Believe It or Not, There’s Agreement on Foreign Policy

Posted March 19, 2004 at 4:58pm

Amid all the foreign policy rocket fire being exchanged by U.S. politicians — and terrible news from Spain and Baghdad last week — good things actually are happening on the Iraq front that ought not be overlooked.

[IMGCAP(1)]One development is a convergence — believe it or not — between Democratic Sen. John Kerry (Mass.) and the Bush administration on how to win the peace in Iraq.

In what seems an obvious move to the center now that the general election campaign is under way, Kerry is making it clear that he wants the United States (and also Spain, under its new Socialist government) to stay the course in Iraq.

While bashing President Bush for conducting a “stubborn” and “arrogant” foreign policy that “drives … allies away,” Kerry also declared “we must never give anyone else a veto over the national security of our nation” and characterized terrorism as “a mortal challenge” he wouldn’t hesitate to fight with force.

Besides being a tactical campaign move to fight GOP charges that he is “weak on defense,” it may be dawning on Kerry that he actually could be president next January and will have to finish out what Bush has begun in Iraq and also fight the terrorist menace.

The Bush administration, meanwhile, is adopting an idea long pushed by Democrats and moving toward greater involvement by the United Nations to give international legitimacy to post-war operations in Iraq.

The administration wants the United Nations to assist the new Iraqi government following its installation July 1 and pave the way for national elections. And, it evidently will seek a new U.N. Security Council resolution blessing post-July 1 arrangements.

Moreover, in what could be a significant move in a direction that Kerry has made a centerpiece of his foreign policy, Bush has decided to attend the European Union summit again this year, offering an opportunity to patch up strained relations with estranged allies.

Another piece of good news was contained in an ABC poll of Iraqis showing that, even though much of the population detests U.S. occupation, big majorities believe that life is better now than it was before the war.

Moreover, a full 61 percent of Sunni Arabs — the most anti-American group in the country — believe that conditions will be better in the future, along with 72 percent of Shiites and 83 percent of Kurds.

Thirty-six percent of Sunnis believe that attacks on coalition forces are acceptable — a scary figure — but 57 percent say they are unacceptable, along with 85 percent of Shiites and 96 percent of Kurds.

Not to dismiss ongoing violence — dramatized by the bombing of the Mt. Lebanon Hotel last week in Baghdad — the poll results suggest that U.S. policy could well be succeeding.

Even the hotel bombing itself could be a sign that the Iraqi resistance is losing its punch. This was the softest of soft targets, a completely unguarded building not anything like the strategic significance of earlier targets such as the Jordanian Embassy, U.N. headquarters or Shiite mosques in Baghdad and Karbala.

The only strategic aspect of the bombing seems to have been that it was in Baghdad, conveniently available for coverage by network television anchors in the country for the first anniversary of the Iraq war. The carnage was extensively covered but had no noticeable psychological effect in the United States.

The United States did suffer a major setback — and al Qaeda, a notable victory — when Spain elected Socialist Jose Zapatero, a militant Iraq war opponent, as its new prime minister following the horrific terrorist bombing of commuter trains in Madrid.

Zapatero, doing Kerry no favors in this country, declared that he hoped Bush would be defeated in the November election. This proved that Kerry did have the foreign leadership support he claimed, but wouldn’t identify.

Still, Vice President Cheney scored a direct hit with the crack, “American voters are the ones charged with determining the outcome of this election, not unnamed foreign leaders.”

In a hot exchange of speeches Wednesday, Cheney also got the better of Kerry by pointing out the inconsistency of Kerry’s promise to repair U.S. relations with foreigners while calling countries now assisting the United States in Iraq “a coalition of the coerced and the bribed.”

“If such dismissive terms are the vernacular of the golden age of diplomacy Senator Kerry promises,” Cheney jibed, “we are left to wonder which nations would care to join any future coalition. He speaks as if only those who openly oppose America’s objectives have a chance of earning his respect.”

For his part, Kerry kept up accusations that Bush “misled” the country into war. “But having gone to war, we have … a huge responsibility now to … achieve a peaceful and stable Iraq,” he said.

“All of Europe — I mean all of Europe — has a fundamental security interest in not having a failed Iraq at its doorstep,” he said, calling on his new best friend, Zapatero, to reconsider pulling Spanish troops out of Iraq.

No question, this is a bitter presidential campaign, but the country just may come out of it with a consensus foreign policy.