August 11, 2004 | Commentary on National Security and Defense
"Save me from my friends. My enemies I can handle myself." That
used to be one of my father's favorite sayings, and I must confess
that when I was a child, it did not seem to make a whole lot of
sense. It's only later you realize that not all friends are true
friends. On the other hand, you can always be fairly certain who
your enemies are.
This may be a lesson that Sen. John Kerry still has to learn when it comes to our "friends" and "allies" in Europe. And conversely, Europeans who are positively salivating at the thought of a Kerry victory in November may be in for a rude awakening of their own. While both sides behave as though this would be a match made in heaven, the premises on which it would be based are more doubtful.
Of course, it is entirely possible that Europeans will have to deal with a second Bush administration. If recent policy modifications in Washington are any indication, they will be dealing with a Bush White House that is more likely to listen to their demands in the hope of greater cooperation. So far, that tactic has failed, and cooperation has hardly materialized in any substantial way.
At the Democratic convention and repeatedly in interviews since then, Mr. Kerry and his running mate, Sen. John Edwards, have made Europe a key factor in their foreign-policy statements. Both stress that they want "to restore our respect in the world to bring our allies to us and with us." "It's how we won the World Wars and the Cold War and it's how we will build a stable Iraq," as Mr. Edwards stated at the Democratic convention. The thinking in Democratic circles is that in the event of a Kerry victory, once a new leaf has been turned, the dialogue with Europe can start anew and a golden era will dawn in trans-Atlantic relations.
Specifically, Mr. Kerry has promised to withdraw American troops from Iraq on an accelerated schedule (though not immediately), bring NATO into Iraq and find European troops to replace the exiting GIs. Mind you, these are not simply statements of foreign policy goals, but campaign promises made explicitly by Messrs. Kerry and Edwards.
Mr. Kerry, for instance, has proposed an international donor conference on Iraq, much like the Bonn conference on Afghanistan, and suggested placing a European in charge of handling reconstruction contracts for Iraq - in return for the commitment of NATO troops. One senior Kerry adviser told the Financial Times bluntly that the departure of Mr. Bush would deprive our friends across the Atlantic of the excuse for inaction in Iraq: "We would put the Europeans on the spot."
The problem with this line of thinking is that it assumes that certain European leaders are motivated solely by animus against President Bush. This will surely turn out to be a miscalculation. True, no one should underestimate the personal peeve felt by French President Jacques Chirac against both Mr. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, but even with a change in leadership in Washington, French national interests would not change. Mr. Chirac is adamantly opposed to the use of NATO as an instrument of American power in any way, shape or form, and wants to balance the power of the United States with that of Europe.
It is equally hard to imagine German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder committing troops, given the huge public uproar that would ensue in Germany. Or, how about Spain? Can anyone imagine Spain's new government doing a 180-degree turn to recommit Spanish troops to Iraq? As for Mr. Blair, he has already increased British troop levels to the point that he has no more to send.
The question is whether anyone in Europe is thinking about the next step beyond the U.S. election. We can count on Mr. Blair to be one of the first visitors to the White House. Mr. Blair's strategy has always been to cleave closely to the American president in power without regard to party affiliation. At the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, diplomats are undoubtedly busy thinking up gestures to welcome a new Democratic president without jeopardizing their long-held positions.
Be assured, however, that in the event of a Kerry presidency, symbolic gestures would be the order of the day, but the substance of the relationship is unlikely to undergo much change. How then would Mr. Kerry fulfill his campaign promises?
Helle Dale is director of Foreign Policy and Defense Studies at the Heritage Foundation. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
First appeared in The Washington Times