Resisting Superpowerful Temptations
Originally published in the Washington
Can the Bush administration follow its brilliant military campaign in Iraq
with a smart political and diplomatic campaign after the war? It can if it avoids
some dangerous temptations.
The first temptation comes in Iraq, where some Bush officials may want to support
the political fortunes of people they have known and trusted for many years,
such as Ahmed Chalabi.
It's understandable, but it's a mistake. Chalabi is undoubtedly a good man.
While in exile, he labored long and hard against Saddam Hussein. If he can now
muster genuine support in Iraq, through his own exertions, then the world should
wish him well. But the United States must not give him a leg up over other potential
leaders, and especially those who may now begin emerging from within Iraq. As
Paul Wolfowitz put it last Sunday, "You can't talk about democracy and
then turn around and say we're going to pick the leaders of this democratic
country." Exactly right, so the United States shouldn't help Chalabi or
anyone else position himself as Iraq's Charles de Gaulle in the waning days
of the war. If it ever starts to look as if the United States fought a war in
Iraq in order to put Chalabi in power, President Bush's great success will be
The second temptation comes in Europe. There is a strong impulse in the administration
right now to punish erstwhile allies in Europe who opposed the war. A certain
righteous triumphalism in Washington is to be expected, and payback is a normal
human desire. But this is the time for a little self-interested magnanimity.
The world's sole superpower doesn't need to hold grudges, and sometimes it
can't afford to. No ally imperiled the American war effort more than Turkey,
after all, but it would be politically and strategically insane, as the United
States works on building a democratic Iraq, to punish the only well-established
moderate Muslim democracy in the region. The Bush administration seems capable
of burying the hatchet with Vladimir Putin, overlooking Russia's provision of
banned weaponry to Iraq. Nor, one suspects, will China pay a price for joining
France and Russia in opposition to the war.
So why not make amends in Europe? Of course Bush should reward those who took
risks to support him, especially Tony Blair. And it won't be possible to do
much business with France so long as the Chirac government continues to present
itself as the builder of a great counterweight to the United States. But if
the United States looks like it's asking Europeans to choose between being "European"
and being pro-American, we'll fail. The European Union is still the dominant
political institution in European society, and Blair is trying to knit back
his own tattered relations with Europe. Punishing the rejectionist Europeans
won't help him.
The United States should not try to divide Europe; let France do that. Most
European leaders realize that a policy of opposing the United States makes European
unity impossible. The Bush administration, for its part, should embrace Europe.
Last week Colin Powell did good work in Brussels, and Vice President Cheney
met with the EU's foreign minister, Javier Solana. It's time to take the next
step. If pursuing important national interests means letting bygones be bygones
in Moscow, Beijing and Ankara, why not in, say, Berlin? Unlike Turkey, Germany
did not deny overflight rights to U.S. aircraft during the war or limit the
use of American bases on German soil. Germany sent Patriot missile batteries
to Israel. Many leading Germans would like to mend ties with the United States.
If those reasons aren't enough, perhaps Bush officials will appreciate this
one: The more the United States "punishes" the German government,
the more we drive an anxious, isolated Germany into the welcoming arms of France.
If Bush can call Putin on the phone, he can call Gerhard Schroeder, too -- not
because he likes him but because it's the smart thing to do.
The best way to bring most Europeans around is through persuasion, not punishment.
Which brings us to Temptation Three. As the military campaign winds down, there
may be a tendency to ratchet down the public diplomacy campaign as well. In
fact, the administration should do just the opposite. Once the fighting stops,
the Bush administration needs to work even harder to justify the war.
The United States can win hearts and minds in Europe, and maybe even in the
Arab world, by convincing people, in retrospect, that the war was more just
than they thought. Obviously the administration intends to publicize all the
weapons of mass destruction U.S. forces find -- and there will be plenty. But
enormous efforts should also go into documenting and publicizing the brutal
nature of the Saddam Hussein regime in all its horrifying detail. Some billionaire
should finance the equivalent of a "holocaust museum" in Baghdad,
memorializing the human suffering brought on the Iraqi (and Kuwaiti and Iranian)
people over the past quarter-century. Those voices should finally be heard by
everyone, including those who managed to plug their ears to Iraqi pleas while
shaking their fists at the United States.
All in all, America's ability to lead effectively in the future will depend
a lot on how this war is understood and remembered by the world. This battle
is just beginning, and if the administration can be as clever in diplomacy as
it is in war, it can win that one, too.