Backpedaling, off message or something else? According to this report in the German Press, Colin Powell gave a radio interview in France (to air on Saturday) in which he disavowed most of the speech that President Bush gave earlier this week and stated that the administration's goal is to disarm Saddam.
This doesn't make sense to me, at first blush. I can't believe that Powell is that much of a loose cannon, but I can't see how it fits any sort of coordinated strategy. It's late where I am (Seattle), so I'll sleep on it and maybe have a theory in the morning. I suppose it's possible that the report is false -- I haven't found it anywhere else yet (in either the German- or English-language press).
Update: The interview is getting pretty much the same response from Der Spiegel and FAZ
Update: Thanks to blogger Amiland, who sent along a link to the audio of the interview (and the FAZ article cited above). Listen for yourself, but it seems to me like ordinary diplomatic positioning on Powell's part that's being overinterpreted by the German press.
:: Erik | 3/01/2003 03:27:00 AM | | ::
:: Friday, February 28, 2003 ::
The wages of sin, redux.
A few days ago, Merde in France made suggested punishing France with more than a boycott, with policies that encourage corporations to move from France to "new" Europe.
Today, Charles Krauthammer outlines a much more comprehensive approach. He suggests:
Adding Japan and India as new permanent members of the security council.
No role for France in Iraq - no peacekeeping, no oil contracts, and France should be last on the list for debt repayment.
Begin laying the ground for a new alliance to replace obsolete cold war alliances
I agree and have said so before, but it has to be done "right." First off, heavy handed or inappropriate retaliation will just give Chirac yet another excuse to complain about the big bad hyperpower. Secondly, it has to be part of a comprehensive policy designed to reward and strengthen the bonds between like-minded allies.
Krauthammer's suggestions mostly fit the bill. I'd add:
Expand existing free trade zones or create new zones to encompass allies (e.g. Turkey, New Europe, selected parts of Old Europe).
Locking France out of Iraq is appropriate but has to be handled carefully:
Reconstruction contracts and peacekeeping duties are properly the responsibility of the provisional authorities (presumably a military administration at first) who would be fully within their rights to lock France out.
The administration would be wise to get administration of the oil fields under some form of nominally independent (civilian Iraqi or multi-nation) control as soon as possible; direct American control of Iraqi oil for any length of time will just feed the blood for oil crowd. The degree of French involvement during reconstruction is up to those authorities to decide. In the long term, it will be up to the government of Iraq to decide who gets contracts.
Decisions about which debts take priority will also be the responsibility of the US government. The US can't just move France to the bottom of the list on their own.
Now, I wouldn't expect the new government of Iraq to be terribly well disposed towards France, but the US can't dictate or even openly encourage that they punish France. They have to decide that on their own.
The US can craft policies that aren't good for France, but they can't be too direct or obvious and they'll have to be presented carefully. For example:
Instead of just paying for the reconstruction of Iraq, the US could structure it as debt and then campaign for all industrial nations to forgive debt on humanitarian grounds. Net cost to the US: Nothing they didn't expect to pay. Net cost to France and Russia: billions
Encouraging companies to move out of France is a possibility, but it has to be presented as "encouraging investment in developing Europe" rather than "discouraging investment in France."
Winning back the respect and support of the world is an important goal, but now is not the time -- there just isn't enough common ground for a discussion right now. Both sides argue from deeply held beliefs and richly imagined scenarios:
The anti-war imagination conjures up a brutal war with carpet bombing of cities and widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure, followed by military occupation of Iraqi oil fields, haphazard and minimal reconstruction elsewhere and an eventual transition to a brutal new thug on the American payroll. The pro-liberation imagination yields a short, surgical war with minimal harm to civilians, followed by a reconstruction effort along the lines of the Marshall plan and an eventual transition to a modern, multi-ethnic democracy. Each side thinks the other is being ridiculous, and cynicism leads to a search for ulterior motives.
The only antidote to this mutual cynicism is counterexample. By making the moral case for regime change and outlining a positive vision for the reconstruction of Iraq, President Bush has laid a solid foundation. If the administration follows through on those words, a postwar campaign to win back world (or at least western) opinion should bear fruit. If it proves to have been posturing and empty rhetoric, cynicism will be validated and the damage will multiply.
So what does this all mean? For the administration it means a serious commitment to a scrupulously fair and ethical reconstruction program, and those who support regime change in Iraq will have to hold the administration's feet to the fire to make sure that happens. It also means that we all should keep the conversation as civil as possible -- when the shooting stops and it's time to build the consensus notion of what just happened, the last thing anyone wants is to have already alienated people who might otherwise have been convinced.
:: Erik | 2/27/2003 11:52:00 AM | | ::
President Bush said all the right things as he outlined his vision for the reconstruction of Iraq. Voters are cynical enough these days that words alone won't win many people over, but by presenting a strong moral vision for postwar Iraq, he laid the foundation for a campaign to win back public support after the war.
If his words represent a genuine commitment to helping Iraq rebuild as a modern, multiethnic democracy, then this could mark a turning point for public attitudes. Decades of cold war Realpolitik have eroded postwar goodwill and left the majority deeply cynical -- cynical to the point that the idea that any nation can behave morally and responsibility gets less consideration than some truly absurd conspiracy theories.
If words are matched by action and the Bush administration comes through with a comprehensive, popular and fair plan for postwar reconstruction and executes that plan effectively and ethically, that might start to change. One good turn won't erase decades of distrust or usher in a new era of peace, love and understanding, but it could win back some self-respect for the west and help positive idealism stage a comeback.
If this is all spin, on the other hand -- if Bush is merely constructing a cheerful facade for lackluster, unfair or unethical postwar plans, he'll strike a mortal blow to any remaining credibility, respect or affection for America throughout the west. Cynicism, already rampant, will triumph and the nations of the world will line up to either support or oppose the US in earnest, driven by cool calculations of national self-interest. In short, we'll enter a new Cold War and an era of realpolitik.
President Bush has set forth a clear, strong and moral case; now he has to live up to his words. We can all only hope that he understands what's at stake.
:: Erik | 2/27/2003 12:41:00 AM | | ::
:: Wednesday, February 26, 2003 ::
Methinks he doth protest too much:The Wall Street Journal ran an article (subscription required) critical of the Belgian military last week. It pointed out that the high cost of labor reduces capital expenditures, with the result that the Belgian military (and European militaries in general) are underequipped. Although critical, the article is hardly inflammatory.
To normal humans, that is. The Belgian minister of defense responded with a sputtering tirade (subscription required) that has to be read to be believed. He starts out by (somewhat incoherently) accusing the Journal of being unprofessional, vulgar, unfair and of prostituting itself. And of, er, "deriding the concept of objectivity." He then proceeds to demonstrate what apparently passes for professionalism, civil discourse and objectivity in the Belgian government:
Yes, the primary mission of our armed forces is to maintain the peace and to help the civilian population (Belgian or foreign), without being belligerent or being convinced of having been elected by a higher authority to keep watch over the world order.
Yes, we spend a reasonable budget that corresponds to our bilateral and international obligations, but we refuse to squander our public funds for the sole purpose of national glory, since we prefer to spend them on social affairs, health care and pensions for our fellow citizens. In none of these fields do we have lessons to receive from anyone else, to whatever extent this may annoy them. ...
For the quality of information of your fellow citizens, for the honor of American journalism, for the respect toward the men and women of my department, I sincerely hope you will cease to believe yourselves the keeper of universal wisdom. ...
Repeating my sympathy for the entire American people, which, I am convinced, is able to distinguish between truth and lies, I hereby transmit you a series of objective facts you have denied to take into account with such blindness. Or could it be stupidity, for which I'll grant you credit.
[ skipping ahead to "objective fact" #8: ]
8. Americans may spend 22% on equipment, but they have a global strategy and must support a large nuclear strategic posture (that is oversized for the defense of their territory but undersized to control the entire planet) which has repercussions on working and investment expenses and consequently reduces proportionally the part of personnel expenses.
Sneering anti-Americanism is conduct unbecoming of a high official of a supposed ally, and it's oddly out of place in a response to a newspaper article.
I know and have worked with (ex-) Belgian military people. They were decent and honorable to a fault and I'm certain they'd be mortified at this undignified outburst ostensibly in their name. If he has a shred of dignity, decency, or respect for his government or military, Mr. Flahaut should resign.
:: Erik | 2/26/2003 05:47:00 AM | | ::