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The Kerry Plan for Iraq

Can John Kerry get the Europeans to help more in Iraq?

September 10, 2004

Can John Kerry get the Europeans to help more in Iraq?

The neoconservatives in Washington argue that the transatlantic policy divisions on Iraq reflect long-term civilizational divisions. Even a Democrat like John Kerry — were he to be elected — would not be able to bridge the differences.

This thinking is gradually becoming the conventional wisdom in Washington — even among less ideologically inclined analysts.

Yes, Mr. Kerry is smart, they argue, and he is cosmopolitan and even fluent in French. He and Teresa will probably be able to charm President Jacques Chirac of France and other Europeans, they say.

But, their argument goes, Mr. Kerry will not succeed in forging a common Euro-American strategy over Iraq because of the deep-rooted structural transatlantic gap. In short, even a President Kerry would not be able to secure any major commitments from European holdouts.

And in any case, didn't President Bush already offer NATO and the Europeans the opportunity to work together in Iraq? All he got in response was an agreement to train Iraqi security forces (in Italy)?

Doesn't that demonstrate that the Europeans are not interested in cooperating with the Americans?

But here’s the problem: What President Bush has offered the Europeans is to share in the burden of occupying Iraq — without giving them any serious role in decision-making. His implicit message is: “I'll drive the car. You guys can check the tires — and replace the oil.”

The Europeans, however, want a place on the driver's seat of Middle East policy in Iraq — and also on the crucial Israel/Palestine issue.

And they are certainly not inclined to get into the car with Mr. Bush at a time when his Iraq policy appears to be steering the car right over a steep cliff.

But the caricature that some neoconservatives are drawing of Mr. Kerry and European attitudes toward helping the United States are crude and overly simplistic at best.

In fact, what Mr. Kerry is projecting in his attitudes towards the Europeans is quite different. These are not wimpish sensibilities. Rather, it is the kind of realism that is associated with the tough foreign policy tradition of (European) Realpolitik.

Mr. Kerry is liable to recognize that the Europeans have legitimate geostrategic and geoeconomic interests in the Middle East that they need to secure.

He also understands that unilateral U.S. policy decisions in the region have contributed to the destructive mix of "free riding" on — and opposition to — U.S. power.

Hence, John Kerry knows that the United States needs to present the Europeans with an offer that they cannot refuse — and that will force them to put their money and troops where their policy mouth is.

Here are the steps that a President Kerry would probably take:

1.Convene an international conference on Iraq under UN auspices in London to which representatives of NATO, the EU and interested Middle Eastern powers — such as Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia — will be invited.

2.The conference will reach an agreement on the process of devolving political power to Iraqi leaders, which will probably be based on a creation of a loose federal system in which the Arab-Shiites, Arab-Sunnis and Kurds enjoy limited autonomy.

3.The security in each region of Iraq would be provided by the combined effort of local and outside forces. What will emerge in the short-term will be three Kosovo-like international protectorates.

4.NATO forces led by U.S. troops will help provide security in the Kurdish North. Troops from Moslem countries will be deployed in the Shiite South — while military forces from the Arab League will play a similar role in the Sunni triangle.

5.The EU will be chosen to administer the economic reconstruction of Iraq — with French, German and other European companies and aid agencies taking part in the process.

6.The United States will reactivate the Israel/Palestine peace process and will ask the EU to play a more active role in the process.

7.An interim agreement to end the violence between the sides could lead to deployment of NATO peacekeeping forces in Gaza and the West Bank — with the EU contributing much of the economic assistance to the emerging Palestinian entity.

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