All the yelling and screaming you hear is the sound of the Gore campaign realizing that it is about to lose the Nov. 7 election. The vice president is in a state of near hysteria, supposedly over statements made by Bush foreign policy adviser Condoleeza Rice in an interview with the New York Times Saturday. In statements over the weekend, Mr. Gore practically predicted war in Europe if the United States were to ask as Miss Rice rather sensibly suggested for a division of labor within NATO and for Europeans to assume responsibility for peacekeepers on the ground in the Balkans.
With Secretary of State Madeleine Albright providing backup in moments between reviewing military parades and doing the hula for the North Korean leadership Mr. Gore tore into his opponent with all the ferocity of a cocker spaniel on steroids. “I think that Governor Bush has made a reckless proposal when he says that he would withdraw our contributions to the NATO peacekeeping force in the Balkans,” he told this newspaper in an interview aboard Air Force Two. “Now, without U.S. leadership NATO would face the risk of collapse over time. And without NATO, the peace in Europe that has been taken for granted for more than half a century now would over time be at risk.”
Mr. Gore’s fit of the vapors helps to demonstrate why his reputation as a foreign policy expert is entirely undeserved, rather like his reputation for intellectual brilliance. Peace in Europe was certainly not “taken for granted” throughout the Cold War. Quite the opposite, one might say, which was why the United States kept 300,000 troops in Europe. And how exactly would peace in Europe be threatened today? By the Balkan war erupting again and spilling over into Central and Eastern Europe? That’s not a realistic scenario anymore, though indeed it was 10 years ago. Perhaps Mr. Gore meant that war would break out between Germany and France, as it has done so many times. If that is the case, Mr. Gore should be talking to French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder about his concerns.
The fact is that nothing Miss Rice told the New York Times merits this kind of overblown reaction. Here is what she said: “The governor is talking about a new division of labor. The United States is the only power that can handle a showdown in the gulf, mount the kind of force that is needed to protect Saudi Arabia and deter a crisis in the Taiwan Straits. And extended peacekeeping detracts from our readiness for these kinds of global missions.”
Also: “We are not withdrawing from Europe. We are not withdrawing the kind of support we can provide, like air power. But when it comes to nation building or civilian administration or indefinite peacekeeping, we do need for the Europeans to step up to their responsibilities. We are not going to do anything precipitous, but unless we set this as a firm goal we will never get it done.”
She also said: “This comes down to function. Carrying out civil administration and police functions is simply going to degrade the American capability to do the things America has to do. We don’t need to have the 82nd Airborne escorting kids to kindergarten.”
That’s it. Everything else in the article was commentary and paraphrase, for which Miss Rice cannot be held accountable.
Last month, I had the opportunity to speak to Miss Rice during a stay at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. What she said then does not differ materially from anything she told the New York Times, nor indeed from what has been the Bush campaign’s position for months. In view of a solid American commitment to NATO and to U.S. military alliances in Asia, is it really so tactless to ask Europeans to assume responsibility for peacekeeping on their own continent? According to the new European Security and Defense Plan, of which they are so proud, this is exactly in line with European thinking.
One problem admittedly is that Europeans talk loudly and carry a tiny little stick. For instance, on Oct. 9, the Associated Press reported that the Dutch government had bravely volunteered 1,000 peacekeeping troops to the war-torn border region between Eritrea and Ethiopia. This noble gesture, however, was predicated on a commitment from President Clinton that the United States would promise to pull out the troops should fighting erupt; the Dutch have no means of doing it themselves. How embarrassing is that? (Mr. Clinton gave the promise, of course.)
In part for that reason, it is clear to everyone, including the Bush team, that the United States continues to play a crucial role in NATO and in Europe. This is what Miss Rice told me on the subject: “European forces should be able to do more peacekeeping, so that the next time there is a need for peacekeepers on the European continent there would be no need to have American troops involved. However, I don’t see the Europeans with their declining defense budgets being able to build the military infrastructure to take on these missions on their own… We need to find a sustainable peace in Kosovo, something that can last when the troops eventually are withdrawn. We have not set a timetable for withdrawal, but ultimately Gov. Bush believes it should be the Europeans that patrol that peace.” How can that be so terrible?