TCS Daily

Rethinking 'Our Allies'

By Ken Adelman - November 6, 2002 12:00 AM

We want "our allies" with us on Iraq. The Administration has been working the United Nations and diplomatic tracks to get them aboard. Polls show much more public backing for war against Saddam Hussein when "our allies" are aboard.

But who are "our allies?"

Everyone assumes they're primarily Western European countries, Canada, and Japan. They're the ones who need to be with us.


When we launched the war on terrorism last year, we needed allies, all right. But the allies we needed weren't Germany, France, and Canada. They were Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. These "'-stans" had agents, facilities, and information that materially helped us defeat the Taliban and liberate Afghanistan.

Likewise, when we go into Iraq, we'll need allies, all right. We'll need Kuwait, Turkey, and Qatar. They're the ones with real assets to help us in this liberation.

Unilateralists contend we don't need allies at all. But that's nonsense, especially for the global power in today's globalized world. But internationalists need to update what's meant by "our allies."

What's meant by "our allies" is a World War II construct, as it includes the Western winners - Britain, France, Canada, Australia, etc. - and the three losers - Germany, Japan, and Italy. Most were then bundled into NATO to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us against the Soviet Union.

That construct's become old-think. The Soviet Union's gone, Russia's no enemy, and we won't need all these countries in future wars.

That's good - because we won't get them all.

Germany, once the staunchest of "our allies," has wandered away. Gerhard Schroeder won reelection after an anti-American campaign that ended with his justice minister - of all positions! - comparing President Bush's tactics to Hitler's.

This would be offensive from anyone. But German officials should be most eager to side with democracies against a vicious dictator who defies international norms, especially one who gasses his own citizens.

While that German justice minister is now gone, her sentiment isn't. Americans feel hurt.

Yet we aren't hurt that much. This once-critical ally didn't factor in the Gulf War, and Germany has little to offer in this war, either. Our 70,000 troops stationed there - another World War II and Cold War legacy - could be better positioned in the Persian Gulf. American facilities are being built in Qatar and will be expanded in Kuwait and the northern, Kurdish territory of Iraq.

New allies are arising even in Europe, ones hardly imaginable 15 years ago - Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovenia. The Czechs, for example, have real expertise in chemical weapons, an expertise that could help protect our troops and nearby states during a war with Iraq, and afterwards to help detoxify Saddam's death factories.

The Bush team is ending the maddening scramble for U.N. Security Council votes. Having spent years as U.S. ambassador there, I feel for their efforts to avoid a veto of the U.S. resolution by the five "permanent members."

But just who are these five? The victors of the past global war - World War II - not the key countries in today's global war. The veto power of Russia and France - the two orneriest on the new Iraq resolution - derives from what they were in World War II, surely not what they are today.

We should no longer think of "our allies" as countries colored blue, standing solid against enemy red states. Rather, imagine changing coalitions depending upon the issue at hand.

Imagine, that is, something like the U.S. Congress on ordinary days. We, and the Western democracies, will often agree - just as Republicans often agree among themselves (as do Democrats).

But issues constantly arise where members most sensitive to environmental, aging, or farm issues smoothly cross party lines to form new, temporary coalitions. Allies change constantly in Congress, and that seems natural by now.

So why stay locked in World War II and Cold War constructs of "our allies" abroad? That's become unnatural by now.



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