Less than two minutes into his speech at San Francisco's Commonwealth Club last week, Al Gore said he was "deeply concerned" that the Bush administration's policy toward Iraq will "weaken our ability to lead the world."
It was a point he kept repeating. America's ability to secure "broad and continuous international cooperation" in the war against terrorism, he said, would be "severely damaged by unilateral action against Iraq." Unlike during the Gulf War, "many of our allies in Europe and Asia are thus far opposed to what President Bush is doing." Bush has "squandered" the "sympathy, goodwill, and solidarity that followed the attacks of Sept. 11th and converted it [sic] into anger and apprehension." He has conducted foreign policy "at the expense of solidarity . . . between America and her allies."
This is hardly a new argument (though it is new for the former vice president, who as recently as February was calling for a "final reckoning" with Saddam's regime, which he labeled "a virulent threat in a class by itself"). Is there any Bush critic who hasn't claimed that the administration's determination to oust Saddam was costing us the support of the rest of the world?
Here, for instance, is an August editorial in The New York Times, which has been beating the no-war drum for months: "Rarely in preparing for war has America seemed so isolated from potential military partners and allies as it does today."
And here is Democratic partisan James Carville, railing on CNN the other night: "Let me tell you something. The Koreans hate us. Now the Germans. . . . You know what? If we had a foreign policy that tried to get people to like us, as opposed to irritating everybody in the damn world, it would be a lot better thing. . . . Our foreign policy makes it where people don't like us."
And Senator John Kerry, scolding the president in a recent op-ed column: "The administration's hasty war talk makes it much more difficult to manage our relations with other Arab governments, let alone the Arab street. . . . The administration seems to have elevated Saddam Hussein in the eyes of his neighbors to a level he would never have achieved on his own."
There is just one problem with this argument. It isn't true.
To be sure, not every country favors a US war on Iraq. The French are against it, in keeping with their old habit of accommodating dictators instead of fighting them. More surprisingly, the Germans are against it too. In his re-election campaign, Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder repeatedly denounced Bush's war plans, and was backed up by other members of his Social Democratic Party. Justice Minister Herta Daeubler-Gmelin reportedly likened Bush's rhetoric to Adolf Hitler's; Ludwig Stiegler, the SDP leader in the German parliament, said Bush was "acting as if he's Caesar Augustus."
But no sooner was Schroeder returned to office than he forced Daeubler-Gmelin to resign and stripped Stiegler of his party post. Why? If the prospect of a US war against Saddam is truly "irritating everybody in the damn world," the victorious Schroeder would hardly feel the need to take such drastic steps to appease Washington. It is precisely because the world is lining up behind Bush, not against him, that Schroeder is so keen to mend fences.
Consider some recent developments:
At a summit meeting in Copenhagen, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi staunchly backs the US call for regime change in Baghdad. At the United Nations, the Portuguese foreign minister says the option of war with Iraq "must be open," and that it is a great mistake for any nation to blame the United States for preparing to fight. On Sept. 12, Spanish Prime Minister Josť Maria Aznar declares, "If I have to choose between the camp of freedom and the camp of tyranny or . . . between President Bush or Saddam Hussein, I have no doubt which is my place or what Spain's place should be."
East of Elbe, meanwhile, support for Bush is even stronger. For good reason: East Europeans have vivid, recent memories of what it means to live under a dictatorship -- and what it means like to be liberated.
Thus Czech President Vaclav Havel warns that Saddam must be defeated, recalling that "if the world had resisted Hitler sooner . . . World War II might not have happened." Bulgaria, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the UN Security Council, pronounces the US case against Saddam "quite convincing." Romania offers the use of its airspace in any action against Iraq. Count on it: When the American war to topple Saddam begins, most of Europe will follow.
And what of the Arab world?
Well, Qatar has indicated it would welcome a request from the United States to use its Al Udeid Air Base to launch an attack on Baghdad. Jordan has reportedly agreed to let US forces target Iraqi missile batteries from positions in the eastern Jordanian desert. Egypt, Kuwait, and Turkey likewise have reportedly consented to provide logistical assistance to a US-led campaign against Saddam. Even Saudi Arabia, reversing its earlier stance, now says it will permit its bases to be used against Iraq.
All that talk of how the "Arab street" will explode if America marches on Baghdad and how Bush, as Kerry put it, "has elevated Saddam in the eyes of his neighbors"? Forget it. "Over the past few weeks," reports the Iranian-born journalist Amir Taheri, "Arab opposition to military action against Saddam Hussein has crumbled. . . . In visits from one end of the Arab world to another, one finds little evidence of any grassroots support for Saddam."
It is easy and tempting to grouse about the United States. But when the superpower goes to war, no one wants to be on the losing side. The war to liberate Iraq will be no exception