Politics & Policy

Alliances Alive

Our pre-Iraq friendships aren't dead.

In the past week, the United States and France have worked together to quell mass unrest in Haiti. Canada signaled its willingness to contribute to a U.S. and French-initiated peacekeeping force on the island. And the United Nations Security Council unanimously endorsed the Franco-American effort.

Wait just a second here.

Haven’t we been told–again and again–that the Bush administration has “shredded” America’s relationships with some of our closest allies? That we’ve “driven them away” because of our “unilateralist” policy in Iraq? Those are quotes from former Governor Howard Dean, Senator John Kerry, and the New York Times respectively.

Recently, in fact, Senator Kerry all but called the United States an international pariah. “Where [the president’s] acted, his doctrine of unilateral preemption has driven away our allies and cost us the support of other nations,” Kerry said on February 27. Last December, he asked, “What nation–be it Germany, Russia, France, or even Mexico–would quickly cooperate with us after having been publicly castigated and ridiculed for disagreeing with us over Iraq?”

Well, France, I guess. And Canada. Not to mention the more than 70 nations that are with us in the war against terrorism (including every one of the countries he mentioned). Or the 49 nations standing with us in Iraq.

But let’s put all that aside for a moment and focus instead on the question Senator Kerry raised, for it may determine the shape of our foreign policy in the future. Should America’s interests govern our alliances or should our alliances determine our national interests? Put another way, should America’s defense of democracy and our nation itself really depend on the good graces of Germany, Russia, France, or Mexico?

This is not as improbable as it sounds. The war on terrorism is of global scope; it may require us to act in concert with other nations to share intelligence or freeze terrorist funding. Or it may cause us to overrule some of our allies–maybe even act alone–to stop a gathering threat.

This can be jarring for many, since Americans are accustomed to a world in which our enemy was known, its location was fixed, and our alliances were largely untroubled. For 40 years of the Cold War, the U.S., Britain, and all of Western Europe were united against a common threat: the Soviet Union.

But before the Cold War, alliances often shifted. During World War II, for example, America and the Soviet Union were united against the Germans. A few years later, West Germany and America were united against the Soviets. Even our relationship with Great Britain has changed since the beginning of the republic. In its infancy, in fact, America counted France as its key ally against a British attack. Perhaps it was with this in mind that a retiring George Washington warned his countrymen against permanent entanglements. He wanted America’s alliances to advance its national interests, not dictate them. As he wrote to Patrick Henry: “I want an American character, that the powers of Europe may be convinced we act for ourselves and not for others; this, in my judgment, is the only way to be respected abroad and happy at home.”

The war in Iraq was a classic example of nations acting in their own self-interest. America and Britain chose to confront a regime that they (and most of the world) viewed as a serious threat to international peace. France and Germany, by contrast, believed that opposing America’s position best served their interests. Indeed, France has continually deployed troops to Africa on behalf of its own perceived interests without ever seeking the approval of anyone. And recent revelations of commercial dealings between Saddam Hussein and France suggest the real reason for France’s opposition to American-led action against Hussein.

In any event, it’s simply unrealistic to think that allies will always agree on appropriate actions; and it’s foolish, often dangerously so, to wait for absolute consensus. If an alliance cannot survive an occasional bitter dispute, then perhaps it was never meant to last.

But as long as America is a power in the world, has the courage of its convictions, and remains a beacon of hope to the oppressed, it will never lack for supporters. And, as it happens, events just this past week should ease the fretting over whether France, Germany, and Mexico might ever forgive us for taking action in Iraq without their permission.

Last Friday, for example, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder arrived at the White House to extol “a very friendly and good” relationship with President Bush. In Paris, the leading French newspaper, Le Monde, a harsh critic of American involvement in Iraq, cited the U.S.-French initiative in Haiti as evidence that America and France had “spectacularly reconciled.”

And Mexico’s president himself punctured the notion that he had been “driven away” by the United States by accepting the invitation of President and Mrs. Bush to spend the weekend at their Crawford, Texas ranch. On the agenda: border security, immigration, and dinner, featuring a bass President Bush had caught for the occasion.

Senator Jon Kyl is a Republican senator from Arizona.

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