Time to Mend Fences


May 30, 2003

This commentary originally appeared in The Baltimore Sun on May 30, 2003.

BRUSSELS, Belgium - In the run-up to war in Iraq, most European states were peripheral to U.S. planning. Two key allies - Germany and France - refused to support an Anglo-American draft resolution in the U.N. Security Council. NATO as a whole was not engaged.

And Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld even unsettled the British when he speculated that "what will ultimately be decided is unclear as to their role" in the military assault on Iraq.

That was about the war.

But about the peace, there is near unanimity here in Europe: Either America's friends and allies will be invited to join a common effort or the United States will likely fail. That thought must be uppermost in President Bush's mind as he meets Sunday with his Group of Eight colleagues in Evian-les-Bains, France.

At war, the United States has no competitor. Its military budget is nearly half the world's spending on defense, and no one else can approach the high-tech weapons and techniques that proved so successful in Afghanistan and Iraq. Even Britain, No. 2 in modern combat, is far outclassed.

But now in the aftermath - summarized by the terms "peacekeeping" and "nation-building" - the gap between the United States and European states is much smaller, if it exists at all. The United States is a recent entrant to the world of peacekeeping, while many other states - including the small Nordic countries - have been successfully fulfilling similar duties for decades. And in carrying out the thousand civilian political and economic tasks needed to create a viable post-Saddam Hussein Iraq, the United States has few if any comparative advantages, except money.

"Except money" points to an even more important reason for Washington to turn to its foreign friends and allies for assistance.

Congress could appropriate the tens of billions of dollars a year needed for Iraq, in addition to the latter's oil revenues. But it almost certainly won't, especially with a lagging U.S. economy and rising domestic demands. The United States needs its allies to loosen their purse strings and to be seen as doing so by the American people.

The U.S. military would also like company in peacekeeping. As it proved in the Balkans, it can do the job. But that also means using troops trained and equipped for major combat to do work that has little to do with the tasks for which they are designed. Privately, the uniformed side of the Pentagon is already saying "no thanks" to the idea of staying in Iraq "for the duration," as each week that term seems to stretch further into the future.

At the same time, the American people have traditionally been willing to tolerate the sacrifice of courageous young men and women when there is a war to be won. But there is likely to be far less tolerance for troops' being killed in peacekeeping duties, certainly unless other countries, especially the European allies, are also risking the lives of their young people. Tragically, American and British soldiers in Iraq continue to be killed, in ones and twos, and there is no end in sight.

The conclusion is straightforward: The United States needs others with it in Iraq, both to increase the chances of success at peacekeeping and nation-building at tolerable cost and to show the American people we are not alone.

That, as much as any other factor, lay behind the U.S. willingness to seek a U.N. resolution to ratify the Anglo-American role as Iraq's occupiers. The United States made more than 90 changes to the original draft to accommodate the concerns of others, including Security Council members France, Germany, and Russia, before the resolution passed, 14-0. The same motive also reinforced resolve to prosecute peace between Israel and the Palestinians: It is a test of American leadership needed to gain European support in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East.

But the big test comes in Evian-les-Bains. Mr. Bush will see both German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and French President Jacques Chirac - the "bad boys" from the U.S. point of view before the Iraq war. But judged here in Europe, these encounters aren't the test. It is how they are perceived, and that will be determined in one single moment, one click of the camera and television sound bite.

If President Bush is frostily cordial and "correct" - as some members of his administration have been urging - the effort to rebuild relations across the Atlantic will continue to be long and difficult.

But if he envelops both leaders - plus Britain's Tony Blair and Russia's Vladimir V. Putin - in great big bear hugs, an anxious continent will collectively exhale. The alliance, and support for U.S. efforts in Iraq, can much more rapidly be put back on track.

Robert E. Hunter is a senior adviser at RAND and served as U.S. ambassador to NATO from 1993 to 1998.

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