Going it alone

Posted: Apr 28, 2004 12:00 AM

 Things were so much easier in the good old days. Back then our isolationism was voluntary.

With two oceans for protection, the United States followed George Washington?s advice to avoid foreign entanglements. In fact, we didn?t even sign a treaty of alliance with another nation until 1949, after we?d fought in two World Wars.

But today some claim our isolation isn?t voluntary. They say the rest of the world is forcing it on us, because they don?t like us. As John Kerry put it on NBC?s ?Meet the Press,? ?Never has the United States of America been held in as low a regard internationally -- and polls have shown this -- as we are today.  We?re not trusted and this administration is not liked.?

Kerry vows to change that.

?Within weeks of being inaugurated, I will return to the U.N. and I will literally, formally rejoin the community of nations and turn over a proud new chapter in America?s relationship with the world,? Kerry told Tim Russert.

But before we can heal the international divide, we must determine what?s causing it. According to Philip Gordon of the Brookings Institution, it?s mostly our Iraq policy.

?Iraq was the ?perfect storm? for America and Europe,? he wrote on April 19 in a Washingtonpost.com online chat. ?Fortunately, there aren?t too many issues likely to generate the degree of divergence that we saw there.?

Iraq divided us because, as President Bush announced at a recent news conference, he sees it as ?a theater in the war on terror.? Most Europeans, however, saw it as an unnecessary, even dangerous, war of choice. As Gordon put it, the prevailing European view was that ?no matter how bad Saddam was, we couldn?t necessarily ?fix? Iraq.? Thus, we shouldn?t try.

Luckily, not all Europeans see things this way. Just after he stepped down, former Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar told Fox News, ?There are countries that prefer to think that they?re buying comfort at the cost of others, but I don?t think that?s the way you can act in this world. There are no neutral groups. Either you?re with us, or you?re with them.?

The rest of the world needs to realize that what Aznar says is true. We must fight all terrorists. That?s going to mean taking on Osama bin Laden, Hamas and, yes, Saddam Hussein. And everyone needs to decide whose side they?re on.

This isn?t a new concept.

Hundreds of years before Christ, Athenian leader Solon made it a law that anyone who refused to take sides in a revolution would lose all civil rights. He wanted to ensure that good people would fight bad people. That way they couldn?t simply stand aside and hope trouble would pass them by while they waited to see which side would win.

As Aznar put it, ?those who try to be neutral, I think, are the ones who are going to be paying the highest price. The terrorists are not going to forgive them, and they will have no understanding from those who are fighting against terrorism.?

Of course, even strict neutrality would be an improvement over what some Europeans did before the war in Iraq. Some actively opposed the U.S. As the Sunday Times of London noted last year, documents recovered from the Iraqi Foreign Ministry show that ?Paris shared with Baghdad the contents of private transatlantic meetings and diplomatic traffic from Washington.?

And as Nile Gardiner and James Phillips note in a recent Heritage Foundation paper, ?Details of talks between French President Jacques Chirac and President George W. Bush were also reportedly passed on to the Iraqi Foreign Ministry by the French ambassador in Baghdad.?

These are the very people Sen. Kerry wants to work with. ?I will build alliances and cooperation,? he said on ?Meet the Press.? And he vowed to appease Europeans sensibilities by making the war on terror into a police action. ?I will use our military when necessary, but it is not primarily a military operation. It?s an intelligence gathering, law enforcement, public diplomacy effort,? he told Russert.

Most Europeans don?t want us to fight an aggressive war on terror. They?d prefer we go back to the pre-Sept. 11 days, when we treated terrorism as a police, not military, exercise. That?s what Sen. Kerry wants, too. But that?s not the way to win this war. And make no mistake -- we are going to win. We must.

Europeans are welcome to work with us, if they?re willing to. If not, we?ll win on our own. And when we do, we probably won?t resort to Solon?s law. But Europeans will still have to live with themselves, knowing they sat on the sidelines of the most important conflict of the 21st century.