December 12, 2003

Kofi and the Beanstalk...

To some Americans, other countries are always tender damsels, wistfully hoping to be friends, but always driven away by America's obnoxious body-odor. I remember during the Vietnam War, it was a matter of faith to many that North Vietnam keenly wanted peace, but could only express this desire through "peace feelers" of inscrutable subtlety, which were always ignored, or which withered under the harsh blast of American coarseness. The idea that Ho Chi Minh was some sort of delicate blossom was goofy, but it served its purpose of obscuring the fact that we had a "peace movement" that was only interested in criticizing one side of a very two-sided war.

We have the very same thing again. You just watch; it will now become a matter of faith to some people that Russia and France and Germany were this close, were just fractions of millimeters away from pitching in and helping us in Iraq. But then President Stanley Kowalski belched in their faces with our contracts policy, driving them away by a boorishness their sheltered convent-upbringing had not prepared them for.

David Frum writes:

....The fact is that Germany, France, and Russia have already been pressed by the United States to forgive Iraq�s debts, most insistently at an October conference in Madrid. All three refused, as they have refused to provide significant aid to the new Iraq.

So who�s kidding whom here? The idea that the allies-only rule might somehow �embarrass� President Bush�s attempts to obtain economic assistance for Iraq is pure State Department wishful thinking. To the contrary: the swift and firm application of an attention-getting two-by-four may well be the only method to persuade the ill-intentioned three to offer any assistance.

There�s a more profound question at issue here. It is always hard for the human mind to adapt to the fact of change. For half a century, Germany has been a firm and faithful ally of the United States; France, an often annoying but still ultimately reliable friend. It�s natural to hesitate to absorb the evidence that these relationships may be coming to an end--that Germany is edging away from the old alliance and that France has for reasons of its own opted to pursue a policy of rivalry and even hostility to the United States. But if it is natural to hesitate to accept unwelcome new realities, it is dangerous to deny them. In Iraq, France was Saddam Hussein�s ally, not America�s--and France now wishes the United States, Britain, and the rest of the coalition to fail in Iraq, not succeed. It is useful for the French government and others to be made aware that Americans have observed this hostility--and that America�s future policy toward France and others will take this hostility into account.

As for Iraq�s debts, they are a matter between those who chose to lend money to Saddam Hussein--principally France, Germany, and Russia--and the new government of Iraq. The United States will of course wish to see Iraq and its creditors negotiate some settlement. But it�s also true that when debtors and creditors cannot agree, debtors sometimes simply default--refuse to pay. And what will those creditors do if Iraq does default? Invade?....

Actually, the debts of overburdened third-world countries are often given "haircuts." The markets have already discounted private Iraqi debt in the expectation that a haircut is inevitable. It's going to happen. There will be lots of posturing and negotiating and lines drawn in the sand, and then, when the news media get bored with the question, a deal will quietly be done. (

Our friend Dave Trowbridge notes someone's suggestion that, as "occupying power," WE are now responsible for Iraqi debt, and can only escape by permission of the UN. I would tend to put that down to wishful thinking. There are a lot of people for whom "International Law" is something one simply declares, in hopes it will take, like a small-pox vaccination. [That sure dates you.--I.C. Uh, I read about it in a book.] And of course the purpose of these soi-disant international laws is always to hinder the United States (Or perhaps Israel.) I mean, try to even imagine the world's lefties saying that France can't do such-and-such because it's "against International Law." You can't think it, the mind refuses to accept such a thing! Or imagine someone declaring that Russia's invasion of Afghanistan has left them liable for Afghan debts...laughable.

Part of this wishful thinking is the hope that the United Nations has somehow become an omnipotent World Government while no one was looking. Authoritative voices are always declaring that this-or-that can't be done without the permission of the Security Council. Last September there was this:

UN under-secretary general Shashi Tharoor said the Allies had no rights under international law to engage in any kind of reconstruction or creation of government without the express consent of the Security Council....
Purest hogwash. I'd call that the "Magic Bean" theory of International Law. Kofi Anan tosses some Magic Beans on the ground, and overnight they grow into a towering beanstalk, and all nations the United States has no choice but to obey. World Government has spoken!

There are, by the way, genuine International Laws. But those are rules that have evolved over time, and which civilized nations follow because it's in everybody's best interest to do so. Or they are treaties, voluntarily entered into, and exited from. The United States supports many of those laws.

Posted by John Weidner at December 12, 2003 8:59 PM
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