What would a President Kerry do in Iraq that is different from what President Bush is doing? A week ago, George Will on ABC’s This Week said you can’t even get a tissue paper between the positions of Kerry and Bush. The more valid point was made yesterday on Meet the Press by Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, when he argued that Kerry can rally the world to help share in reconstructing Iraq, politically and physically, where there is no chance President Bush can. Here is how he put it in response to a question from Tim Russert:
"John Kerry’s going to end up as president of the United States, God willing, where he is going to have to tell the French and the Germans and the rest, ‘Get over it. You don’t have George Bush as an excuse anymore. Move. Get moving.’
"And the fact of the matter is I see from my perspective, Tim, trying to stand back from it is hard. I mean, I’m obviously partisan on this. But if you stand back from it, does anybody think there’s any possibility in a second four years George Bush is going to be able to rally the world to help us carry the burdens on anything? I mean, I’m not being facetious. I see no reasonable prospect of that. John Kerry will. Now, maybe it won’t all work out the way it’s supposed to. It’s the only hope we have, and we cannot carry this burden alone, and I don’t mean just Iraq. You have to have international cooperation to deal with the big problems we’re going to face, and they relate from terror all the way to HIV and infectious diseases to ethnic cleansing.
"And the irony is, what frustrates me, is this president, God love him, has made us weaker than before. I was the guy, as you remember, that pushed the last president before him, Clinton, to get into Bosnia and Kosovo. I beat up and about the head everyone who would listen to get involved. Can you imagine after the way George Bush has handled Iraq, another Milosevic, us being able to gain the support, Democrat or Republican president, to use force legitimately? I think he’s and we’ve got to restore that. We’ve got to restore our credibility. And I don’t see how George Bush can do that."
It’s not going to be as easy as telling the leaders of France and Germany to "get over it," but Biden’s point is a powerful one. And the reason it rings true is that political leaders in the rest of the world, whether they are democratically elected or not, must have the support of their own people if they are to pitch in and help the U.S. dig itself out of the mess in Iraq, and as we are now seeing the animus toward Mr. Bush around the world is not receding, but gathering steam. Political leaders like the president of the Philippines have no choice but pull out their troops when the price of remaining in what remains of the coalition is political defeat.
In the August 30 issue of Pat Buchanan’s American Conservative, Eric S. Margolis writes about the "Coalition of the Coerced," noting that for "World leaders, following George W. Bush is a good way to lose power." Here is some of his analysis:
"The bombs that killed 200 people in Madrid just before the March elections did not terrorize Spaniards into quitting Iraq, as enraged American neocons falsely claimed. This attack crystallized public anger over the misbegotten Iraq expedition. Spain’s new Socialist prime minister, Jose Luis Zapatero, made good on campaign pledges by immediately joining the Coalition of the Unwilling by withdrawing troops from Iraq, a move that was wildly popular in Spain. Honduras and the Dominican Republic followed suit. …
"After none of the fabled WMD were found, Poland’s former prime minister expressed grave doubts over keeping 2,460 troops in Iraq, but elected, in spite of intense domestic opposition, to maintain them until the middle of next year, a decision likely encouraged by lavish stipends from Washington. The Netherlands has announced it will withdraw it 1,100 contingent by mid-2005. Norway, New Zealand and Thailand, all smarting from public protests, will pull their token units out of Iraq by this September. Ukraine, which sent 1,600 soldiers to forestall U.S. criticism of its egregious political corruption, is considering a pullout. …
"Most of the Coalition of the Willing were promised cheap Iraqi oil by Washington, or oil concessions. But as resistance forces sabotage Iraq’s oil pipelines, these promises are coming up short, and plundering Iraq’s wealth is turning out to be a challenge.
"Ironically, far from building a powerful coalition to garrison Iraq under U.S. command, what President Bush has really managed to do is to provide formerly rudderless left-wing parties around the globe with a red-hot new cause with which to rally and electrify their supporters. At the same time, he has made himself the most detested man in world affairs. Those conservative governments that continue to support him and the U.S. occupation of Iraq do so at their peril and are becoming alienated from their own voters. In short, Mr. Bush has done more to electrify the International Left and give it a sense of common purpose than anyone since Che Guevara."
This is an accurate picture of the hostility the rest of the world feels toward President Bush, not the political leaders themselves, but the people. His unfavorable ratings are generally between 70% and 80%, going higher in the Muslim world, 90% in Morocco and 96% in Jordan, for example. Sen. Biden’s point about it being a practical impossibility that Mr. Bush could rally the world now or in a second term at the moment seems a sound assessment. Yet if Senator Kerry makes it to the Oval Office, it’s clear he will have to woo the people of the world in order to rally them, not just issue a fresh set of orders to his counterparts in global capitals. How to do that? That’s another story.