The Blog

Winning Back Old Europe

The campaign in Iraq is going well. The Bush administration should start thinking about a campaign to bring Germany and France back into the fold.

12:00 PM, Apr 3, 2003 • By PETER D. FEAVER
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The problem at the leadership level may well be terminal. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, President Chirac and Foreign Minister de Villepin are completely unaware of the damage they have done to U.S.-French relations. Well-informed insiders report that Chirac and Villepin actually believe their public spin: No problem here, nothing to worry about.

Civil servants in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Defense are worried, but they do not have the ear of the top leadership. Chirac and Villepin are advising themselves on U.S. policy, as they have all along, with disastrous results.

Even deft diplomacy will have a hard time overcoming such odds, and so far our diplomacy has been something less than deft. Some might argue that we are better off without France on our side. That is probably true in the narrow terms of this military operation itself. (An undiscussed but profound consequence of this war is that it demonstrates just how wide is the gap in military capabilities between the United States and Britain on the one hand, and the rest of NATO on the other; France literally could not have kept up on the battlefield). Diplomatically, it is a different matter. France is a veto player in three key international bodies--the U.N., NATO, and the E.U.--and because those institutions matter, we cannot pretend France does not matter.

In its first several months in office, the Bush administration let harden myths about U.S. unilateralism and did not sufficiently counter the numbingly repetitive critiques of U.S. foreign policy. European pundits ritualistically incant the unholy trinity of ABM, ICC, and Kyoto, before every analysis of new developments, and are generally unaware that reasonable counterarguments exist. American anti-Europeanism is described as doltish xenophobia; European anti-Americanism is described as reasonable exasperation with a doltish xenophobe.

The administration should be more vigorous about engaging European arguments. It matters what they think even, and especially if, they are wrong and tendentious in their views. A major outreach effort is called for, involving its best spokespeople (more Powell, less Perle; more Rice, less Rumsfeld) and even making better use of bipartisan experts who are able to make the American case in ways that resonate with European audiences. Above all, the Bush team should not trust the media to do its job.

The administration lost the Security Council vote because pandering to anti-Americanism played well in Europe. To be sure, the lost Security Council vote will not result in defeat in Iraq, but it did raise the costs of winning the war. The problems in the Security Council made it easier for Turkey to foot-drag, ultimately costing us a robust northern front, which probably will have prolonged the war by at least a week. The costs of rebuilding Iraq will also be higher, or rather the United States may have to bear a disproportionate share of them, as reluctant allies hide behind the absence of a U.N. mandate.

We will continue to lose these contests, raising the costs of winning the peace, unless we make some headway in winning some hearts and minds in Europe.

Peter D. Feaver is Associate Professor of Political Science at Duke University, Director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies, and author of "Armed Servants: Agency, Oversight and Civil-Military Relations" (Harvard Press).