Over-estimating the extent
of one's own power is the best sign that
someone or something is heading for a fall.
This is something the Bush administration has been doing for months now. We're extremely powerful. But we're not all-powerful. Almost, but not quite.
An example of such over-reach is our current decision to threaten almost every country on the planet with payback for not following our lead on Iraq. Such threats aren't just ill-advised. Worse than that, they lack credibility since we're just not in a position to stick it to every country at once. Here at TPM we've been focusing on Turkey. But Dan Drezner has an excellent post on another country we're now threatening with payback: Canada ... (Drezner's post plays off this article in The Globe and Mail.)
On a similar note, there is an article today by Michael Ledeen in the New York Sun, which blames the French for the failure of our diplomacy with the Turks. (The article isn't available online.) As I noted in my column in The Hill, the argument that Turkish Islamism is at fault is belied by the fact that the secularist, Kemalist deputies in the Turkish parliament voted against us by a far greater proportion than the 'Islamic' deputies. Ledeen says this happened because the French and the Germans threatened the Turks (i.e., the pro-Western secularists) with exclusion from the European Union if they went along with us. Ledeen lards the piece with several throwaway lines which are as meaningless as they are foolish. He says for instance that we'll eventually find out "that French actions constitute the diplomatic equivalent of chemical and biological warfare."
(What does this mean? If one wants a little shock value, shouldn't the insults at least make some logical sense?)
Now, I have a few responses to this. First, Ledeen doesn't proffer a lot of evidence for this claim, merely unnamed sources. But, frankly, I don't doubt that they did make such threats. Perhaps they did; perhaps they didn't. Yet, Occam's Razor would suggest that it may not have played that decisive a role. No one in Turkey supported our war in Iraq. No one. Given that the secularists are out of government and not particularly inclined to help the Erdogan government, I don't think they needed a lot of encouragement to vote this way. On the contrary, it makes perfect sense.
There's a second problem with Ledeen's argument. The Erdogan government has shown that it is also extremely eager for EU admittance. Why didn't the threat work better with them?
The long and the short of it is that one doesn't have to look too far past the Turkish borders to explain what happened.
But let's assume for a moment that the French and Germans did level this threat. And that it had some effect. Far from being exculpatory of Bush administration diplomacy, it's actually quite damning.
The centerpiece of the Bush administration's strategic doctrine has been that alliances and international institutions hinder our ability to secure our vital interests far more than they advance it. Thus, they argue, we should chart our own course and invite the 'willing' to follow us or get out of the way. The subtext of that strategy is that if this or that country doesn't like it, that's their problem, not ours.
Their opponents said, no. Our alliances help us shape international debates and catalyze our power rather than diminish it. What's more, even with all our power, our isolation is our problem too. If true, France's threat to the Turks is a textbook example of this fact.
France has never made peace with American dominance in Europe. What they've heretofore lacked was a constituency among the countries of Europe to work against that dominance. Now they have it. And France is a big player in ... well, what else to call it, an alliance, the EU, which Turkey would really like to become a part of. If no more than French perfidy were involved here, France's threat would carry little weight. France doesn't run the EU. On the contrary, if the Turks think that the French are now speaking for most of the populations of Europe, the threat could be quite real. As we noted here, opportunists will always arise to exploit an exploitable situation. But we created a situation ripe for exploitation.
It's sad and undignified for conservatives to trumpet the evidence of the administration's shortsightedness and incompetence as evidence of its insight. They're lost in a tangle of their own enthusiasm and self-deception. Unfortunately, we're all along for the ride.