In criticizing President Bush’s handling of Iraq, John Kerry asserts that the incumbent is to blame for failing to build a broad coalition to fight the war. To hear Mr. Kerry explain things, Mr. Bush is a misguided unilateralist whose insistence on going it alone in Iraq has chased away would-be allies like French President Jacques Chirac and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Both would be only too happy to cooperate with us in Iraq, the theory goes, but for Mr. Bush’s bullying approach to foreign affairs.
So, in an effort to allay these concerns, the Bush administration has attempted to meet the critics more than halfway. The administration gave Mr. Annan’s envoy Lakhdar Brahimi wide-ranging authority to form an interim government in Iraq. It also has slowed the investigation of corruption in the U.N. Oil for Food program. Last week, Washington persuaded the U.N. Security Council to go on record with a resolution supporting the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people on June 30.
Unfortunately, however, the Bush administration’s excursion into a heightened degree of multilateralism does not seem to be generating much in the way of additional support in the form of troops on the ground. Speaking Thursday at the G-8 summit meeting, Mr. Chirac warned against NATO “meddling” in Iraq, adding, “The only exit strategy to give the Iraqi people is one that will give them a fully sovereign government.”
How comforting it is to hear Mr. Chirac’s mini-lecture on the need to ensure that the Iraqi people can rule themselves. From the early 1970s until last year, when Saddam Hussein was deposed, Mr. Chirac and his political allies in Paris seemed quite comfortable with a different form of sovereign rule for the Iraqi people: Ba’athist tyranny. In November 2002, France promised Washington that if Saddam refused to cooperate with U.N. weapons investigators, it would support the use of force to disarm him. Then, as is well known, Iraq continued its campaign of deception. But Mr. Chirac double-crossed Mr. Bush, forcing the allies to go to war without Security Council backing.
Given this sorry record (along with mounting evidence of French involvement in the Oil for Food scandal), it hardly comes as a shock to hear that Mr. Chirac is leading the charge against a greater role for NATO. It will be interesting to see if Mr. Kerry decides to ignore this unpleasant reality, or to disingenuously spin in an effort to blame Mr. Bush and whitewash Mr. Chirac’s deplorable behavior.