Traditional allies?

Two days ago, I noted an op-ed by Senator Joseph Biden about why we should stop “staying the course” in Iraq and change directions. His basic angle seems to be that we need to “internationalize” the effort in Iraq.

Blah, blah, blah.

This has basically been the cry from day one from opponents of the invasion and/or the administration–that we shouldn’t be “going it alone”. This, of course, is silliness. We aren’t going it alone. When that is pointed out, the fall-back position is usually “well, who cares about Poland if our ‘traditional allies’ aren’t with us”. Which, again, is silliness. Britain and Australia, of course, are traditional allies and firmly with us, and they’re American allies as traditional as it gets.

(I won’t even bother mentioning that the leaders of those nations both did fine in their respective elections despite their ‘unpopular’ stance on Iraq.)

What the term “traditional allies” means, of course, is “France and Germany”, although some astoundingly uninformed folks seem willing to lump Russia and China in that group at times, as well.

The whole “traditional ally” thinking ignores the fact that things change. Alliances are based upon the national interests of the parties involved, not upon some warm fuzzy feeling over things that happened years or decades ago. If national interests are aligned, and warm fuzzy feelings are there, so much the better. But “tradition”, at least when it comes to military and economic matters, is an empty bag.

And don’t pretend that if France were with us in Iraq and Britain was not, we’d be hearing the exact same things we’re hearing today. Despite Jeb Babbin’s declaration that “frankly, going to war without France is like going deer hunting without an accordion”, I would have had no problem with France siding with us and assisting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime. But the “siding with us” was the key, not the “assisting”.

We have a specific plan regarding Iraq. Despite false starts, failures, and long hard slogs, we know what we’re after. And if “allies” don’t buy into what we’re doing, they’re really not allies regardless of how many troops they send. We’re better off with 3,000 Polish soldiers who are aligned with us working toward a common goal than we are with 30,000 soldiers from some other nation that, while helpfully fighting insurgents and terrorists, is on a different page than we are.

It all comes down to the definition of “allies”.

Today’s Strategy Page has this:

France was not always opposed to the American invasion of Iraq. One persistent Pentagon rumor, however, might explain why the French went the way they did. In December, 2002, a French staff officer visited the Pentagon with a proposal from his government. France would send 18,000 troops (about what they contributed in 1991) to join the Iraq invasion force. However, France wanted a specific area of occupation after the war, with full authority in that area for as long as Iraq needed to be occupied. The American State Department backed the French proposal, but the Department of Defense didn’t trust the French, and were suspicious of their motives. So the French officer went home empty handed, and the French government decided that invading Iraq was really an evil thing to do. [emphasis Murdoc’s]

Sound familiar? Shades of Germany, circa 1945, it seems to me. Our “allies” the Soviets controlled their zone with full authority when the fighting stopped. And for the next four decades, to boot.

This isn’t to compare today’s France with 1945’s Soviet Union, but I think you can see that our “ally” was clearly not on our side despite our common enemy, and that the post-war period was complicated greatly. I’m willing to admit freely that the Soviet effort against Nazi Germany was instrumental to the defeat of our enemy. France, with or without accordions, was not necessary to our campaign in Iraq, so we decided to forge ahead without the complications of an “unaligned ally”.

What could have gone wrong had the French joined the military effort to overthrow Hussein? According to Strategy Page:

What exactly were the French up to? No one is sure, but the most plausible theory was that the French wanted to be in Iraq, after Saddam fell, to make sure no embarrassing documents, or witnesses, showed up. France had been supplying Saddam with weapons, and other assistance, for over three decades. Moreover, how better to help get the Sunni Arabs back in power, than to have 18,000 French troops occupying, say, western Iraq. This sort of arrangement is nothing new for the French. Although France participated in the Balkans peacekeeping of the 1990s, France was known to be pro-Serb, and French officers were later caught helping out the Serbs in illegal ways. Very embarrassing, but not unexpected. The Pentagon was well aware of how the French pulled their pro-Serb stunts in the 1990s, and apparently wanted no more of that nonsense in Iraq.

As usual, Strategy Page provides no source material. But this theory seems to hold water, at least to the point where it would have to be considered a possibility when building the coalition.

Really, we’ve got enough problems in Iraq (especially with the Sunnis) already, thank-you very much. The last thing we need is a major power running interference for those most-determined to undermine the new Iraqi government and the establishment of democracy. And if it seems unlikely that France would stoop so low, as it were, please review their actions and words of the past three years.

France isn’t totally opposed to the idea of fighting terrorism, however. They’ve been of great assistance in Afghanistan, and their naval patrols have even indirectly aided our efforts in Iraq. See this story for info.

Victor Davis Hanson writes:

Is multilateralism an objective good in all circumstances or only a useful slogan to trash current policies in Iraq? Thus are current efforts to involve many nations to pressure North Korea bad or good? And is the outsourcing of the Iranian bomb problem for a time to the multilateral Europeans cowboyish or prudently communal? Indeed, some who last year called for US unilateral intervention to save Darfur (in the manner they had earlier demanded such steps in Mogadishu) are the first to castigate our efforts in Iraq that have won more of an allied presence than any adventure in the Sudan might.

It seems that the complaints about American “unilateralism” only surface when discussing Iraq, and even then the critics don’t seem to have their facts straight.

During last year’s presidential campaign, John Kerry hinted that he had a secret plan to convince those opposed to our efforts in Iraq to suddenly chum up and help out. This seemed pretty unlikely at the time, and since the good Senator hasn’t put his plan forward since that time, it’s hard to imagine that there was a plan. Yet we keep hearing that it’s critical that we “internationalize” our efforts and that President Bush is being a lone cowboy by ignoring our traditional allies. But we hear no details about how we’re supposed to convince anyone to change their position.

If those allies aren’t allied with us at this point, it’s safe to say they’ll never be allied with us on Iraq.

Many, it would seem, would be happier if our mission in Iraq was more likely to fail, so long as we had the French (for instance) in there with us. Is this really what we want? Since France is actively opposed to our intervention in Iraq even now, it seems clear we made the right decision in 2002 and 2003 to continue without them.


  1. Was it Bismark who said, there are no permanent alliances, only permanent interests? Maybe it was Metternich. Some German, certainly. France is pursuing its own interests, as is Russia, China, and other nations. What galls me about France and all those who say that we shouldn’t have invaded without French help is that they are lying. France assumed a posture of moral superiority before the Iraq war, and certain elements have continued to believe that was the case. I don’t care is some nation, for its own reasons, decides not to support us. (Which is more or less what the Russians did – and were fairly straightforward about the whole thing.) But (especially if you’re France) don’t go all high and mighty about unilateralism – when you recently invaded an african country without UN approval, claim that its all about the oil – when you’ve been pocketing billions in oil-for-food kickbacks, and obstruct while pretending to ‘help.’ Say you disagree, then get the hell out of the way. France has been trying for decades to construct a ‘counterweight’ to American hegemony first by splitting Nato, then by trying to assemble the EU around its own interests. French actions in the run up to the Iraq war are consistent with this policy. Hobble the giant so that you can compete with it. *** I think that traditional is a bad word. Natural allies might apply better to our relations with Australia and Britain. Thanks to our common language and culture, we tend to see things similarly. We are natural allies. Canada is a natural ally – though thanks to developments in their recent political history, they aren’t actual allies. Aliances with France in the last century were tenuous and expedient at best. Again, witness Nato. Germany has only recently been an ally, and only because they faced an even greater threat from the east. We should seek alliances where our interests and the interests of others intersect. We shouldn’t worry about tradtition, and certainly not gratitude. The only nations that can be more than allies of convenience, I think, are nations like Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

  2. The French troops in Bosnia when I was there were the subjects of much derision. They almost let a bus load of soldiers, myself included, going to Croatia for R&R, get thrown into a Croatian prison. Troops traveling under the SFOR banner were not supposed to be searched. The spineless French wiener manning the Croat/Bosnia border station allowed them to board our bus and search, over our objections. The French. Patooey!

  3. It’s ‘gauls’. Like, ‘What gauls me about France is…’ Har har. Posted by Geeklethal Dear Geeklethal, If you’re thinking about becoming a professional standup commedian… Please don’t quit your day job!