Although he makes regular rude noises about President Bush's Iraq policy, Senator Kerry has tucked his technical position as close to the president's as he can without actually endorsing it in every detail. Sen. Kerry has chosen one specific battleground with the president on Iraq: Bush's failure to get our historic allies in Europe on board for the Iraq War and its aftermath, thus resulting in our isolation.
Senator Kerry assures the voters that as president, he with his friends in Europe and his smarter, more nuanced diplomacy can correct that Bush failure. He has gone so far as to argue that Europe's problem is more or less personal to George W. Bush, and thus could not be fixed by him. It may take a new president to fix the problem, Sen. Kerry asserts.
While President Bush's pre-war diplomacy was hardly a graceful affair, it is Senator Kerry who is being simplistic, almost childlike, in his description of the current diplomatic environment. Mr. Kerry is only playing into the public's (and the popular media's) belief that personalities and "chemistry" between world leaders determines the success of diplomatic engagements. Thus many people were surprised when Tony Blair supported President Bush on Iraq after he had been such good friends with Bill Clinton.
But, of course, Blair supported both Bush and Clinton out of calculations of British national interest -- not for good fellowship's sake. As Lord Palmerston explained the classic British foreign policy maxim: Britain has no permanent friends, only permanent interests. And so it has been for all nations and alliances. Since WWII, British foreign policy has been premised on being Europe's best friend to America, and America's best friend to Europe -- thus maximizing her influence in both quarters.
So the more interesting question is why the French, German and other continental leaders opposed America on Iraq. And, as so often has been the case, the beginning of wisdom is to read the thoughts of Dr. Henry Kissinger. Last week he published an article in the Washington Post titled "A Global Order in Flux." While the names Bush and Kerry do not appear in the article, it stands as a powerful rebuttal to Sen. Kerry's claim that President Bush made a hash of things that a President Kerry could fix.
Dr. Kissinger argues that: (1) the global scene is more fluid than it has been for centuries, (2) the center of gravity of world affairs is moving to the Pacific, (3) the major actors are defining new roles for themselves, and (4) the transformation is about basic concepts rather than tactical issues.
Thus he notes: "Differences between America and Europe are serious and substantive. But the reason the results of recent U.S.-European diplomatic encounters have proved so disappointing -- despite serious efforts from both sides -- is that the historical evolutions underway on the two sides of the Atlantic are different."
He goes on to argue that "The most important event in Europe is the progressive erosion of the nation-state," which is leading them to reject, as a matter of principle, the right of any nation to exercise national sovereignty, particularly when resorting to the use of military force.
Rather, as they spend most of their time on issues of European unification, "these non-state attitudes toward international relations are becoming deeply embedded in European public opinion." Dr. Kissinger doubts whether these building attitudes "can ever be again fully reconciled with the experience of a country driven by state concepts or with the notion of alliance as traditionally conceived." Meanwhile, "by contrast, America remains (with such other countries as Russia, China, Japan and India) a traditional nation-state, insistent on sovereign freedom of action."
If Dr. Kissinger's insights are right, the constant problems we are having with Europe (with the exception of Britain, which still sees itself as largely sovereign) over everything from Iraq to the Kyoto Treaty to the U.N. to the International Criminal Court will not go away in January 2005 under a notional President Kerry. Kerry will not be able to sweet talk or outsmart or charm the Europeans into compliance with American national interest. He will not be able to merely remind them of our half-century old alliance as a motivation to work with us.
The only coin of the realm -- so to speak -- which the continental Europeans will accept will be American concession of some of our sovereign rights to the international order that the French-led Europeans are trying to bring to life. Assuming Senator Kerry is as smart, informed and nuanced of mind as he claims to be, he well understands this deeper reality.
He should level with the electorate and discuss just how much of our sovereignty and national interest he is prepared to barter away in the interest of regaining European friendship and cooperation. It has become a matter of principle with the Europeans that they will not diplomatically barter with us in the traditional sovereign manner. What they want is our acquiescence in the new international, de-sovereigned order they are trying to bring into being. Where does Senator Kerry stand on this central international challenge?