Sunday, December 14, 2003

The Bush administration has decided to reserve the principal contracts for rebuilding Iraq (worth about $19 billion) to bidders from countries that supported the war effort, and Old Europe (to borrow Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s term) has gone ballistic.

Actually, a better term would be Carolingian Europe, after the brutal 8th century “Holy Roman” emperor so celebrated by European integrationists, since France and Germany, which made up the bulk of Charlemagne’s empire, are the most vocal of the outraged parties. This unholy alliance spent much of the period leading up to Saddam Hussein’s destruction doing its best to prevent his forcible removal and now feels cheated of the pitiable spoils to be had — the vast majority of which have been provided by the U.S. taxpayer.

There is, however, something much more at stake here than Franco-German greed. There can be little doubt that Paris and Berlin are, again, attempting to limit America’s right to act as a normal sovereign state, with or without their blessing, in its own self interests. President Bush was right to reserve the main reconstruction contracts to American and allied contractors, and he must not back down.

To appreciate the truly Byzantine design of our Frankish friends, it has to be recalled that they have not been denied all of the goodies. French and German firms will be able to bid on, and win, subcontracts in Iraq. They simply will not be able to act as ultimate, general contractors. The issue here is manifestly not the money. It is, in fact, the right of the United States to use force, with or without U.N. approval, to protect its citizens and national interests in an increasingly dangerous world. France and Germany denied this right, and sought to impede its exercise, during the months leading up to the Iraqi war, insisting that only the Security Council (where France continues to wield a veto) could authorize military action. Mr. Bush ignored them and, along with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, created a coalition of the willing, including more than three dozen countries, who contributed in one way or another to eliminating Saddam Hussein as a threat to peace and in liberating the Iraqi people. Now, the United States, as it has every right to do, is seeking to reward those countries that stood by it in an hour of need.

That, of course, is exactly what Messrs. Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder seek, at all costs, to prevent. Both know very well indeed that they cannot discipline the use of American power by threats directed at the United States. Nor can they force American allegiance to multi-lateral institutions, such as the International Criminal Court, that would be able to check U.S. power by targeting individual American citizens.

What they can do, however, is bully those smaller countries that chose to support the United States in Iraq — those states Mr. Chirac, earlier this year, suggested had been badly brought up when they “missed a good opportunity to shut up” after they had openly expressed support for Mr. Bush. France and Germany cannot now sit by and permit those countries, which include European Union states such as Poland and Spain, to benefit by that choice.

In addition, the non-coalition states can attempt, as they have attempted, to de-legitimize the use of American power through simple obstructionism — insisting, for example, that only the United Nations could give legitimacy to any new Iraqi government when it had been accepted, even in the heart of Europe, that such legitimacy can come only from the consent of the governed. Another example is the continuing complaint that American “unilateralism” brought about Iraq’s current problems which, presumably, would be resolved instantaneously if only the United Nations were put in charge. In fact, from the beginning, American diplomats wore holes in their Hush Puppies tramping up and down U.N. corridors, seeking support to finally remove a man who for years had defied a dozen Security Council resolutions, threatened his neighbors, sought weapons of mass destruction and governed his own people with a unrestrained savagery that would even have shocked Charlemagne’s contemporaries — and, most likely, the old man himself; and he was not squeamish about that sort of thing.

Most of the funds now available for reconstructing Iraq have come from the United States. The contributions of France and Germany have been inconsiderable, to say the least, as has that of Russia — which also has complained of the administration’s contracting policy. It is both the right and the obligation of the United States now to ensure that whatever benefits there may be from the Iraqi reconstruction process are primarily directed to the nationals of countries that contributed to Iraq’s liberation. This is not merely a matter of good diplomacy or good sense. It is a simple matter of self-respect.

Lee A. Casey and David B. Rivkin Jr. are partners in Baker & Hostetler LLP. Both served in the Justice Department under Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

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