With Us or Against Us: Why We Now Have to Put the Matter So Starkly

News Abroad

Ms. Klinghoffer is co-author of International Citizens' Tribunals: Mobilizing Public Opinion to Advance Human Rights.

With Us or Against Us in Word and Deed

The United States is drawing lines in the sand, and its European and Middle Eastern allies do not like it. Analysts have pointed out the benefits France accrued from Arab anti-Americanism especially in the aftermath of its 1966 exit from the military command of NATO. Since 9/11, analysts have finally been drawing attention to the manner in which American Middle Eastern allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia have used anti-American propaganda to hold onto power. Blaming the United States for the failings of their own governments deflects the anger of their own people, while pointing to "the street's" anti-Americanism deflects American demands for democratization.

On the European scene, it is impossible to understand the virulent German opposition to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein without noting what Germany has to lose. For as the Berlin-based journalist Michel Verrier writes in the August 2002 issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, nothing less is at stake in the Middle East than the country's long term effort "to build on the foundations laid by Kaiser Wilhelm, Bismark and Hitler." After all, German opposition to American efforts to contain and then remove the Iraqi dictator has a striking precedent. Germany strongly opposed the Reagan Administration's effort to punish Muammar Khaddafi for a terrorist attack on American soldiers stationed in their country.

On Saturday, April 5, 1986 a bomb exploded in the La Belle disco in West Berlin. Two people were killed (including a GI), and hundreds were wounded (including 50 to 60 Americans). On March 25, the NSA intercepted a message from Tripoli to several European Libyan embassies reading: "Prepare to carry out the plan." One of the embassies was in East Berlin. Another message from the Libyan embassy in East Berlin to Tripoli reading "We have something planned that will make you happy" was intercepted just before the bombing as was a message reading "an event occurred. You will be pleased with the result" after the bombing. The Reagan administration decided to exercise its right to self-defense, and asked the allies for help.

In his memoir, Turmoil and Triumph, George Shultz describes the European response thus: Margaret Thatcher agreed to cooperate provided the evidence against Libya was made public. The French equivocated over flight rights and "German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher," Shultz recounts, "was on his way to Washington reportedly to tell us that that there was insufficient evidence to justify an attack against Libya. The international "sentiment registered," Shultz sums up, was that Reagan "should put his gun back in his holster."

The United States ignored the hand-wringing and bombed Tripoli. President Reagan told the nation "I warned that there should be no place on earth where terrorists can rest and train and practice their deadly skills. I meant it. I said that we would act with others, if possible, and alone it necessary to ensure that terrorists have no sanctuary anywhere. Tonight, we have." Shultz goes on to describe the popularity of the bombing in both Europe and the US and to celebrate what he calls the "triumph in Tokyo."

That triumph consisted of persuading the seven leading industrial nations meeting in Tokyo to drop the "root cause" argument. Instead the summit declared that "terrorism had no justification" and reaffirmed its "condemnation of international terrorism in all its forms, of its accomplices and of those, including governments, who sponsor or support it." This "ringing condemnation," Shultz exalts, "was followed by the commitment to take actions individually and collectively that would place restrictions on the activities of states that sponsored terrorism, apply the rule of law through improved extradition procedures and immigration and visa requirements, and strengthen cooperation among the police, security, and intelligence services of our countries." The message to Khaddafi, Shultz told the press: "You've had it, pal." (pp. 669-688)

He was wrong, of course. Germany ignored American protests and helped Libya, Iraq and Iran to develop chemical weapons. In fact, during the eighties, Germany emerged as the leading arms supplier for the Middle East. German companies cashed in when Israel bought German gas mask to protect itself from the Scud B missiles that Germany helped Iraq acquire before the Gulf war.

Not only did Washington not punish its allies for their fair-weather friendship, but the Bush and Clinton administrations did their level best to aid German unification and went along with Germany's recognition of Croatian independence which opened the Balkan's gates of hell. On the other hand, Tripoli was most grateful. "Germany had always done serious and honest work in our Country," said Saif Al Islam, the son of Muammar Khadaffi to a Der Tagesspeigel reporter in a January 21, 2001. After all, he added, Germany and Libya had long historical links and Khaddafi's first car was a Volkswagen.

An illuminating example of the manner in which secular Khaddafi repaid Germany was his help in improving German relations with the theocratic Taliban regime. After all, in the 1920s Germany helped Afghanistan set up its first national army and Zahir Shah refused allied pleas to expel German nationals from Kabul during World War II. So it was only fair that Germany would lead a 15 country Afghanistan Support Group in efforts to supply Kabul with humanitarian aid. German generosity was rewarded when it got to host the negotiations leading to the selection of Karzai as the interim head of the newly constituted Afghani government and when prominent Afghanis called on the German army to head the multinational force in Kabul. If Verrier is to be believed, Germany was disappointed that Turkey got the assignment.

Is it a wonder that the Bush administration's decision to change the rules of the game and demand active support met with so much hostility? Dan Coats, the American ambassador to Germany, criticized the German government's position on Iraq in an interview with the German News Agency. He was invited to the foreign ministry in Berlin for a dressing down. Not only did Ambassador Coats not back down but Condoleeza Rice made it clear that Schroder's election campaign had poisoned American-German relations. The Germans felt as if a generous and indulgent injured parent had suddenly and unexpectedly laid down the law. Trusting in tradition, the newly reelected Chancellor accepted the resignation of his justice minister who had lost her seat after comparing President Bush's "methods" to those of Hitler and tried to convince his constituents that his cool foreign minister will quickly mend German -American fences.

In the meantime, the German foreign office did what it has always done, tried to exploit its disagreement with the United States to further its interests in the Middle East. On September 30, the German embassy in Cairo posted on its website an unusually lengthy report of the sympathetic Egyprian press coverage of the German-American clash. It begins with the recent German foreign ministry decision to increase the size of embassies in the Arab and Muslim countries in order "to boost dialogue between the Arab and Western cultures, give a correct image about Islam, and build bridges of communication." It continues with the following commentary by the head of Al Ahram's foreign desk: "It seems that Schröder´s campaign came too close to the banned area in the German consciences, unveiling deep and unhealed wounds. Perhaps it is enough for the German citizen to see the US military bases all over the country, to feel hurt in his dignity and pride. This citizen might have been unable to talk in public about these wounds till recently, but he has started to express himself, at last." The October 8th Egyptian press review includes a specific report describing the German Ambassador's emphasis on the fact that both Germany and Egypt hold similar views on Iraq. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer reaffirmed Egyptian-German agreement on this issue not only in his past five visits to Cairo, but also in his recent meeting with his Egyptian counterpart in Washington.

In short, Germany's wish to distance itself from American use of force in the Islamic world are rooted in the same real politics considerations which are at the root of French policy. In the past Cold war needs prevented Washington from exposing this reality. The Bush administration's task is to convince its allies, including Germany, that the period of free ridership is over. This is the reason that George W. Bush refrained from congratulating Schroder on his victory, Donald Rumsfeld snubbed his German counterpart, Richard Perle suggested that Germany forget about becoming a permanent member of the Security Council. The White House also refuses to invite Schroder or Fischer for a friendly chat.

Post 9/11 America can no longer afford to be taken for granted.

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More Comments:

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 10/24/2002

Oh, the slings and arrows that follow upon typos! But I won't grab my Chciago Manual for an e-mail.

You guys want a war? Okay, have your war. It's all yours, just keep in mind. Have a ball! Go for it!

Alec Lloyd - 10/24/2002

Wow. “Smart Alec.” How long did it take you to come up with that one? I’ve never head it before.

Let’s recap for latecomers to this thread:

Mr. Madison (perhaps there are two, Albert and Elevated) delivers vicious and scattered attacks on the present administration, repeating the same tired Democratic doggerel that only presidents with a majority of the popular vote are legitimate (meaning, I guess, that the last “real” one was George H.W. Bush) all the while refusing to give us lowly peons a glimpse into his (or their) own vision of how policy should be shaped.

When challenged, he (or they) resort to name games.

Thank you for your time.

Elevated Madison - 10/23/2002

Mr. Lloyd:

When your omniscient leader manages (with or without grammatically correct complete sentences) to enunciate an action plan for promoting democracy in Saudi Arabia, self determination for ALL peoples of the Holy Land, and an end to the massive decades-long federal government subsidy of domestic oil consumption, then maybe we can entertain the possibility that his fixation on Saddam is more than just an attempt to win more votes in 2004 than Daddy did in 1992.

If, in addition, you have discovered perpetual motion, instantaneous space travel or a new miracle of alchemy, we might then talk realistically about the American government doing whatever the heck an unelected president (or his website worshippers) feel like doing without regard to laws of physics, the science of global geochemistry, or the preferences of any other western democracy.

A. Madison

Alec Lloyd - 10/23/2002

Does it occur to you, Mr. Madison, that taking out Iraq might be an object lesson to other would-be dictators? Certainly the Saudis think so, which is why they helped spur the Palestinian uprising. They want “stability” by which they mean the freedom to sell their oil and fund their hate-filled madrassas. They wish to blame America for their own shortcoming and channel their rage elsewhere. An assertive American foreign policy makes this plan more dangerous, which is why they would like to see us back down.

Should Iraq fall, any one of the Arab dictatorships could be next. That is the Saudis’ greatest fear. They also fear loss of oil leverage over the US, which really puts the lie to the whole “blood for oil” argument. The ones willing to trade blood for oil are the Saudis, not the US. Indeed, the people most likely to oppose any Iraq intervention are oil investors fearful of a market disruption. For the first time in a long time, the US is finally putting dependence on Saudi oil behind national interest. I should think you would favor this.

Furthermore, it was out of a desire for “stability” (the holy grail of the policy establishment) that we refrained from finishing the job in 1991. I thought it was a mistake back than and subsequent events have vindicated me. I assume you also favored regime change back then.

The fact that we impotently fired cruise missiles into empty buildings encourages Saudi fundamentalism. The same with more UN-sponsored scavenger hunts: they weaken our credibility and embolden tyrants. Rest assured, once Iraq is taken care of, Saudi Arabia will face a reckoning of its own.

And do you seriously think signing the ICC accord and ratifying the Kyoto Treaty would have placated Al-Qaeda? To paraphrase Stalin, how many divisions does Greenpeace have? How would contracting the American econom by 10 percent help our war effort, anyway? The treaty issue is a meaningless non-sequitor. If there is a parallel to the 1920s, it is the arrogant confidence with which so-called experts tout utopian treaties as the solution to all global conflict.

But it is clear that you have no policy of your own, simply a litany of cynical complaints. Do the bidding of France, (which of course would NEVER suck up to a dictator) and all will be well, right? All your arguments boil down to “Bush is stupid.” Thank you for elevating the discourse.

Bill Heuisler - 10/23/2002

Mr. Lackey's outrage with Mr. Lyod and W is marvelous to behold; his words "at odds with itself", "equivocates", Neanderthal unilateralism" and opportunistically" dazzle with erudition and lead the reader fluidly to a memorable stroke of literary genius:
He writes, "...opportunistically shift our attention from an unsuccessful pursuit of one enemny to go after a weak target that can't move, despite risks to regional stability that play into the hands of the elusive first enemy, and pursue a military embition that would entail massive economic costs to a sluggish US economy;"
Brilliant. Genius cannot be expected to make sense, follow grammatical rules or spell properly. Genius must simply excrete.

And how devastating it was for Lackey to skewer those eternally damned "Right-wing Cuban Terrorists" fighting Castro. We know he refers to those AIDS patients in Sierra Madre concentration camps and to the thousands of political prisoners on the largest death-camp in the world on Isla De La Juventud.
How can mere words encompass such stouthearted insights?
Kudos, Mr. Lackey
Humbly, Bill Hustler

Albert Madison - 10/23/2002

Let's see if we can clarify a couple of items on Mr. Lloyd's laundry list.

The "incompetence" to which I referred in my original post was that of a U.S. President who ran for office promising little more than tax cuts for the rich (and it's fairly obvious how negligibly they have helped the economy since 2001) while pretty much ignoring foreign policy. W. Bush came to office on a razor-thin plurality and started right off washing his hands of long-negotiated international agreements, while trying hard to avoid any serious involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. And now he expects the Security Council to fall in line behind a confused and bumbling assault on a dictator America supported for many years and then fought one incomplete war with and then ignored ? Seriously folks, would you trust your favorite baseball club to this kind of "team player" manager ?

Saudi Arabia strikes me as an Iraq in the making. All that's really missing is a Saudi Saddam. If the Washington establishment had a modicum of foresight, it would try a little harder to avoid making the same mistake it made in the 1980s: building up fanatics (i.e. Osama) to fight dictatorships (i.e. USSR) or assisting dictators (i.e. Saddam) against fanatics (i.e. Khomeini).

But if one's only concern is getting re-elected (or throwing out a grab bag of half-baked partisan arguments as rationalizations for a series of foreign policy blunders) then, to use a couple of Alec Lloyd's favorite, glibly uttered phrases, "morality" and "sophistication" (e.g. used to develop a consistent policy towards Iraq and Saudi Arabia) will be of little interest.

Alec Lloyd - 10/23/2002

Mr. Leckie: While I am pleased with your (admittedly back-handed) compliment, once again you are falling into the trap. Germany and France have “genuine interests” but apparently we do not? I’m sorry, when did Franco-German desire to trade oil for blood become more pure than American blood for oil? It seems to me that your “Bush is only in it for oil” equally applies to France, and more crassly at that because they are willing to prop up a known threat to world security for some filthy lucre. Silly US, can’t leave brutal dictators alone and make money off of them.

And, if the US really wanted oil, it could have it. Right now. The Security Council could lift sanctions even as I type with zero *additional risk. I say *additional because there is a great deal of risk associated with inaction, though the Franco-German axis of Blinded By Euros doesn’t care to notice it.

Mr. Madison: I apologize for imputing morality or statecraft to your argument. Re-reading your statements, I can see you brought no such sophistication to the table, merely contenting yourself with calling the Bush administration “stupid” because it has the audacity to question Gallic foreign policy goals. If only we could sheepishly follow a modern Tallyrand, everything would work out fine.

I congratulate you on your attempt to change the subject to France-bashing. No, I don’t favor tearing down Lafayette signs any more than the fact that von Steuben taught the Continental Army how to march should have precluded us from fighting against the Nazis.

I assume you bring up Saudi Arabia to show that our current foreign policy is too sophisticated? Would you prefer a harder line against the Saudis, then? If not, what is your objection to this “cowboy president” taking on his tasks one at a time?

Presumably you think this makes the administration morally inconsistent, but since you don’t agree with that morality anyway, what difference does it make?

Perusing your posts again, I note your stating that “nearly the entire world” is hostile to us now. This is of course, rediculous hyperbole. I will remind you that the first Gulf War coalition had exactly 31 member nations, including such military heavyweights as Argentina, Portugal, Morocco and Niger. It was hardly the “entire world” back then, though it may have seemed like it because no one (besides Iraq) were willing to stand in forceful opposition to it.

In any event, the heavy lifting was performed by the US, with British support. Since that time, the Europeans have eviscerated their already undersized military establishments to feed their bloating welfare states. There is little they can offer militarily.

Indeed, the present coalition is in many ways stronger. Ties with India are closer than ever and I think you’ll agree that the support of this rising power is far more signifcant than that of bankrupt satrapies such as Syria and Egypt. And to clarify, France and Germany aren’t willing to take overt measures to stop the coalition; they’re simply not willing do to anything at all. Hardly the way one goes about challenging a hegemon.

You’ll have to show how the US refusal to place veto power over its national security in the hands of dictatorships amounts to incompetence. To repeat, France is multilateral when it suits them. In this case, we are merely following their sophisticated example.

Albert Madison - 10/22/2002

Well, Alec, at least you're bashing the relevant country. Not that what you're saying has much bearing on my previous comment (which had nothing to do with "high-sounding morals" or sophisticated balance-of-power politics").

Of course the French are a bunch of degenerate frogs. Shame on George Washington for not realizing this and rejecting Lafayette, that crass "third rater". Maybe we can rename all those towns across America with something less ignoble and les self-interested. "Sharon", maybe ? Or perhaps "Ho Chi Minh" ? (He really knew how to stick it to those slimy French).

But, to try to get back to the original question of "with us or against us", can you enlighten those of us here willing contemplate criticism of both American political parties as to how "moral clarity with steely resolve" applies to the Bush Administration's dealings with Saudi Arabia ?

Albert Madison

William H. Leckie, Jr. - 10/22/2002

Well, for once I can agree with Mr. Lyod about something--that other nations, in this instance France, and Germany as well, can have genuine interests in a region we wish to play havoc in.

But I can't quite get the "moral clarity and steely resolve" of an administration that has been at odds with itself over the means and ends of policy towards Iraq; that equivocates about the reality of a causus bellum (those famous "unkown unknowns" of Rummy's), and that would undermine a co-operative structure of international relations by Neanderthal unilateralism; certainly not that of an administration that would opportunistically shift our attention from an unsuccessful pursuit of one enemny to go after a weak target that can't move, despite risks to regional stability that play into the hands of the elusive first enemy, and pursue a military embition that would entail massive economic costs to a sluggish US economy; and not that of an administration led by a man whose family fortunes have been tied to connections with right-wing Cuban terrorists in South Florida, deceptive corporate accounting practices, and outright private and public bailouts from failure (recall the missing Neil Bush and Silverado?); and of course not from an administration whose Number Two ran an oil drilling supply conglomerate whose foreign subsidiaries profited from dealing with the very Evil Regime he now says we must destroy.

Alec Lloyd - 10/22/2002

Actually Mr. Madison, the French position on Iraq has nothing to do with high-sounding morals, sophisticated balance-of-power politics or anything other than crass self-interest on the part of the French.

For some reason, this is acceptable. France (and Russia) are purely interested in collecting their oil money and arms sales debts. They figure by sucking up to Iraq, they can stay off its target list. The legacy of Vichy lives on.

I find it ironic that the US is constantly blamed for having a “blood for oil” mentality yet nations who are willing to put THEIR profit before security are lauded for “sophistication” and “intellect.”

France is a third-rate power whose most recent military accomplishments are sinking the Rainbow Warrior and leaking NATO’s target list to Serbia. Where was French “multilaterialism” when they performed nuclear tests in the South Pacific a few years ago? The “rest of the world” condemned that, yet what penalty did they pay? None. Now they’re the elder statesmen again. Spare me their brand of “sophistication.”

This administration has combined moral clarity with steely resolve. That may make diplomats uncomfortable, but so be it. In the end, American strength is far more respected than vacillating weakness. Germany is already backpedaling and don’t be surprised if France signs on at the last minute once it is clear that we are going with or without them.

It would be yet another example of French opportunism.

Albert Madison - 10/22/2002

The key issue is war or no war against Iraq. The key "swing vote"
is that of France. The main reason the French are so reluctant is the same reason that nearly the entire world, which was so supportive of America after 9-11, is so hostile to us now: the most incompetent U.S. foreign policy administration since the 1920s, at least.

By the way, on which planet did Clinton run for a third term ?
On this planet, I actually voted against Clinton. But that is even more irrelevant to France's security council vote than are twists and turns of German domestic politics.


william r. sutton - 10/22/2002

Well. that last one sure advances the debate. The description of actions in the past is "irrelevant Germany-bashing?" Looks like fairly relevant Germany-bashing to me. The Bush administration is "feeble-minded?" Dear me. I sure am glad we have thoughtful historians on line who are not ideologically motivated. Could we keep the discourse a bit more civil. Maybe everybody at your little table "knows" that Condoleeza Rice and Bush and Powell and Rumsfeld, etc. are stupid, etc. , but isn't there room for another view? Are all of the people who disagree with you "feeble-minded?" Ought we really entrust the future of the world to folks chosen by "couch potatoes?" I voted against repeal of the poll tax, so I at least am consistent in my mistrust of uninterested voters. When did you become anti-democratic? When Clinton lost his bid for a third term?

Rafael Gomez - 10/21/2002

As we say in my country, "here is a donkey making fun of somebody's long ears."

Realpolitik considerations have always been at the root of all US international policies; they are not the exclusive domain of France and Germany. And there is no difference between the US and Germany or France when it comes to exploiting international situations for their own benefit.

It's surprising that now Germany is being derided for doing business with Iraq, considering that US companies have always done a lot of business with Iraq even after the Gulf War, starting with ex-Cheney's Halliburton (there was a good report on Halliburton and Iraq in the NY Times or the Washington Post recently). Lets not forget that the US provided ample support to Saddam when he was "our SOB," even giving him several strains of pathogens that could be used to produce bio-weapons.
And when it comes to Iran, Oliver North and Co. was happily selling arms to the ayatohllas (sp?). He now brags about it as a great and "kind of funny" achievement (I heard him doing so in a talk he gave at my university some time ago).

As we say back home, "breed crows and they will poke your eyes." The US has, in recent history, more experience "breeding crows" than Germany or France.

Albert Madison - 10/21/2002

Klinghoffer's irrelevant bit of Germany-bashing is about what one might expect from an ideologically motivated non-historian.

The more likely reason why the Bush Administration feels it has to "put the matter" as "starkly" as "with or against us", is that it is too feeble-minded and incompetent to come up with a more plausible and persuasive catch-phrase intelligible to the TV couch potatoes whose votes it seeks in the 2002 and 2004 elections.