I was having lunch with an earnest socialist who is right as rain on the terror war. He takes the Third World very seriously-seriously enough to study the arguments that its denizens make and to conclude that, when they take the form of Islamo-fascism, they are monstrous: the latest mutation of the totalitarian death cult, after Communism and Nazism. He is glad that the Taliban and Saddam are no more, and he sees more struggle ahead.
Yet he is irked with George W. Bush, and yearns for Bill Clinton. Mr. Bush sent Special Forces and the Marines to Afghanistan; Mr. Clinton flicked a few cruise missiles there. Why then is the 42nd President preferable? Because of the sheen of his advocacy. Mr. Bush’s blunt Texan ways do not play well in the world, especially not in Europe. What should be a struggle of free societies everywhere against their latest enemies has, thanks to Mr. Bush’s failings, become a minority effort, while most of Europe sits sullenly on the sidelines.
The socialist is wrong. But he is close enough to being right, and the question of Europe is important enough, that he and it deserve further thought.
Let us not, to begin with, scant our successes. Britain is a European country-Europe at least floats close to its shores-and Britain was our great ally in Iraq. Poland sent troops-and we should be proud of their support. They know what totalitarian rule is, having gotten it from both the Nazis and the Communists, and they resisted it more gallantly than some other nations. When Robert Scheer of the Los Angeles Times wrote that most of our allies in the Iraq war were countries that could be rented on eBay, remember it as the latest Polack joke-that left-wing, upper-middle-class genre of snobbery and racism.
How effective could the best Euro-schmoozer have been in winning universal European support for the war just past, or for wars to come? What is Mr. Bush, or a hypothetical third-term Bill Clinton, up against?
Russia has been following its own interests, narrowly considered. They helped us against the Taliban, giving the nod to the Central Asian “stans” to let us use their military bases, because Osama bin Laden was too close for comfort to their own Muslim rebels in Chechnya. If we were willing to clean up their backyard, who were they to refuse a favor? Saddam Hussein was another matter, however, for he lived not in Central Asia but in the Middle East, and arms contracts came into play. Early on in his term, Mr. Bush decided that Vladimir Putin was someone he could trust. As far as he can be thrown, it turns out-which is not nothing, but was nothing to count on in Iraq.
Next, the Germans. How did that people ever give the world the word real-politik ? Bismarck, its supposed practitioner, must have been a changeling, for the Germans are marked by idealism, mysticism and romantic sentiments as elusive as the beat in the prelude to Parsifal . In some eras, German visionaries see horrors; in others (like the present), they see internationalism, a united Europe and the brotherhood of man. Sometimes, as in the case of Green Party Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, they see both, moving from their thuggish street-fighting past to a responsible, respectable present. Never try to part the mist in order to get them to focus on a mere problem.
This brings us to the true villains of the piece, the people who encourage the Germans in their worst tendencies and who suckered Colin Powell-the French. France has always had a bitterly anti-American far left, composed of Stalinists and Trotskyites. This must be paired with the demented (and also anti-American) far right of Jean-Marie Le Pen. A determined leader can override these fringes. But today’s leader, Jacques Chirac, was determined to beat them at their own anti-American game.
When it comes to French politics, never underestimate the influence of corruption. The late Mitterrand years were a sink of bribery, which is only now being drained. Jacques Chirac and Saddam Hussein have been close for decades. No doubt Mr. Chirac showered his copain with many little presents of cheese and wine. What did the oil-rich despot bestow in return? More potent even than venality is the institutional interest of the French state, as conceived by a man of Mr. Chirac’s stripe. The Bonapartist tradition still lives in France, sometimes incarnated by true Bonapartes, sometimes by Boulangers-the real deal, or the cheap imitation. Mr. Chirac’s France called itself a great nation because it belonged to important international organizations (NATO, the U.N. Security Council), because it bullied assorted puppets in West Africa, and because it befriended the owner of the second-largest oil reserves in the world. That is not as glorious a triad as Ulm, Austerlitz and Jena, but it is what the modern Napoleon built his prestige on. If Saddam fell, even that would have been taken from them. So Mr. Chirac defended his friend to the end-and even after, as it turns out, giving French passports to fleeing Baathists (in the memorable phrase of an astonished American: “Raoul Wallenberg in reverse”).
In a geyser blast of cynicism, Mr. Chirac has now told the G-8 countries, meeting at Evian-les-Bains, that the war on terror must take second place to Third World development. You half-expected to see him sharing a stage with Odetta and Pete Seeger, singing “Let My People Go.”
Bill Clinton could wring an acquittal from the Senate, and approval from any woman with bad taste. But could even he overcome resistance like this?
The particular interests of these states have fused with two powerful currents of European thought, official and unofficial. The functionaries of the European Union wish to boost their own role in the world by tying down the American giant. They can bind their subject peoples more effectively if they say they are doing it in the name of binding the blundering American Gulliver. Meanwhile, the violent G-8 protesters in the streets, anti-capitalist, anti-globalist and anti-McDonald’s, will provide approving background noise, preferring even their own suits to the blue-jeaned Mr. Bush and his neocon henchmen.
America can do two things to combat this malaise. One we are already doing: finding allies where we can, and showing our gratitude. The other is by expounding our vision for the Third World, for as it turns out, our security requires removing some of their main murderers and kleptocrats. Let good works go on together.