The Corner

Kerry’s Iraq “Plan”

Sebastian Mallaby has a column today questioning Kerry’s “plan” for internationalizing Iraq. It’s good to have this out there, and while the Bush campaign has latched on to the “global test” issue, it has left the basic tenets (an insult to tenets everywhere) of Kerry’s idea unchallenged.

Mallaby goes a bit further in pulling the dangling threads of this loosely-woven sweater. But, he (and everyone else) have still missed one of the big points.

Our European allies not already in Iraq are not there simply because of politics – although that certainly plays a role. They are also not there because they physically cannot deploy and sustain more than a symbolic handful of troops outside of Europe. Already the few thousand troops that NATO has in Afghanistan (commanded by a French general) and in the Balkans (also commanded by a French general) have strained the limited power-projection capabilities the Europeans have to the breaking point. While Europe has over 2 million men under arms in their own territory, the continental powers of ‘Old Europe’ cannot deploy and sustain more than 15-20,000 men abroad. These are forces created for the territorial defense of Europe during the Cold War and not much changed since its end.

So, with countries like Germany and France being unable to really contribute more than a handful to Iraq if they wanted, and thus slipping well below the Poles et. al. in the military pecking order there, why bother? Germany and France catapulted themselves back in to the first rank of global power players by resisting U.S. policy in Iraq and ‘withholding’ troops. Their entente opposing the U.S. has given them prestige and power on the world stage. On the other hand, they return to the status of a sixth-rate power if they attempt the embarrassment of a significant deployment. Is it any wonder what they chose?

This will be a dynamic of all alliance relations going forward and Bush should smoke out Kerry on it. If allies cannot literally be of use, who is Kerry planning to use?

John Hillen, a former Assistant Secretary of State, is the James C. Wheat Professor in Leadership at Hampden-Sydney College’s Wilson Center for Leadership in the Public Interest, and a member of the NR, Inc. Board of Directors.