According to the script of the day, we’re supposed to be castigating the French, Germans, Belgians, Russians and the rest of Old Europe for betraying us, endangering NATO, hanging Turkey out to dry, appeasing Iraq, and generally being incomparable weenies. A lot of smart people in the US are saying just that. But they’re being profoundly shortsighted. After 9/11, the Bush administration quite consciously marginalized NATO, resisting even the symbolic involvement of the alliance which could be paying substantial dividends today. I think it’s quite possible that the damage we are doing to NATO right now will turn out to be the most profoundly damaging legacy of this administration. (And the competition is substantial.)
NATO is what you wish the United Nations could be, but isn’t — a credible institution of collective security which marries values to force. Its member-states are all democracies. They are all, by global standards, prosperous. They respect minority rights and the rule of law.
A lot of people are saying, well, yes that’s all true and I like NATO as much as the next guy. But the French are such weenies! The Germans are their deputy-weenies! Why are they being so lame?
This is foolish. We didn’t know the French had strong tendencies toward geo-political weenie-ism? Of course, we did. Dealing with that fact is one of the jobs we hire our presidents to fulfill. If NATO goes down the drain, the fact that the French or the Belgians or the Germans were petulant won’t make it any less of a loss for us. Perhaps getting UN approval for invading Iraq was never in the cards. But taking action in Iraq without forcing a NATO train wreck should not have been that hard. Their lameness, if that’s what it is, doesn’t change the fact that we’ve come to this moment because of this administration’s arrogance and swaggering incompetence.
Back in 1998, in a notoriously fatuous article, Sally Quinn quoted David Broder saying, “He came in here and he trashed the place.”
He was talking, of course, about Bill Clinton and what he had allegedly done to Washington. Now, it’s revealing about both these characters that how Bill Clinton affected the Washington social scene is at the center of their moral universe. But seeing what we’re seeing right now made me think of that line and how it reminds me of the current occupant of the Oval Office.
Which of our alliances and security organizations are going to be left when these guys are through?
The president and his crew are acting like that not-as-smart-as-he-thinks-he-is high school kid who’s always running into reverses and always blaming it on someone else. At first you think he’s getting a bad shake until you see the same thing happening over and over again. It’s always someone else’s fault. The South Koreans are lame. The Europeans are lame. Our Arab allies are lame. Everybody is lame. We’re given excuse after excuse. But at the end of the day the result seems to be our historic alliances, if not in shambles, then at least thoroughly beat-up. After all, what profiteth a man if he gain regime change in Iraq, and yet lose the whole world order in the process?