EUROPE IS WORRIED ABOUT THE TRANSATLANTIC RELATIONSHIP, and I am in Geneva now making sure that they know that there is indeed a lot about which to be concerned.
This meeting which involves a broad cross-section of Europeans, including Russians who at this meeting have defined themselves as Europeans, has a handful of Americans. Strangely enough, this conference and the list of attending Americans were assembled by Catherine Kelleher who is now at the Naval War College and a former senior Department of Defense official, and all have the name Steve: Steve Clemons, Steven Simon of RAND, Steven Kull of the Program on International Policy Attitudes, and Stephen Szabo of the Bologna Center of the Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
The most interesting thing for me in this conference is how supportive the Russians are of Bush. Practically everyone else is mystified by the resilience of George Bush’s support and dumbfounded that most Americans don’t seem to care that the rest of the world is very fearful of what four more years of the Bush team at the help will do to the global system.
One of the tasks we have yet to fulfill at this meeting is to generate some suggestions on how to get the Transatlantic Relationship back on decent ground. I’m pessimistic that the crowd we have here will be able to coalesce around something that would be seriously considered — but for my part, I have decided to submit Zbigniew Brzezinski‘s New York Times piece, “How to Make New Enemies,” today to serve as our basic outline.
I think Brzezinski diagnoses our current situation unsentimentally and brilliantly. He writes:
Both candidates have become prisoners of a worldview that fundamentally misdiagnoses the central challenge of our time. President Bush’s “global war on terror” is a politically expedient slogan without real substance, serving to distort rather than define. It obscures the central fact that a civil war within Islam is pitting zealous fanatics against increasingly intimidated moderates.
The undiscriminating American rhetoric and actions increase the likelihood that the moderates will eventually unite with the jihadists in outraged anger and unite the world of Islam in a head-on collision with America.
After all, look what’s happening in Iraq. For a growing number of Iraqis, their “liberation” from Saddam Hussein is turning into a despised foreign occupation. Nationalism is blending with religious fanaticism into a potent brew of hatred. The rates of desertion from the American-trained new Iraqi security forces are dangerously high, while the likely escalation of United States military operations against insurgent towns will generate a new rash of civilian casualties and new recruits for the rebels.
Pan-Arab nationalism, or what Steve Simon at this conference has called a new global, transnational Muslim awareness, is a far different global challenge than small groups of terrorists. The great tragedy of this so-called war against terror is that we have allowed, even helped, al Qaeda to morph into a movement that looks legitimate to far too many in the world who would otherwise be tilting towards modernity.
On Bush, Brzezinski writes:
If President Bush is re-elected, our allies will not be providing more money or troops for the American occupation. Mr. Bush has lost credibility among other nations, which distrust his overall approach. Moreover, the British have been drawing down their troop strength in Iraq, the Poles will do the same, and the Pakistanis recently made it quite plain that they will not support a policy in the Middle East that they view as self-defeating.
In fact, in the Islamic world at large as well as in Europe, Mr. Bush’s policy is becoming conflated in the public mind with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s policy in Gaza and the West Bank. Fueled by anti-American resentments, that policy is widely caricatured as a crude reliance on power, semicolonial in its attitude, and driven by prejudice toward the Islamic world. The likely effect is that staying on course under Mr. Bush will remain a largely solitary American adventure.
But he doesn’t let Kerry off either:
Unfortunately, the predicament faced by America in Iraq is also more complex than the solutions offered so far by the Democratic side in the presidential contest. Senator John Kerry would have the advantage of enjoying greater confidence among America’s traditional allies, since he might be willing to re-examine a war that he himself had not initiated.
But that alone will not produce German or French funds and soldiers. The self-serving culture of comfortable abstention from painful security responsibilities has made the major European leaders generous in offering criticism but reluctant to assume burdens.
What Brzezinski writes is on target. I have conversed with most of the leading European Ambassadors to the United States — and nearly all of those who do not already have forces deployed in Iraq admit that there number one task should Kerry find himself elected is to prevent his incoming administration from asking for their respective nation’s troops to be deployed in Iraq.
They don’t want to explicitly reject Kerry’s request and thus feel the need to try and preempt the request.
Brzezinski sees that for the U.S. to extract itself from this mess, some arrangement is going to be needed that involves a broader alliance of players — and knows that the price of German and French involvement will be very high.
To get there, Brzezinski suggests a new bargain:
To get the Europeans to act, any new administration will have to confront them with strategic options. The Europeans need to be convinced that the United States recognizes that the best way to influence the eventual outcome of the civil war within Islam is to shape an expanding Grand Alliance. . .that embraces the Middle East by taking on the region’s three most inflammatory and explosive issues: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the mess in Iraq, and the challenge of a restless and potentially dangerous Iran.
While each issue is distinct and immensely complex, each affects the others. The three must be tackled simultaneously, and they can be tackled effectively only if America and Europe cooperate and engage the more moderate Muslim states.
. . .A comprehensive initiative along these lines would force the European leaders to take a stand: not to join would run the risk of reinforcing and legitimating American unilateralism while pushing the Middle East into a deeper crisis. America might unilaterally attack Iran or unilaterally withdraw from Iraq. In either case, a sharing of burdens as well as of decisions should provide a better solution for all concerned.
Brzezinski has put a proposal on the table that has some flaws but also has a lot of sense. He has elevated the question about America’s future foreign policy engagement from one not just of whether or not the U.S. should be engaged in Iraq — but rather to how to fix the mess we are in and preempt greater damage to our and the world’s mutual interests.
I highly recommend the Brzezinski piece — and will try to get the Europeans I am meeting here in Geneva, and the Russians, to recognize the merit in his proposal.
— Steve Clemons