How clever of President Bush.
On Tuesday, he had all Washington atwitter. Everyone — or at least every Democrat and all the “realistic” Republicans such as Sen. Chuck Hagel — was saying: “Hallelujah, Bush has finally seen the light!” At long last, he’s recognized “reality.” Thank goodness he’s swallowed his silly pride and shoved aside those nasty, nattering neocons and instructed his sensible Secretary of State to go to the U.N. to ask for the help America so obviously and so desperately needs.
But Bush, that sly old fox, knew what would happen next. Colin Powell would ask Jacques Chirac, Gerhardt Schroeder, and Kofi Annan, et al. nicely to lend a helping hand. Powell would diplomatically ignore the fact that these leaders of the international community had never had the slightest interest in seeing the day when the people of Iraq were liberated from the oppression of a murderous dictator.
Mr. Powell would tactfully make believe it was not true that they were, in fact, quite chagrined that the Americans had gone ahead and traded Iraqi’s stability for the sake of something as laughable as Iraqi freedom.
Mr. Powell would pretend, as a gentleman should, that our allies — they are our allies, aren’t they? — would welcome an invitation to participate in the historic effort to help Iraqis build a decent, free and prosperous nation, the first democracy in the Arab world.
And as Mr. Bush knew, for his trouble Mr. Powell would get slapped — very publicly — in the face.
And then the whole world — or at least the American voting public — would see that it wasn’t Bush who was being unreasonable and putting pride ahead of progress and all that. They’d see clearly that the lack of international cooperation is the fault of the European leaders — men who care not a fig about Iraq’s future but who love humiliating an American president, especially this American president.
By the way: It’s not like the U.N. or the Europeans really have much to contribute to the two tasks that urgently need to get done in Iraq. Blue Helmets aren’t about to hunt down Baathist remnants and their jihadi allies from abroad. The Germans have ruled out any military role. I suppose the French could send in the Foreign Legion, but that’s not likely unless we’re willing to give them a whole lot of Iraqi oil wells in return.
The second big challenge is to begin to build sturdy democratic institutions in Iraq. Since the French weren’t able to do that in Cote D’Ivoire where they’ve been trying for 40 years, how adept are they likely to be in Iraq?
And obviously, the U.N. has no particular aptitude for nation-building. In fact, the U.N. does not even prefer democracies over dictatorships. Rather it is neutral on such questions. That’s why there is no fuss at the U.N. over having Syria sit on the U.N. Security Council, and Libya head the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
So what could the Europeans do to be useful? Well, they could contribute a whole lot of money to a sort of Marshall Plan for Iraq. But they won’t do that because there is a huge difference between the Marshall Plan that assisted Europe after World War II and any plan to assist Iraq now.
That difference is complicated to explain but it boils down to this: In the former case, Europeans received money. In the latter case, Europeans would have to spend money.
Actually, that’s wasn’t so hard to explain after all.
— Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.