Could Al Gore really

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March 11, 2003 11:21 a.m.

Could Al Gore really have done a better job getter France on board? Germany? This is how the question is being framed today. At least by some people I read and talk to. My friend Mickey Kaus says he doubts any more diplomatic finessing could have gotten the French on board.

I don’t necessarily disagree with this point. But, frankly, I think it’s beside the point. Or perhaps just misses the point.

The issue here isn’t that France opposes us. That doesn’t bother me particularly. The real point is that everyone opposes us. Everyone.

And don’t give me any chatter about moral clarity and Churchill holding off the Huns alone at Dover. This isn’t that kind of situation. We’re in international affairs not just for today but for the long haul. And our political leadership in the world community matters profoundly.

If we like, we can kid ourselves and believe that “old Europe” in the guise of France and Germany oppose us but “new Europe” supports us. But if we look at the question honestly we have to confess that this isn’t true. The populations all across Europe oppose what we’re doing. A collection of governments in Eastern Europe and on Europe’s periphery support us, for a variety of reasons. Some do it because of an intra-European powerplay. Others for sincere belief that we’re doing the right thing. Others for more mercenary reasons. In the short term, the reasons for their support don’t matter so much. But if we think we can trade our old allies in for these new ones, then it matters a great deal that these governments are doing this in spite of the wishes of their populations, not because of them. One or two elections, and no more ‘new Europe.’ Fundamentally, alliances of democracies are founded — like democracies — on popular opinion.

Again, people say the French are lame or opportunistic for aggrandizing themselves by trying to rally a world-wide coalition in opposition to us. But look more closely at this point. The real heart of the matter isn’t their opportunism, if that’s what it is. Opportunists will always arise to exploit an exploitable situation. The real issue is that the world stage is now ripe for such exploitation. We are supremely isolated right now. That’s the issue we need to contend with. When we can’t get penny-ante states to give us their votes on the Security Council that should tell us something: not something about the rightness of policies, one way or another, but about the depth of our international isolation. The fact that France may be taking advantage of the situation on the international stage is a subsidiary problem.

Next, to the United Nations. One hears that the United Nations was basically a wrecked or never-functioning institution. So the costs of putting it out of its misery are not so great. I’m not so sour on the UN. But what worries me here is not principally the UN. NATO sidestepped the UN in 1999 during the Kosovo war because of Russian intransigence. And I was happy to see NATO do it. Anti-UN types now see this as a bit of internationalist hypocrisy. But again, it’s not the UN I’m worried about. It’s the destruction of NATO that’s the issue here.

By seeking to rend NATO, the administration has demonstrated that poorly-functioning international institutions aren’t what it is opposed to, but rather ALL international institutions.

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