:: Bite The Wax Tadpole ::

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:: Saturday, February 22, 2003 ::

It's not about Iraq anymore at the UN. Oh, sure, all of the discussion is about Iraq, but the die is already cast - the "Coalition of the Willing" will attack Saddam with or without UN support. All of the current activity is either for the domestic benefit of one of the participants, or jockeying for position in the post-war diplomatic and political landscape.

In the end, all politics are local. Tony Blair and leaders of other Coalition nations must turn public opinion in their favor before they face next have to face elections, which means that they have to consider not just the results but how they're perceived by voters. That makes it absolutely necessary for them to exhaust every opportunity at the UN and to make it absolutely unmistakably clear that the UNSC is at fault. The new resolution does exactly that.

The actual content of the resolution is lost in the press reports (which incorrectly describe it as a resolution to authorize war on Iraq) right now, but it lays the groundwork for a coordinated campaign to reclaim the moral high ground after the war, when the voters will hopefully be a bit more receptive. An active PR campaign will be absolutely necessary because those who opposed the war will pounce on every opportunity to declare it a failure. This also means that the effort to reconstruct Iraq must committed, sincere and scrupulously ethical (no sweetheart deals for old oil buddies) or cynical voters will buy into every oddball conspiracy theory.

I originally had a lot more to say on this topic, but work intruded long enough that pretty much everybody else beat me to it.

See the Opinion Journal, Porphyrogenitus or Arkat Kingtroll for more on the resolution itself and the situation at the UN. Steven Den Beste's latest has a ton of links and an analysis that contradicts his gloomy tone.

Andrew Sullivan emphasizes the importance of winning hearts and minds after the war and the importance of commitment to and good conduct in the reconstruction of Iraq.

Erik | 2/22/2003 02:35:00 PM | | ::
:: Thursday, February 20, 2003 ::
Perhaps I'm not as cynical as should be, but I have no real problem with Angela Merkel's WaPo op-ed piece or her upcoming visit to Washington.

Fellow blogger Amiland sees it as a cynical ploy for domestic consumption. I can sympathize with that position to some extent, but it seems to be a curious choice for a self-serving political move since, as the Spiegel Online hit piece ("Angela Merkel: Kow-tow before the US administration") and (admittedly predictable) SPD attacks demonstrate, it is hardly without risk.

In fact, it looks to me like a relatively courageous attempt at damage control. Merkel might just have sacrificed herself to clean up some of Schr�der's mess.

The reality is that somebody has to tend to the German-American relationship or the ever widening rift will become permanent. Somehow, I don't see Schr�der leaping into action and newspaper ads by trade groups just aren't enough. That leaves Angela Merkel.

Nor do I think she's out of line to do it (at least not much). The unfortunate fact is that German domestic politics are intertwined with German-American relations in a very visible way right now. It's hardly fair to blame the Union for the current state of affairs -- the true "crass break in the local political culture" happened on the campaign trail last year.

We'll see pretty soon what the domestic political fallout of Merkel's article and visit turns out to be, but I'm guessing that it won't be a huge boost for her domestically and that it could even be a liability (especially in the short term). If she survives and her agenda shapes up as rumored, the trip won't be wasted.
:: Erik | 2/20/2003 03:28:00 PM | | ::

:: Wednesday, February 19, 2003 ::
Saddam suddenly less cooperative. I'm sure that this will come as a shock to the people who marched last weekend.
:: Erik | 2/19/2003 10:51:00 PM | | ::
The Wages of Sin and Stupidity. Dilacerator gets it right, as usual, when he attributes Germany's role in the ongoing Iraq melodrama to stupidity rather than malice. Schr�der is a politician rather than a statesman, and it shows.

Faced with trouble, Schr�der chooses the easiest and safest course out of whatever predicament he's in, with little apparent regard for the big picture or the long-term consequences of his actions. That's also true for his domestic politics, and is one of the reasons he's been lurching from crisis to crisis for years.
Sadly, much of the damage to German-American relations won't be easy to repair, and Germany will likely pay the economic price for years to come.

And it's not all petty payback, despite reports to the contrary. American military planners have been forced to face the fact that a populist politician could deny them the use of troops and materials based in Germany, and no sane planner would put very many eggs in such a fragile basket. Some further base closures were inevitable, but Schr�der's recklessness will accelerate and deepen the cuts.

I share Dilacerator's opinion that France is the villain in this little set piece and that Germany has played the hapless assistant -- Schr�der cast as Igor to Chirac's Frankenstein -- but the consequences for France aren't so obvious or immediately dire. Direct action (e.g. tariffs) would come across as heavyhanded and/or petty and would almost certainly backfire.

That argues for isolating France through indirect means -- by strengthening US ties to the rest of Europe (both old and new), Turkey and probably to the German opposition. The message should be "partnership, not payoffs" and the policy should be to build or expand on concrete and enduring ties (e.g. trade and mutual defense pacts) rather than handing out one time payoffs such as aid or loan guarantees. Reliable partners are always preferable to well-paid lackeys, especially in difficult times. Witness Turkey, which is currently demanding a raise.

The administration's focus is clearly (and properly) on the impending war and its immediate aftermath right now, but I sincerely hope that they're also thinking about what comes next. A new Cold War is looming but can still be avoided. The slow and careful work of tending friendships and building alliances isn't as exciting as smiting the evildoer, but it is every bit as important. Let's all hope the administration understands that.
:: Erik | 2/19/2003 02:51:00 PM | | ::

:: Tuesday, February 18, 2003 ::
Cold War II Redux.
It looks like new Europe sees another cold war brewing, too.

Dilacerator cites a Czech newspaper editorial which sees the danger of a new cold war, with France and Germany leading the ideological successor of the Warsaw Pact. InstaPundit then turned up a Romanian editorial that very bluntly says pretty much the same thing.

The idea that a new Cold War is brewing has been rattling around the blogosphere for some time, see this post and this one for some of my earlier thoughts on the topic and links to other bloggers who were thinking along the same lines.

Ironically, I'm now less worried about a new Cold War than I was in January or even last week. We're not out of the woods yet, but the Monday's EU meeting was a watershed moment -- most of the rest of Europe made an emphatic choice not to fall into line behind France. Chirac's diatribe served only to underline the wisdom of that decision.

The current situation in Europe is favorable but it isn't stable for the long term -- popular pressure is strong and it will continue to build as long as the cloud of impending war hangs over the continent. President Bush and the leaders of Europe still have time to act deliberately, but they can't let it drag on forever.

If the war against Saddam gets underway fairly soon and is successful, the worst danger is probably past. The US and her allies will have to stay vigilant, but they should be able to prevail. That assumes a US policy of active and positive engagement with allies -- trade pacts, defensive alliances, etc. to hem in and weaken those who favor opposition for its own sake. If the war against Saddam goes badly (gets bogged down or results in heavy civilian casualties) or if the US doesn't follow through with support for her allies, all bets are off.
:: Erik | 2/18/2003 03:34:00 PM | | ::

Did anyone notice that this New York Times article somehow manages to avoid mentioning Chirac's outburst at the EU meeting? I haven't seen the print edition, so maybe it was in another article.

The Seattle PI ran the Times article and not much else. The Seattle Times ran an article (not online but credited to Reuters and the Christian Science Monitor) which ignored Chirac's tantrum and left the impression that the EU joint statement was a blow to Bush and his allies.

Just to add a bit of irony, the Seattle Times also ran an opinion piece (also not online) which talked about the Blogosphere's ability to cover stories that are ignored by the print media.

If I can find a copy (I was reading someone else's paper) I'll post some excerpts from all of the above.
:: Erik | 2/18/2003 01:08:00 PM | | ::

I'm with Glenn on this one. Inviting "new" Europe, Turkey and other allies into a free trade alliance with the US would be a good strategic move, geopolitically speaking. And it's good policy, to boot.
:: Erik | 2/18/2003 12:11:00 PM | | ::
:: Monday, February 17, 2003 ::
Jacques Chirac was on a roll last weekend. Flush from a tour de force at the UN Security council and basking in the glow of a weekend just packed with anti-American protests, he dispensed nuggets of wisdom upon the hapless President Bush and even magnanimously him a slightly face-saving way to climb down. Monday's emergency meeting of the EU would be his victory lap, where the wayward children of Europe fell into line behind the wise and benevolent leadership of France. Except maybe that Blair kid - he's trouble.


Chirac's outrageous temper tantrum is not the act of a sophisticated and wise world leader at the pinnacle of his powers. This is the act of a man who is way off-balance and incredibly angry. Clearly, Chirac was taken completely by surprise by the resistance he faced at the meeting. Even Kofi Annan warned Chirac that the charade couldn't go on much longer.

So what happened? I keep coming back to the theory that Chirac was blinded by his world view. He believed that he had won the UN game and honestly couldn't imagine that Bush would act without UN approval. He was expecting to coast to the finish line, as Bush backed away from war, the rest of the world sang the praises of France and the European fence sitters disappeared quietly into the night. If he was in a good mood, he might even let those upstart peasants in the East off the hook -- at least for long enough to drag them out of the American orbit.

The other European leaders understand just what's at stake in the game that Chirac is playing, and they aren't willing to sacrifice the UN, NATO and the whole transatlantic partnership. They made it clear that the Gang of 8 letter wasn't a one time event and that they wouldn't just hand over the keys to Europe without a struggle. Even Schr�der went along in the end, which shows that the message has finally gotten through that he has to worry about more than staying in office.

Speaking of Schr�der: The German press reports I've seen have him loudly patting himself on the back for removing the words "time is running out" from the final joint declaration. That suggests that he'll now go along quietly with the rest, as long as he gets to crow about what a committed pacifist he is.

I think we're through the worst of the diplomatic strife now. Unless Chirac has another trick up his sleeve, is truly clueless or is willing to bet everything (and I mean everything) on going another round against the rest of Europe and the US, the rhetoric should subside and the diplomats will get together to draft a new resolution that gives everyone enough cover to claim they stood by their principles. Germany will be more-or-less forgiven, but Schr�der is probably doomed. NATO will survive, but with an updated charter and possibly without France. The new Iraqi government will throw out the TotalFinaElf deal, but I'm not sure what else will happen to France.

So that's what I see in my crystal ball. Comments?
:: Erik | 2/17/2003 10:21:00 PM | | ::

Steven den Beste is puzzled by a TIME magazine interview with Chirac, in which he praises the American military buildup in the Persian Gulf. Some excerpts:

And if we do that, there can be no doubt that it will be due in large part to the presence of American forces on the spot. If there hadn't been U.S. soldiers present, Saddam might not have agreed to play the game.

If Iraq is stripped of its weapons of mass destruction and that's been verified by the inspectors, then Mr. Bush can say two things: first, "Thanks to my intervention, Iraq has been disarmed," and second, "I achieved all that without spilling any blood." In the life of a statesman, that counts�no blood spilled.

I was puzzled too, at first, but that puzzlement has been percolating long enough that a hypothesis is emerging:
Chirac thinks that he has won the struggle in the Security Council and that the demonstrations this weekend clinched the deal. By praising Bush in an interview, Chirac thinks he's offering the President an honorable way to climb down.

Seen in this light, France's actions over the past few weeks are a bit less incomprehensible. Chirac wasn't worried about damaging the UN because he was confident that he could manage the situation to play out pretty much as it has. Now Bush is in the box and Chirac has racked up the points, so he can magnanimously offer a (somewhat) face-saving exit.

After all, that's how the game is played, isn't it? Sorry you lost this round, old chap. Better luck next time.

I fear that Chirac has made a fatal miscalculation. Bush isn't playing a game; he sincerely believes that Saddam has to go and he won't flinch if he has to damage or even destroy the UN in the process of removing him. For all the rhetoric about cowboys and simplistic Americans, Chirac didn't truly believe that he was facing one.

The consequences of that mistake will be staggering.

Update: Steven responds that he doesn't think Chirac could be that stupid. I agree that Chirac is no idiot, but I'm starting to wonder about how his view of the world differs from America's (see the previous two posts for more no the topic of world views). I no longer completely discount the notion that Chirac's world-view simply doesn't accomodate the notion that Bush will go ahead anyway. I'm far from certain of this hypothesis myself, but it should become obvious fairly soon. If this is what's going on, look for Chirac to change tone and direction sharply the second he realizes that he's not playing for Monopoly money.

Update: Does Chirac's tirade count as a change in tone and direction?

Update: Welcome InstaPundit readers -- come on in and have a look around. Here is another post with further thoughts about the EU meeting and what comes next.

:: Erik | 2/17/2003 01:46:00 AM | | ::
:: Sunday, February 16, 2003 ::
If you haven't seen it yet, go read Vinod's excellent analysis of some of the major differences between the American and European points-of-view.
:: Erik | 2/16/2003 07:49:00 PM | | ::

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