commentary

(The International Herald Tribune)

Bush Must Ease G-8 Frictions

by Robert E. Hunter

May 26, 2003

Bear hugs for Chirac and Schroeder

ARLINGTON, Virginia -- In April 1954, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles refused to shake the hand of China's prime minister, Chou En-Lai, at the Geneva conference on Indochina. That snub symbolized the state of relations between the two countries; but it may also have delayed rapprochement, which came 17 years later.

On Sunday, President George W. Bush will face a similar moment at Evian-les-Bains in France—in front of the world's expectant media, focused on a single photogenic moment: Will he snub Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany and President Jacques Chirac of France? Or will Bush embrace these once-close allies? The next phase of trans-Atlantic relations will depend on what Bush decides to do. The next phase of U.S. efforts in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East may also hinge on the state of U.S. relations with France and Germany.

Bush is naturally a courteous person, adept at displays of chief-executive charm. But it is no secret that some leading members of his administration would prefer that he play Dulles and visibly punish France—and Germany to boot—for opposing the United States in the run-up to the Iraq war. Bush's instinct to be civil is likely to prevail, but in both his and America's interests, he should make it a real bear hug.

The United States needs France and Germany, as well as the rest of the NATO allies—just as they need the United States—to guarantee Europe's security, to lead in rebuilding Iraq, to work for Israel-Palestine peace, to halt the spread of nuclear weapons and to counter international terrorism.

America's future dependence on its European allies was not so evident only six weeks ago, when the U.S. and Britain stood victorious in Iraq. It was popular in Washington for the less-than-foresighted to argue that securing the peace would be as simple, straightforward and swift as winning the war had proved to be. Divide the spoils among the victors, they argued, and let the naysayers go hang.

Today, postwar Iraq is in shambles, and looting and violence continue. Iraqi self-rule is still on the drawing board, military occupation is seen as stretching well into the future, the Israel-Palestine "road map" is at a detour if not a dead end and prospects for Iraqi "democracy" are off the agenda for the time being. A go-it-alone "unilateralist" approach no longer seems so desirable—and it clearly cannot work.

As predicted by some of the same naysayers—including the French and German governments and much of the European public—the aftermath of war is not something the U.S. will want to face on its own.

It is doubtful that the U.S. and British militaries will want to remain exposed on occupation duties without the company of other allied troops, and the American people are unlikely to tolerate casualties among U.S. troops engaged in peacekeeping.

Nor is it likely that Congress will be prepared to approve the funds required not just to rebuild Iraq—far beyond the limits of its prospective oil revenues—but also to meet the other demands of efforts to transform the Middle East. When the U.S. intervened decisively in Iraq, America took on responsibility for the region's future. Washington will be judged severely for the durability of its commitment and degree of its success.

Not least, the U.S. must replace the stigma of having invaded a Muslim-Arab country with the reality of commitment to economic development, political reform and Arab-Israeli peacemaking. This means having allies, partners, and a UN Security Council resolution to pronounce legitimacy over the whole effort.

The United States and Europe are collectively the world's great repository of economic strength, political stability, democratic culture and liberal impulses. All of this will be needed in Iraq, the rest of the Middle East and other parts of the world.

So Bush should make it a bear hug with Chirac and Schroeder—and all the other members of the Group of Eight, including Vladimir Putin of Russia. In this one telegenic gesture, certain to be reciprocated by all, Bush could end an unseemly, unproductive spat among countries that are fated by common interests and values to be allies and partners. This could set trans-Atlantic relations and U.S. policy in Iraq back on the right track.


The writer is a senior adviser at RAND and served as U.S. ambassador to NATO from 1993 to 1998.

This commentary originally appeared in The International Herald Tribune on May 26, 2003. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.