Man Without Qualities

Sunday, December 21, 2003

For The Holidays, Send A Gift With A Wish Attached III: The New York Times Continues It's Long Journey Through Denial

Today's lead editorial in the New York Times is an interesting early example of the concession/uberdenialism combo to which the liberal media and many Democrats are likely to be driven increasingly if the economy and foreign affairs continue to improve.

First, the concession: the Administration effort to obtain debt relief for Iraq is admitted to be correct, and an appropriate exception to America's general resistance to national debt foregiveness pleas.

Then, the many and egregious denials. The Times tells us that The leaders of France and Germany were already looking for politically feasible ways to work with Washington on Iraq. Is that right? Was the German Chancellor, who obtained his office by running on a platform of opposition to American efforts in Iraq, really looking for politically feasible ways to work with Washington on Iraq? And was France signaling that it was looking for politically feasible ways to work with Washington when French representatives recently mocked an American request that NATO supply more helicopters in Afghanistan? The French and German leaders didn't let on that their real motivation was looking for politically feasible ways to work with Washington when (as reported by CNN) only a few weeks ago they responded to British Prime Minister Tony Blair saying: "whatever the differences there have been about the conflict, we all want to see a stable Iraq," by highlighting their differences. Chirac even corrected Blair when Blair suggested there might be some movement on agreeing to the transfer of power from the U.S. occupying force to Iraqi officials. The whole affair was such a fiasco that Professor Richard Whitman, of the University of Westminster in London, told CNN the talks were a "major disappointment." Professor Whitman observed: "(We) hoped for a real push towards some firm agreement at least among European states. It is very difficult to see where we are going to see some common ground."

Ah, those inscrutable Parisians and Berliners! The Times appears to perceive that in correcting and rebuffing Washington's great ally that Messrs. Chirac and Schroeder were only looking for politically feasible ways to work with Washington on Iraq! Nor does it appear that the French and Germans were already looking for politically feasible ways to work with Washington on Iraq when they refused to contribute more than a token amount to Iraq's reconstruction. Perhaps Professor Whitman feels chastened and corrected - but I wouldn't bet on it.

The Times begins its editorial with the witless pronouncement: James Baker III is quickly showing how old-fashioned diplomacy can advance Washington's policy objectives. Old-fashioned diplomacy? Old-fashioned diplomacy is the job of the Secretary of State - to whom Mr. Baker does not even report. Colin Powell's hospitalization doesn't explain this substitution - the trip was hardly of such an urgency that it could not have been postponed for a few weeks, and Mr. powell could have sent his first in command. That's the way old fashioned diplomacy works.

By the rules of old-fashioned diplomacy there was plenty of time for Mr. Powell to recover, since Mr. Baker's entire trip should have been (under those rules) at least postponed following what the Times calls a Pentagon memo excluding France, Germany, Russia and other opponents of the war from Iraqi reconstruction contracts financed by American tax dollars whose release on the eve of Mr. Baker's European trip was inept. Interestingly, the Times does not join with the naive crowd arguing that the memo's release or text was not fully approved by the White House or Mr. Baker (even, to paranoids, such as Herr Doktorprofessor Paul Von Krugman, a deliberate attempt to undermine Mr. Baker's efforts). Nor does the Times tarry to explain why the memo's release did not prevent French and German cooperation on debt relief for Iraq. Not only did it not prevent it, the memo's release almost certainly enormously aided in securing that cooperation, which is nothing more or less than agreement to contribute through debt relief value economically identical to the very reconstruction funds that the Europeans had earlier refused to provide. The memo drew a clear line indicating that further European outrages such as their refusal to contribute to reconstruction would be met with dramatic and effective and very expensive retorts from the United States. Almost certainly, that's what drew the cooperation and that's why the trip was not postponed and that's why neither Mr. Powell nor anyone reporting to him made the trip.

That's anything but old fashioned diplomacy. That's hard-scrabble, Texas-style, cram-down workout maneuvering. Mr. Powell can pick up on the old fashioned diplomacy when Mr. Baker - the Texan - finishes his work.

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