overseas was itself a form of international political capital that enabled the U.S. to better deal with troublesome regimes and actors without firing a shot. I don't think even Obama's foreign policy advisors believe that. India and China and Russia, as well as France and Germany, are going to sacrifice their fruitful economic relationships with the Mullahs because people in their countries like President Obama? If that happens, President Obama will likely have my vote in 2012.

The reality is that Iran is more likely than not to go nuclear in the next four years, and there is not a great deal Obama (or Bush or McCain could have done) can do about it. It is how he manages the new balance of power in the Middle East after that event that will be at issue. However unlikely, perhaps one of the only scenarios where Obama would lose the 2012 election badly is one in which he appears to be feckless leading up to and following a nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran, and the huge numbers of dead Israelis have an impact on domestic politics here (and not just because of the Jewish vote, which is relativey small in number but important in states such as Florida).

Question for Friedman -- does he believe that President Obama will actually order (or permit) airstrikes in Pakistan targeting AQ hideouts? Didn't all true liberal internationalists understand then-Sen. Obama's Pakistan/FATA stance as a campaign effort to get to the right of other candidates by sounding tough about the "right war" (Iraq being the "wrong war")? I will say for President Obama -- in the Nixon to China sense -- he could intervene militarily in a different country every other month for the next four years and he would still have his political base nailed down.  

By Blogger SMGalbraith, at Sun Nov 09, 01:06:00 PM:

I will say for President Obama -- in the Nixon to China sense -- he could intervene militarily in a different country every other month for the next four years and he would still have his political base nailed down.

Yes, but that's because his intervention, in the minds of his base, would be for humanitarian or non-US interests.

Not like the neocon/Halliburton forces that were behind the Bush Administration's interventions.

I once (two years ago or so) asked Andrew Sullivan whether he thought abandoning Iraq and allowing genocide or near-genocide to be done to the Iraqi people by AQ was a greater moral stain than waterboarding three terrorists.

His non-response was that they've already had 150,000 deaths (yes he used that number) because of Bush (yes, Bush) and so it no longer mattered.

My guess is that if President Obama argues for our stay in Iraq, that Mr. Sullivan will change his view.  

By Blogger LGD, at Sun Nov 09, 02:30:00 PM:

Friedman was a front-page leader of the Hate-Bush / Hate-the-war enemedia crowd, so I hope he actually reads what he wrote. And practices what he preached.

But he'll still be a hypocrite.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Nov 09, 05:57:00 PM:

I'm a German who would have voted for McCain. Here's my view of the situation in Germany:

SMGalbraith is spot on. The vast majority of Germans does not support _any_ sort of engagement in Afghanistan. That's true for the left, the right and the center alike.

Expect Merkel to withdraw the (small) Bundeswehr contingent in Afghanistan before the general elections next September.

I'm not too worried about the consequences though. During the Cartoon Crisis both Republicans and Democrats have told Europe in no uncertain terms that the preservation of western style democracy and civil liberties in Europe is no longer in the interest of the US. The "military umbrella" has already been withdrawn, we're on our own.

As for Iran:
Some European politicians are realists who understand that a nuclear Iran would pose a mortal threat to Europe itself, so I expect there will be support for tough sanctions.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Nov 09, 06:55:00 PM:

Obama seems certain to be out of Iraq almost immediately. It is foolish to predict what will then happen.

The Iraqi's are pretty independent and won't be ruled by Iran. But they are vulnerable to subversion by ethnic, religious, and terrorist factions. It will be difficult to keep open and democratic government.

In Afghanistan matters are less clear. If O increases our effort then NATO will decrease theirs. Why not let the US do it?

If Obama does not increase our effort in Afghanistan then NATO will again leave. Why die in a seemingly endless and inconclusive struggle?  

By Blogger Mrs. Davis, at Sun Nov 09, 07:51:00 PM:

During the Cartoon Crisis both Republicans and Democrats have told Europe in no uncertain terms that the preservation of western style democracy and civil liberties in Europe is no longer in the interest of the US.

I sure missed that. Preservation of democracy and civil liberties in Europe is in America's interest, as everywhere else in the world. We're just waiting for you Euros to share the burden.  

By Blogger David, at Sun Nov 09, 10:00:00 PM:

Unfortunately the State Department condemned publication of the cartoons out of hand as provocative and it was in full Muslim appeasement mode from the first, which left Europeans who wanted to defend their freedom of speech without even rhetorical American support.

That might have been justifiable if it had been in retaliation for Europe's non-support of America, and if it came with the implied rider "but if you guys wanted to be on our team, this could be different." But it wasn't like that. It was more of the "religion of peace" nonsense.

With the Europeans separating themselves decisively from America and then the Americans not caring about the Europeans - not retaliating but just not caring - the Europeans are now largely on their own.

I'd wish them well, but unless they have babies it's irrelevant.

I won't judge the new American President by how well he gets along with Europe. It's not worth America to make concessions or commitments for a long term relationship with a bunch of people who aren't going to be here long term anyway. The diplomatic test that matters in the long run will be America's relationship with Asia.  

By Blogger SMGalbraith, at Sun Nov 09, 11:10:00 PM:

The diplomatic test that matters in the long run will be America's relationship with Asia

As Nixon and Kissinger pointed out nearly three decades ago, the future for us and the world was in China and India. [And if one wants to read excellent prose - forget the politics- read any of Kissinger's biographies on his White House years; superb writing]

I think historians in the future will give great approval for the Bush Administration's policies towards those countries and Asia in general.

Too bad we didn't get much of any discussion in this campaign of the policies of Obama and McCain on this region.  

By Blogger M Jordan, at Sun Nov 09, 11:30:00 PM:

Sorry, but I can't take anything Friedman says with anything other than contempt. He was the man, the very man, upon whom I changed my initial rejection of the Iraq war to support when he argued that the real motivation was never UN violations, WMD, oil, freedom, or whatever the stated ones were but instead was that Iraq was the venue where we would raise our fist to the Islamo-facist world and say, "We will fight you. You understand? We will fight you."

So I bought his argument and then, when things went badly, he changed courses and became a Bush reviler.

Friedman is a despicable man in my view for not only cutting and running but for then attempting to assuage his guilt and reputation by turning on Bush and the war's second phase.  

By Anonymous Joe G., at Sun Nov 09, 11:31:00 PM:

You know how it'll go down...

The Euros will make "hopeful" statements about "desiring" a closer relationship. They'll even say promising things about Iraq and Afghanistan. They'll lay out a few potential areas to "work together on." But like playing with a cat, they'll dangle a toy fish on the end of a rope and twitch it, and twitch it again, to keep the new administration wide-eyed and interested.

Nothing will come of it, except the Obama administration will tilt toward the Euros and get nothing in the process.  

By Blogger druu222, at Sun Nov 09, 11:35:00 PM:

Anon German, I have to comment on what we may agree was one of the most important unacknowledged stories of the decade, the 'Cartoon Wars'.

I wholeheartedly agree that our State Dept was weaselly. I could mention the extent of our necks stuck out into the Arab word then and now, but the accusation of a less than robust US response cannot be argued with.

But frankly, why did Europe require anything at all from the US in that situation? There was NO military component whatsoever, and I cannot beleive any real economic threat to Europe was in play. ALL that was required was a willingness to stand up for once and tell the third world, just freekin' once, to shove a G--D--n sock in it, and if they felt "offended" by Western freedom, they were free to tell it to someone who gives a flying f**k! Just ONCE to give Western Civilization the benefit of the doubt. Europe needed nothing whatsoever from the US to do that, Nothing.

Maybe the US didn't come through, but we were at least putting our chips on the battlefield at the time. Our stand against Arab tyranny was being written in real blood at the time, not just words.

The 'Cartoon Wars' COULD have been Europe's chance to "show the world att the very least, a willingness to genuinely stick your necks out on an issue as real and close to home (and 100% NON-racist in any way shape or form) as your right to speak freely, and instead, with the primary exception of Denmark, we got the same craven cowardice which drives the worst forces on earth on to greater and greater demands. But they are non-white and "oppresed" so they can do no wrong.

Sorry to go off, but the Cartoon story was of titanic import, and a real chance for the West to stand tall for something real and genuine and worth dying for.... and the West responded with abject cowardice and grovelling. My country's courage was at least on display elsewhere at the time. What was, and is, Europe's excuse?  

By Blogger Ric Locke, at Sun Nov 09, 11:58:00 PM:

Hmpf. Moot point.

Our "traditional allies" won't help in any way. Whether or not they want to help is beside the point -- some may, most won't, but it doesn't matter in the least.

They ain't got the horses.

They sold 'em and bought shineyhopey. Cradle-to-grave "security", 35-hour work weeks, health care for all!, you know the drill. Bill Clinton went part of that way, leaving one American sailor I know buying parts at Radio Shack out of her own pocket to keep the USS Nimitz's comm gear going, but even after all that, all our "traditional allies" together couldn't match our Regulars, and they don't even have Reserves on anything like our scale.

Furthermore, the troops they have are, with honorable exceptions, crap. The British SAS are great; their regulars -- one word: Basra. In general the level of training and readiness is such that the best non-US troops are about on the level of a good-sized US National Guard unit. In general we cannot look for help from "our traditional allies" because they don't have the capacity to help.

They could do that because the US was there. No need to spend money on defense when the Americans will do it for you, hey? And "consultative" is a code word. It means "we don't have to keep troops because we can command the Americans."

Now Obama and his supporters will go the European route, selling out the troops to buy hopeychange. The result won't be pretty from the point of view of "our traditional allies". I'm old, and don't expect to see the day when they finally figure out that it won't work any more. They may not exist at that point.

Regards,
Ric  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Nov 10, 12:01:00 AM:

Speaking as an Australian, former military officer, representative of the ONLY country to have fought alongside the United States in EVERY SINGLE CONFLICT the US has been engaged in during the last century, can I just ask, what IS the definition of "traditional" ally? WE never went away, and now that Democrats are back in charge, we're not going away either. That is what alliances are about.

The notion that America now somehow deserves the support of strained allies from Europe now the US has elected a government of which the Europeans approve is a shallow, patronising and naive.

We've shown our money.  

By Blogger druu222, at Mon Nov 10, 12:06:00 AM:

Anon Aussie -

Thank you does not begin to cover it. Suffice it to say there are very few places left in Western Civilization where "being a Man" actually means something. Your country is one of them.  

By Blogger Ric Locke, at Mon Nov 10, 12:06:00 AM:

Australian, you go under the heading of "honorable exception" as put in my post, at least until Kevni gets his oar fully in the water.

Regards,
Ric  

By Blogger Brian, at Mon Nov 10, 12:54:00 AM:

"A senior diplomat from a European Union state agrees that this kind of pressure from the Obama White House is certain to be felt across the EU.

'There are lots of things the Bush administration has failed to get European governments to do, such as ending restrictions on how much danger their troops face in Afghanistan; or forcing the Europeans to give billions of dollars to pay for doubling the Afghan national army.

'But when Obama starts making these demands, European leaders will have to start thinking a lot harder. They won't find it easy to turn down a man with this much appeal.'"

http://us.ft.com/ftgateway/superpage.ft?news_id=fto110620081726320696&page=2  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Nov 10, 01:10:00 AM:

I've heard this gripe for for years now, and have never comprehended why Canada gets thrown to the wolves. Canada has been in Afghanistan since 2002, patrols the dangerous southern regions, and has lost almost 100 soldiers. Measured in lives lost per captia, no one has contributed more to Afghanistan than Canada.  

By Blogger Mister Snitch!, at Mon Nov 10, 01:43:00 AM:

The Eurotrash leaders won't last long without an American administration to blame for their problems. They'll stick with Bush for a while, but that's going to get mighty stale over 4 years. Counting down the days for the inevitable souring of this phony, self-congratulatory love-fest. At which point, the Dems will suddenly announce that the President's job often DEMANDS that he be disliked in other parts of the world.

And so it goes.  

By Anonymous Snorri Godhi, at Mon Nov 10, 02:50:00 AM:

Speaking for myself, the election of Obama has left me distinctly less likely to support the US in the future. The country where I vote and the countries where I paid taxes in the last 8 years, all sent troops to Iraq, and what did we get in return? resentment from American conservatives because we are "Europeans"; while France and Germany got admiration from American "liberals" because they stood up to Bush. We got no material advantage from the Iraq war that France and Germany did not get. It is clear now that Britain is taking us for granted, which they don't with France and Germany.

One of the countries where I paid taxes was Denmark, and I shall not forget who stood by the Danes in the cartoon jihad (i.e. the continental Europeans) and who did not (i.e. the UK, US, and Sweden).  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Mon Nov 10, 06:28:00 AM:

Snorri Godhi,

Well, American conservatives were extremely unhappy with the Bush administration for wimping out on the Cartoon intifada. The excuse, I suppose, was that we had such much exposure in Muslim countries.

Anon 1:10 -- The Canadians get full credit from me for Afghanistan. You are right, they have been at the tip of the spear.  

By Blogger druu222, at Mon Nov 10, 07:26:00 AM:

Snorri - From the US your comment hurt, and the worst thing Americans, and American conservatives can do, is harm or offend those Europeans who have stood or are inclined to stand, with us. I hear you.

I just want to point point out your statement.. "and what did we get in return? resentment from American conservatives because we are "Europeans"....

I see what you are saying. Do YOU see that for the vast majority of us US conservatives, hmmm, how shall I put this...."and what did we get? For fighting and even winning the Cold War against Soviet totalitarianism? The most vicious, bitter, and vile contempt and resentment from Europeans (at least the VERY powerful European media/academic/cultural trifecta) because we were American conservatives (dare I say cowboys?)."

I "feel your pain", to coin a phrase, but my pain goes back to the Reagan era, and the burden of it just grows tiresome.

We have been saying for a while that, in a "familiarty breeds contempt" sort of way, it may be time for the defense relationship of the US and Europe to be re-thought, so that both sides can more clearly see the value of things we both take for granted, and mutual respect for each other can begin a fresh start.

And very frankly, it is now time for both sides to start (politically, NOT literally) beating the living crap out of our monstrously corrupted media/academic/cultural trifectas that have become an enemy of liberty on this planet.  

By Blogger Prof. Festus X. "White Shoes" Throckmorton, at Mon Nov 10, 08:19:00 AM:

Anon Aussie, you'll never know how much that support means to many, many Americans. Australia rocks, in so many senses of that word.  

By Anonymous Snorri Godhi, at Mon Nov 10, 09:26:00 AM:

TigerHawk, druu222: I hear you, and I strongly agree and sympathize with what you wrote. Believe me, I supported American in my heart in every war after Vietnam (I was too young for that one), as well as Britain in the Falklands war. I do not exclude doing so again in the future: I only wrote "distinctly less likely". But first, let's see how things turn out in Iraq: I'd like to see evidence that the American public supports a tough fight up to the end.

Another thing: since I mostly read news in English, I mostly see the English-speaking media/academic/cultural trifecta, so perhaps I am underestimating its European equivalent, so perhaps your resentment is more justified than it appears to me.

Yet another thing: we must remember not to put all our eggs in one basket. Some conservative Europeans think (or thought until a few days ago) that the USA is our last best hope. Maybe they are right, but with conservative-ish governments popping up all over Europe, as well as Canada and, 2 days ago, New Zealand; and with what could be the most leftist US government ever, we should keep all our options open.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Nov 10, 09:36:00 AM:

Continental Europe supports the English speaking nations by participating in our common economic system, by being willing to use their own diplomacy to support American/Australian/Canadian foreign policy goals, and even sometimes European governments will covertly support limited military aims (unless there is a danger that the NYT will find out).

While these are not insignificant aids to maintaining peace and security, it's as far as the Europeans have been willing to go for decades. Even Reagan, who did so much for Europe, had trouble getting overflight permission when he most needed it in dealing with Libya.

Expecting Europe to change a policy of at least thirty years standing, and really one that's been true ever since De Gaulle's time, just because we finally elected a politician who has domestic and economic policy ideas similar to many European politicians seems to me to be absolutely ridiculous. Delusional even. The sooner foolish people like Friedman get over themselves, the happier we'll all be. Not that his columns mean much, they don't, but at least we won't have to see him discussed at length anywhere (like here).

Much more meaningful than this theme is the birthday being celebrated by the Marine Corps today. Thank you for two hundred years of dealing with Islamic terror on our behalf! There is undoubtedly more to come our way, too.

I salute you, Marines!  

By Blogger druu222, at Mon Nov 10, 11:19:00 AM:

Snorri - If the USA is no longer conservative Europeans "last, best hope", that may be good thing for Conservatism, for Europe, and for the US.  

By Anonymous Rachel, at Tue Nov 11, 09:48:00 AM:

"But surely everyone in the world has an interest in helping Obama, who opposed the war, bring it to a decent and stable end, especially now that there is a chance that Iraq could emerge as the first democracy, albeit messy, in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world."

So, Mr. F, does this mean that W did a good thing? If so, you are just one of the tools to help ruin W until one of your own showed up for office.  

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