January 14, 2005

The Emptiest Words

"Nous approchons, avec les élections du 30 janvier, d'une étape capitale pour la réussite de ce processus. La France souhaite qu'elle soit franchie avec succès", a déclaré Jacques Chirac lors de son entretien avec Ghazi Al-Yaouar, dont la présence constitue une première, les registres de l'Elysée ne portant aucune trace d'une précédente visite d'un président irakien en France.

Le président français a souligné "la détermination de la France à poursuivre son engagement aux côtés du peuple irakien", a poursuivi le porte-parole.

-- Jacques Chirac, expressing France's hope that Iraqi elections prove a success, as quoted in today's Le Monde.

Posted by Gregory at 05:50 AM | Comments (0)

January 13, 2005

Mailbag

A reader who wishes to remain anonymous, reacting to this earlier B.D. post, writes in:

Your posting on the new "ism" and the need for a cultural and intellectual persuasion is very apt. During the Cold War, magazines such as Encounter provided an intellectual platform for intellectuals on both sides of the Atlantic to share views and develop a common agenda. Unfortunately, Encounter turned out to be subsidized by the CIA and therefore lost its legitimacy when this was disclosed. The concept, however, remains valuable, and long before 9/11, there has been a need for shared intellectual and cultural ventures that encourage ideals of tolerance and freedom across conventional national and religious boundaries.

During the American Civil War, Francis Lieber led the Loyal Publication Society and its efforts to use persuasion on behalf of the Union. Lieber was the preeminent legal academic in mid-nineteenth-century America, and he well understood cultural differences, for he was a refugee from Germany. Today, the sort of publication we need has changed--no longer pamphlets, but the internet, radio, and television. The goal, however, of defending our ideals and of doing so by means that transcend the burdens of government organization has not passed with time. If anything, our failure to recognize the power of ideals makes the need for such an effort all the more important.

Speaking of the mailbag, I'm somewhat behind on the blog-mail. Please be assured I read everything that comes in--but don't appear to have time to reply to all of it on a consistent basis. My apologies, but do keep it coming. I like the feedback and, to stress, do read it all (as with all comments, btw).

Posted by Gregory at 04:25 AM | Comments (2)

September 19, 2004

"Old Europe Is as Good as New"...

...was the contrived soundbite that new Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero had all teed up for the love-in summitry with French President Chirac and German Chancellor Schroder this past week:

Calling himself and his guests "fervent pro-Europeans," Zapatero said that Germany, France and Spain had agreed to jointly begin a public-awareness campaign on the EU constitution and are committed to building a strong and unified Continent.

But in many ways symbolism appeared to be more important than substance on Monday night.

The 44-year-old Spanish prime minister summarized the talks by referring to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's characterization of France, Germany and other nations opposed to the Iraq campaign as "the old Europe."

"If I had to describe the atmosphere of this meeting in just a few words, I would say 'the old Europe' is as good as new," Zapatero said during a joint press conference following the talks.

Chirac pointed out that none of the three leaders intended to change their position on Iraq. "We have opened a Pandora's box in Iraq that we are unable to close," he said. "The situation is very serious and it is not getting better."

Put aside Chirac's naseauting statement (the disingenuous evocation of the royal "we"; the schadenfreude-laden Pandora's Box reference, the obligatory it's serious and getting worse hand-wringing, and the, just in case you were wondering--we don't plan on helping any with this big Anglo-Saxon generated mess).

Focus instead on what else these three estimable leaders (who seemingly hadn't deigned to invite Tony and Silvio to their little shindig) were cooking up last Monday. Well, this, for one.

Speaking to reporters at the EU meeting, France's defense minister restated Paris' doubts about training Iraqis in Iraq.

"We in France continue to believe that this training should be done outside Iraq," Michele Alliot-Marie said. "Iraq has to find its own sense of identity and I don't think the addition of more foreigners in uniform will help that."

Diplomats said French concerns focused on whether U.S. Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who commands the American training operation in Iraq, also could head the NATO mission under a "double-hat" arrangement allowing him to report back to alliance headquarters.

French diplomats last week expressed concern about the alliance operation becoming "subservient" to the U.S.-led coalition.

Belgium mostly was concerned about how to share the costs of the mission, wanting more of the expenses to be covered by participating allies and not common NATO funds.

Belgium, France, Germany and Spain have said they will not send instructors into Iraq.

However, German Defense Minister Peter Struck said German military experts would instruct Iraqi military engineers and vehicle maintenance units in the United Arab Emirates. He said further training on mine-clearance likely would be conducted in Germany.

Think about all this for a second. Germany, quite disingenuously in my view, is trying to play a more 'transatlantic friendly' policy by training a few vehicle maintenance units in the environs of Dubai (see, we are being more helpful than the French!) Spain votes for nada help in Iraq. France quibbles about chain of command issues (surtout pas de 'subservience'!) and wants to avoid any NATO 'flag' in Iraq. And Belgium, incredibly, is quibbling over a few Euros regarding whether funds for such a training mission would come from national budgets or pooled NATO funds.

I have to say, even as a pretty committed trans-atlanticist, this gets me pretty steamed. Bear with me, just for kicks, and take a brief moment to recall all the U.S. assistance to Europe in the past odd century. The Doughboys in St. Ettiene during WWI. The shores of Normandy in the Second World War. Think about the almost five long decades of the Cold War as the Soviet Union loomed over Berlin. Think about the horrific carnage in Bosnia that the European governments couldn't solve until the U.S. intervened. Think about the mammoth Marshall Plan and the lead American role in NATO which, lest we forget, served as a bulwark against Soviet expansionism for these long decades too.

Now recall the death of 3,000 Americans in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania three years back. Think also about, if 3,000 had been slaughtered in Berlin or Paris, how their leaders might have reacted. Might not, even a feckless figure like Chirac, thought of potentially employing preventive means against an enemy that had tried to kill one of his predecessors, had used WMD against his own people, had started two wars in a region critical to his national interest, had ties with terror groups (even if no operational ones with the group responsible for the immediate massacre), had not expressed any regret about said attacks and was thought to possess stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons that might be transferred to terror groups? Might not, for argument's sake, it be possible that Germany or France might have, just maybe, gotten a little 'carried away' after such a national trauma in their leading city and gotten deeply involved in a country like Iraq?

Look, whatever you make of the Iraq mission, it is beyond doubt that success there is critical to the stability of the vastly important Middle Eastern region and beyond. This is a point Tony Blair made forcefully today during Iyad Allawi's visit to London. And, of course, training and equipping a viable Iraqi Army is a major component of trying to make the Iraq project successful. Can we not expect more from our European 'allies' in assisting this effort?

Well, not much; not much at all (though ultimately they will likely concede enough to allow a de minimis NATO train and equip effort in and around Iraq). Instead, it's pretty clear what's going on. Germany is offering up a 'vehicle maintenance' program to curry favor with naive Washington players who think Berlin is playing nice-nice to France's inglorious repudiation of any responsibility in trying to resuscitate the imperiled Iraq project. Belgium, as Eurocrats are wont to do, is busy pinching pennies (sorry, Euros). Zapatero is playing young, poster-boy puppy to Gerard and Jacques to rejuvenate Old Europe with a breath of Spanish 44-year old (and quite underwhelming) panache. And Chirac is rubbing Bush's nose in the Iraq imbroglio--fighting a rear-guard action to try to help Kerry get in. If Kerry does prevail, Chirac will receive him regally in Paris ("I have been to Paris" the Senator will doubtless solemnly intone again). Paris will finally offer up some cosmetic assistance with more alacrity--some gendarmerie will be trained in a neighboring country or (even!) Iraq itself perhaps. There will be talk of rapprochment in the air.

You know, rather than have our Ambassador to NATO have to endure this cheap and disheartening carpet-bazaar bartering process in Brussels--perhaps his time would be better spent focusing instead on pushing through a dramatic overhaul of NATO. The Soviet Union no longer menaces Western Europe, of course. The new perils of this century are that of asymmetric warfare, global terror, rogue nations and transnational terror cells. Sure, anyone has the right to disagree with the merits of the Iraq war--but no one can seriously deny that international terrorists like Zarqawi are now operating there. A serious French leader (like Nicolas Sarkozy, for instance) would understand this and put an end to this tedious 'will we, won't we' debate on the minute NATO assistance being offered up on training of Iraqi forces.

In the absence of real help and while a reinvigorated NATO is forged, we should query the French (and Belgians) regarding whether they really wish to remain in the alliance. The HQ in Brussels, after all, can be moved to Warsaw, Milan, or hell, Manchester. And those who might choose to remain in the soi disant alliance, like the Germans, would have to offer up a little more than vehicle maintenance units and such.

After all, many are likely happy to see NATO wither away into irrelevance it seems:

...NATO has failed the most important test, namely to ensure that its members continue to see its success as essential to their interests.

That they no longer do so is deeply disturbing. It reflects less on the shortcomings of the organization than on the shortsightedness of its members. True, their security from military attack is currently no longer at stake. But NATO is more than just a defense pact.

Like no other institution, NATO embodies Atlantic cohesion, something that remains essential for any Western effort to promote a degree of international order. NATO links Europe to the world's most powerful country and uniquely ties the United States to a common procedure of consultation and cooperation. Moreover, it is the only organization capable of generating international military operations for the many stability-building tasks that lie ahead.

European governments, therefore, are crazy not to support NATO. To watch it wither is at best frivolous, at worst dangerous. Instead of blaming the Bush administration and hoping for a change of government in the US, European members need to make NATO their own concern again. This does not imply kowtowing to every American view and whim or foregoing efforts to strengthen European defense cooperation. It does mean undertaking to make NATO again the place where both sides of the Atlantic develop a common approach to the dangers of this world.

Unfortunately, most European governments merely shrug their shoulders when the issue is raised. That dangerous indifference is the most serious sign of NATO's crisis.

Indeed.

Look, allies, like good friends, have occasional disagreements. But they do not try to block at every turn. Yes, it's true--we didn't want NATO to come into Afghanistan initially. We had just lost 3,000 of our civilians--and speed was of the essence. Friends, of course, might understand this. Now speed is less critical in places like Afghanistan where we are engaged in a long-term nation-building exercise. And so, yeah, we'd love to have a greater NATO presence there now--preferably without needing to have the NATO Secretary-General beg for every other helicopter or extra troop contingent with cup in hand. Or beg for a few trainers to teach Iraqi police (let alone army) recruits. At some point, enough is enough--you have to call a spade a spade. If some in Europe want to relegate NATO to irrelevance--perhaps we should help the process along. A 'new and improved' NATO, leaner (sans the likely candidates) and more attuned to the panoply of threats confronting us in the 21st century might be a good start.

Or, people need to get serious, and fast. Assuming basic alliance responsibilities would be a good start. After all, two alliance members alone have about 150,000 troops on the ground in Iraq right now. And NATO, to date, has only assisted with some logistical support to a Polish-led multinational contigent. That's just not going to cut it. If key NATO country leaders don't get this--we should give them a last chance to better understand the dynamics at play--and what all of us in the Atlantic Community lose if they don't better assume their responsibilities. If they aren't willing to help, or don't care, well (and with regret), we'll have to draw the obvious conclusions and move along. History, and alliances, are always in flux. As Palmerston said, "there are no permanent allies, only permanent interests." Perhaps the interests of Brussels in the post-Cold War, post-9/11 era simply are no longer those of Washington (ironically, post-Beslan, anti-NATO Russia's are likely closer to Washington's than the likes of Belgium's are...).

NB: On a slightly different topic, I'll have more on growing U.S.-Russian cooperation (including the potential perils thereto) in the security sphere soon.

Posted by Gregory at 06:04 PM | Comments (46)

July 01, 2004

The State of Chirac

A rather intriguing little masthead over at Le Monde.

C'est un combat d'arrire-garde qui illustre le dilemme de Jacques Chirac : ne pas s'opposer ˆ la reconstruction d'un Irak "souverain" sans pour autant se renier. C'est aussi une position d'attente qui est censŽe permettre de coopŽrer avec John Kerry, s'il gagne l'Žlection prŽsidentielle, mais n'empchera pas de vivre avec George W. Bush, s'il est rŽŽlu.
Translation: It's a rear-guard action that illustrates Jacques Chirac's dilemma: to not oppose the reconstruction of a sovereign Iraq while not disavowing [his previously held positions on Iraq]. It's also a 'wait and see' position that is meant to allow him to cooperate with John Kerry, if he wins the presidential election, but wouldn't prevent him from living with George W. Bush, if he is re-elected.

Well, no big surprises there.

But there's more from Le Monde.

Per their narrative, the U.S. has wanted two things of late: 1) international legitimacy for the Iraq project and, relatedly 2) more NATO involvement there.

Chirac gave Bush "1" via the recently passed U.N. resolution on Iraq.

But, on "2", he's treading very carefully--giving Bush just enough (likely training Iraqi gendarmes in Paris suburbs or such) to not totally piss Bush off--but not so much as to cut into his street cred with the anti-war crowd in France.

Chirac's current popularity levels are depressingly low (depressingly for him, at least)--so he likely hopes his neo-Gaullist bluster (don't tell me whether I need to let the Turks into the E.U.; no NATO "flag" in Iraq etc) will play well to the crowds.

There is a problem with all this calculus, however.

Chirac is increasingly isolated within NATO (the masthead is, ironically doubtless, entitled "Splendid Isolation").

In fact, the French are looking more isolated than the Americans (don't expect Paul Krugman or MaDo to clue you in re: this, however).

As I argued in a post yesterday, it's crunch-time for serious players to now forge a trans-atlantic rapprochment.

Even Le Monde, if reluctantly, is coming around to this view. And, more important, I suspect, influential political/business elites in France (think Sarkozy, guys at places like Lazard, Paribas, SocGen etc).

I suspect there is not insignificant frustration in these quarters (senior French bankers/lawyers and rightist, Atlanticist-oriented politicians) that Chirac is proving to engage in such thinly veiled obstructionism now well over a year out from the end of major combat in Iraq.

It looks like, to help Chirac from continuing to make such crude miscalculations, we're going to need to push him along a bit more forcefully.

How?

Not by boycotting French wines (contrary to what you hear, they are better than their Aussie and Chilean counterparts...) or taking the French out of Fries.

Rather, U.S. diplomats should now, as much as possible (and whilst holding their noses) curry favor with Schroder so as to peel him away from Chirac.

Let's get German committments for quite substantial training of Iraqi officers in places like the UAE, Turkey and Jordan (dangle a couple carrots to Berlin if need be, fewer bases and such to be relocated to Eastern Europe, for instance).

Then various actors need to go to Chirac and tell him to step up to bat and keep up with the Germans.

After all, the state of the Franco-German union is strong! Shouldn't these two close friends be operating in lock-step? Committing a similar degree of resources in, respectively, Afghanistan and Iraq?

More than any of this, bien sur, Chirac is looking at Bush's poll numbers. If they start to trend up Chirac will likely start playing ball more readily.

He's used to awkward co-habitations--but doesn't want to make another four years with Dubya too awkward!

Developing.

Posted by Gregory at 12:57 AM | Comments (17)

June 29, 2004

NATO In Iraq: A Coalition of the Willing Within NATO?

So, to what extent will NATO be getting involved in Iraq?

Optimists (and pessimists!) point to the NATO statement on Iraq announced in Istanbul.

Here's the text of the statement with the key language highlighted:

We, the 26 Heads of State and Government of the nations of the Atlantic Alliance, meeting in Istanbul, declare our full support for the independence, sovereignty, unity, and territorial integrity of the Republic of Iraq and for strengthening of freedom, democracy, human rights, rule of law and security for all the Iraqi people.

We welcome the unanimous adoption of Security Council Resolution 1546 under Chapter 7 of the Charter of the United Nations as an important step towards Iraq's political transition to democratic government. We pledge our full support for the effective implementation of UNSCR 1546.

"We are united in our support for the Iraqi people and offer full cooperation to the new sovereign Interim Government as it seeks to strengthen internal security and prepare the way to national elections in 2005.

"We deplore and call for an immediate end to all terrorist attacks in Iraq. Terrorist activities in and from Iraq also threaten the security of its neighbours and the region as a whole.

"We continue to support Poland in its leadership of the multinational division in south central Iraq. We also acknowledge the efforts of nations, including many NATO Allies, in the Multinational Force for Iraq, which is present in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi government and in accordance with UNSCR 1546. We fully support the Multinational Force in its mission to help restore and maintain security, including protection of the United Nations presence, under its mandate from the Security Council.

"In response to the request of the Iraqi Interim Government, and in accordance with Resolution 1546 which requests international and regional organisations to contribute assistance to the Multinational Force, we have decided today to offer NATO's assistance to the government of Iraq with the training of its security forces. We therefore also encourage nations to contribute to the training of the Iraqi armed forces.

"We have asked the North Atlantic Council to develop on an urgent basis the modalities to implement this decision with the Iraqi Interim Government.

"We have also asked the North Atlantic Council to consider, as a matter of urgency and on the basis of a report by the Secretary General, further proposals to support the nascent Iraqi security institutions in response to the request of the Iraqi Interim Government and in accordance with UNSCR 1546.

The italicized language above, of course, means nothing.

It's merely an expression of solidarity with the Poles and other NATO member countries that happen to be on the ground in Iraq already.

It involves no explicit nor implicit going forward obligation on behalf of NATO.

That said, the bolded language does mean something.

What, skeptics ask?

Well, NATO has at least now formally met and adopted a policy that explicitly calls for offering "NATO's assistance to the government of Iraq with the training of its security forces."

Some observers are poo-pooing this as mere political theatrics.

Here's Ivo Daalder as quoted in the New York Times:

It's a political declaration with no real practical meaning. Countries that will provide training were doing so before the declaration, and I doubt that countries that were not will now be so inclined.

Is Daalder right?

The French view, as showcased over at Le Monde (French language), would seem to bolster Daalder's view.

In that article, entitled "A Minimal Accord Found at NATO to Assist Iraq," the view from Paris is basically thus: 1) the French pushed for "as little NATO as possible" and got it; 2) aid/training to Iraq forces was approved in principle, but the modalities will need to be worked out in future meetings (and are still open for debate); and 3) there is concern in the French delegation of "slippage," ie. technical/training support leading to actual bona fide troop committments.

Here is a quote from a member of the French delegation that highlights perhaps the key issue: "La mission de formation revient aux Etats ; ce texte ne lance pas une opŽration collective qui aurait permis ds aujourd'hui de planter le drapeau de l'OTAN en Irak."

Paraphrasing, from the French perspective then, NATO has assumed no collective obligations post-Istanbul regarding Iraq (including training of Iraqi forces). Rather, such obligations merely run to individual states within NATO so that "no NATO flag is planted in Iraq."

That's really the core issue in all of this, isn't it?

Is NATO a collective alliance that undertakes actions jointly (albeit with specific troop country mixes and numbers etc hammered out case by case)?

Or are we defining the alliance down whereby empty declarations are made (often for domestic political reasons) that don't have any material carry-on effect in the real world?

In my view, and perhaps I'm being too optimistic, I think NATO is still more the former than the latter.

Put differently, I don't necessarily think NATO is dying a slow death because of the end of the Cold War (no Soviet threat), the faltering NATO effort in Afghanistan, and the lack of more NATO involvement in Iraq.

More specifically, and re: Iraq, I suspect Daalder is likely wrong that no new countries will enter the mix.

While Schroder and Chirac nixed the idea of sending any German or French forces (under a NATO flag or otherwise) to Iraq to train Iraqi forces--they have confirmed they will train Iraqi police (France) and Iraqi officers (Germany) in locations outside Iraq (at least per the Le Monde article linked above).

Also worth bearing in mind? Recently, elite opinion on both sides of the Atlantic continues to focus on the need for a trans-atlantic rapprochment.

And I'd wager that a post-Istanbul consensus is going to emerge that has the proving ground for achieving such cooperation being material assistance for training of Iraqi forces.

To help constitute an effective rapprochment, such training will need to be undertaken by many NATO members--if to varying degrees--but in a manner that looks to be the product of a collective, coordinated, cohesive alliance at work.

I still think that will be the likely outcome once all the details get hammered out in Brussels.

Put differently, and per my title to this post, I don't think we are now merely casting about for coalitions of the willing within NATO.

P.S. NATO needs urgent help in Afghanistan too. The parties (like France and Germany) that look to just be making modest contributions in Iraq should step up more significantly in Afghanistan.

There are more than two million military personnel in the forces of the European NATO allies," Bereuter said, "yet only two percent of those forces are deployed on NATO missions in Afghanistan and the Balkans.

"The NATO allies have promised to make more than 1,000 infantry companies available for NATO missions. They have promised to make more than 2,000 helicopters available for NATO missions. They have promised to make almost 300 transport aircraft available for NATO missions. Yet, for the mission in Afghanistan, the allies seemingly cannot find a few more infantry companies, cannot find a few more helicopters, and cannot find a few more transport aircraft that are essential to avoid failure.

"This is a failure of political will, pure and simple," Bereuter said. "It is a failure that jeopardizes the success of the mission in Afghanistan and jeopardizes the very credibility of the Alliance."

Pas serieux, as the French might say.

That said, per the NATO summit in Istanbul, a little more help is on the way (text from NYT article linked above):

NATO leaders also announced Monday that the alliance would expand its security role in Afghanistan, fulfilling a political pledge the alliance made months ago. They have cobbled together enough forces and equipment Ñ including helicopters, cargo planes and quick-reaction forces Ñ to honor the agreement. Under the plan, NATO would expand to about 10,000 troops from the 6,500-member force in and around Kabul, the Afghan capital, to operate a total of five provincial civilian-military reconstruction teams.

Developing.

Posted by Gregory at 11:06 AM

June 14, 2004

Euro-Elections

Blair and Berlusconi fared poorly at the polls.

It must be the Iraq "shadow", of course!

Except, of course, that Schroder and Chirac's parties fared just as poorly (if not worse, it's a close call).

In the U.K, it bears mentioning, the nefarious specter of Brussels appeared, by far, a bigger factor than that of Baghdad.

And don't miss this gem:

"Despite the reverse, President Jacques Chirac and Jean-Pierre Raffarin, his prime minister, are expected to exploit the historically low turnout to play down the extent of the UMP's poor performance. Before the vote Mr Raffarin observed the vote could not be construed as aimed against the government: "It is Europe which is in question: the response will be one of mistrust or trust towards Europe...."

"As an indication of popular priorities, TF1, the main TV channel, cut its usual practice of devoting an entire evening to election results.

Instead it mixed election results with its main news for half an hour and then went on to transmit the France-England game in the group stage of the Euro 2004 football championships
."

Leaders rubbish sentiment towards Brussels to explain away their poor electoral showings while, meanwhile, the masses are more keen to take in the soccer games unfolding in Portugal.

You think, perhaps, that the long-term success of the supra-national EU project might appear in some doubt (that's a rhetorical question)?

Note, of course, that EU unification was always more of a top-down, elite-driven project.

So the fact that Raffarin is so quick to poo-pooh sentiment towards Euro-land--to explain away his own parties' electoral shortcomings--well, it speaks volumes.

Note too, of course, that structural unemployment and reforms contributed to the Euro-wide protest vote.

Posted by Gregory at 09:01 PM