The United States faces a military challenge abroad without the backing of France, Germany, and Clinton. Mr. Clinton’s speech on January 23 was devoted mostly to disparaging the Bush tax-reform proposal. In doing so he used a quaint device: Tax reform would amount, he said with mock-serious facial concern, “to sending more money to me.” That was his way of saying that he is now rich, which indeed he is, having been paid in the past year $9 million in speaking fees. In one of those speeches, in Raleigh on December 11, 2002, he said, “I hope the Democrats will support the position the administration now has in Iraq, which I think is the correct one.”
The administration’s position hasn’t changed in the last six weeks. What has happened is the effective disengagement of France and Germany from the foreign policy of the senior partner of the NATO alliance. European opposition to the Bush policy on Iraq has energized an opposition and given Mr. Clinton a vision of a golden harvest for the Democratic party in which his wife looms as a central figure. There are those who wonder that someone who served so recently as commander in chief would choose a moment on the probable eve of a military engagement in which American lives are exposed to disparage the entire operation in which they are engaged.
The dispatch in the New York Times by correspondent David E. Sanger is worth study. It is entitled, “To Some in Europe, the Major Problem Is Bush the Cowboy.” An unnamed U.S. diplomat reports that he hears complaints “all the time.” “Much of it is the way he talks, the rhetoric, the religiosity,” the diplomat reports. “It reminds them of what drove them crazy about Reagan. It reminds them of what they miss about Clinton. All the stereotypes we thought we had banished for good after September 11 — the cowboy imagery, in particular — it’s all back.”
What is it — one gives intensive thought to the question — that the estranged French and Germans found so offensive in Reagan? One thinks back: Reagan said early on in his administration that Communism was headed for the ash heap of history, where it belonged. This astonished a professional diplomatic community that lives and breathes off ambiguity. Not much later, President Reagan said that we were dealing with an “evil empire.” This caused true commotion: Chiefs of state were not expected to use language that issued from moral formulations, what some people no doubt thought of as “religiosity.” And then Reagan, speaking in Berlin, pointed up to the stone masonry with its turrets and machine-guns and man-hunting dogs that for 25 years had kept immured Germans who longed for freedom. Reagan addressed the leader of the Soviet Union by saying: “Tear down that wall.”
The dissenting Europeans were early on put off by President Bush, we learn from the dispatch in the Times, because he had said shortly after taking office that the Kyoto Treaty was “dead.” The language was probably unwise, but Bush’s decisiveness was in wholesome contrast to Mr. Clinton’s evasions. He signed the Kyoto Treaty but never submitted it to the Senate, knowing that there — excuse the language — it would be “dead.” Bush went on to reject U.S. submission to an International Criminal Court. His doing so projected a developing awareness of the underside of the cooperative, internationalist mystique. Such involvements contend with developments like a U.N. Human Rights Commission that will be headed up by Libya.
A confrontation on the point of collective action is now directly ahead, and some have warned of it for years. The senior Bush insisted in 1990 that the United Nations had to endorse the Gulf War, which was done. But now the junior Bush is up against a de facto mutiny from the creeping super ordination of the United Nations over U.S. policy. President Bush will either ignore the call to go to the U.N. to authorize military action, or he will go to the U.N. and live with a French veto. Outlive a French veto?
If Mr. Bush has correctly analyzed the best interests of the United States, he will proceed to take action to remove Saddam Hussein. That is how such cowboys as Winston Churchill and Ronald Reagan would have acted, unafraid, in doing so, to invoke the blessing Lincoln invoked in his mission, about which there was a very great division.