Tuesday, January 11

Even Wendy had to grow up

"Dear Pundita:
I got so angry at the French after I learned they sold weapons to Saddam even when they knew we were planning to invade Iraq. I stopped drinking French wine and threw away my French cookbooks although I got them out the trash after I realized I couldn't live without them. My blood boiled all over again when I read your essay about the Chirac school of foreign policy. At least Tony Blair has been a good friend to America and democracy.
[Signed] Caesar in San Francisco

Dear Caesar:

To expect that any government in that vast contiguous bunch of nations across the Pond is going to be "friends" with any other government is expecting too much of human nature.

Tony Blair was not acting as a "good friend" to America when he sided with Bush on Iraq. He was acting in Britain's best interests. Germany and France had gained too much power in the EU, from the viewpoint of several British MPs and their constituents. The Germany-France-Belgium-Luxemborg alliance threatened to marginalize Britain. Blair's decision to join Bush's "coalition of the willing" in Iraq was a brilliant strategy for helping Britain right the balance of power.

Now before you get so disappointed with Blair that you never to eat plum pudding again, you need to put the concept of "alliance" in context. This is what--the eighth TV season of Survivor? So, Americans should know by now that alliances are very conditional. The alliance lasts as long as both parties find it useful; all bets are off the moment one party's interests diverge from the alliance's rationale.

There are Survivor contestants who become friends after their time in the game is ended. But only the most hypocritical or naive among them expect that vows of friendship during the game signal any more than strategy.

In the same maner, if Tony Blair wasn't a national leader he could be considered a good friend to America. I think he genuinely likes Americans and that he has very deep gratitude for the help the US gave Britain during the two world wars. But you need to look at the other side of the story, as well. Jacques Chirac has made it clear that he doesn't like Americans; he doesn't like our culture. At the same time, once Chirac saw Blair's strategy, which threatened to isolate the FrancoGerman-led alliance in the EU, Chirac and his German counterpart threw more help to the US war on terror than they like to broadcast.

French forces have been fighting alongside American special forces in formerly French-controlled African countries where al Qaeda got a foothold. And the French government joined Bush's strategic alliance to interdict ships used by al Qaeda and/or which carry contraband material, including WMD components. That's how Libya was caught red-handed.

France and Germany did not betray America by going against Bush on Iraq. They acted according to their perception of their best interests, as they have done all along. You could argue that their perception is wrong--that their policy with regard to the Middle East in general, and Bush's decision on Iraq in particular, is unwise. Yet the simple truth is that the world changed greatly for the Europeans after the Soviet Union dissolved; the US news media and the US public did not keep up. The upshot was that most Americans were stunned by Germany and France's divergence from the US over the Iraq situation.

The only stunner was the US Department of State's abuse of their power in the attempt to bring down a sitting US president and commander-in-chief during a hot war. If you want to use the language of "betrayal," that was the knife if the back--not only the president's back, but also the American people's back. Because State workers are also American, it can be hard to fathom why they acted in such manner.

To be generous, probably the majority of State employees who wanted to get rid of Bush acted in what they considered to be America's best interests. If so, they were correct about America's best interests--for the eras of the 1950s and 1960s. But by the 1980s, Gene Kelly's Paris was long gone.

And by the 1990s, the KGB villains had been replaced by oligarchs rich and ruthless enough to sell entire governments down the river, and whose modus operandi resembled that of the crocodile in Peter Pan. The Europeans knew what they were really dealing with and they knew the vast majority of Americans didn't know. So in the manner of Peter Pan they assured State, "Don't worry, we'll be your guide to the Neverland created by the fall of the Soviet Empire."

So it came down to a day at the United Nations, as Americans sat before their TV sets and watched in disbelief as the French and German governments told America to go sit on a tack.

Okay, we've had our adventure in Neverland. Now it's time for the State Department and the American public to ditch the role of Wendy. The hands on the alarm clock have moved. Time for America to grow up. In this way, we avoid the extremes of blind trust and bitterness.

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