Charles Krauthammer

The critics will say that all this is simply attributable to the rise of Russia and China causing old allies to turn back to us out of need.

So? I would even add that the looming prospect of a nuclear Iran has caused Arab states -- Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, even Libya -- to rally to us. All true. And it makes the point that the Bush critics have missed for years -- that the strength of alliances is heavily dependent on the objective balance of international forces, and has very little to do with the syntax of the U.S. president or the disdain in which he might be held by a country's cultural elites.

It's classic balance-of-power theory: Weaker nations turn to the great outside power to help them balance a rising regional threat. Allies are not sentimental about their associations. It is not a matter of affection, but of need -- and of the great power's ability to deliver.

What's changed in the last year? Bush's dress and diction remain the same. But he did change generals -- and counterinsurgency strategy -- in Iraq. As a result, Iraq has gone from an apparently lost cause to a winnable one.

The rise of external threats to our allies has concentrated their minds on the need for the American connection. The revival of American fortunes in Iraq -- and the diminished prospect of an American rout -- have significantly increased the value of such a connection. This is particularly true among our moderate Arab allies who see us as their ultimate protection against an Iran-Syria-Hezbollah-Hamas axis that openly threatens them all.

It's always uncomfortable for a small power to rely on a hegemon. But a hegemon on the run is even worse. Alliances are always shifting. But one thing we can say with certainty: The event that will have more effect than any other on the strength of our alliances worldwide is not another Karen Hughes outreach to the Muslim world, not an ostentatious embrace of Kyoto, or even the most abject embrace of internationalism from the podium of the UN. It is success or failure in Iraq.


Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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