How’s this for strange bedfellows? George W. Bush and Dominque de Villepin.
The French Prime Minister, who became famous worldwide for leading the effort against the U.S.-UK diplomacy in the UN Security Council before the Iraq war, is now sounding warnings about the implications of a hasty American withdrawal.
In an interview with CNN yesterday (the relevant sections are below in full, but other than this Reuters report, hardly noticed by others), de Villepin worried aloud about the implications of the aftermath of a U.S. withdrawal – especially if this means Iraq going down the tubes. He’s voicing what seems self-evident to me: that Iraq’s future matters as much to Europe as it does to America – in fact, one could argue that given the reality of geography, a stable Iraq matters more to European countries than it does to the U.S.
As far as I can tell, de Villepin is the first major European official from a government that opposed the war to warn against U.S. pullout, and seems to acknowledge that what the U.S. decides to do matters to them. Most European officials have followed the line recently repeated by the new German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, which is: don’t ask us to get involved.
Up to now, what’s been striking is how the European debate has not reflected the debate here in the U.S. at all – the Europeans have not seemed to be thinking much about how a U.S. pullout would impact their interests (this is especially interesting because the Europeans were well aware – and very vocal – in 2003 about how the U.S. invasion would impact their interests). But de Villepin’s remark shows that they are starting to pay attention: and that at least some are getting worried about what we decide to do here will mean to them.
To me, this also shows that we have leverage that we are not yet using. The Europeans know that they have an interest in Iraq, and for those countries who are not involved, we have to call them on it. De Villepin said that “now we have to face the situation as it is, and it is the responsibility of all the international community to help the process, to make sure that we go forward all together.” [emphasis added]
Righto. So we should be going to France and others with a clear message: You’ve seen the debate in the U.S., and you know about the pressures to bring the troops home. It’s going to start happening, and we need your help to do so in a way that it works for all of us – because a stable Iraq matters for all of us. So put your money where your mouth is.
Now I don’t think that getting countries like France to actually act on its self-interest in this case – that is, helping us ensure that Iraq becomes stable – will be easy or maybe even possible, but it’s certainly worth a shot. And it’s not like we have a lot of great options.
Secretary Rice is heading to Europe next week. Not a bad time to start.
Here’s the relevant portion of the interview [emphasis added]:
Amanpour: France, and you yourself when you were Foreign Minister, was very vocal about the Iraq war. You obviously did not support it and you raised many of the issues that are currently unfolding there right now. What do you think? Do you feel vindicated when you look at what Iraq is going through right now?
De Villepin: No, I think it is of course a very difficult situation; we have gone a long way to begin to establish democracy in Iraq, but still there is a long way to go. And I think the effort should be important in terms of including all the political forces. After the referendum on the constitution, we are going to have general elections in Iraq on the 15th of December, and I think it is a very important moment in order to try to put together all the political and social forces of the country. We know that there are two risks in Iraq still today. One is the division of Iraq which is of course a nightmare for the region. And the second one is a growing role of terrorism. So I think it is very important for the international community to try to put all these forces together to solve the matter and I think we should support the initiative of the Arab League: try to support a better regroupement, coalition of the different political forces, and also make sure that all the countries of the region work together in order to go forward.
Amanpour: But you can see there is a huge amount of difficulty with that...
De Villepin: We knew since the beginning that it was very easy to go to war, but very difficult to get out of Iraq, because of the fragility of the country, because of the sensitivity of the situation in this region. So now we have to face the situation as it is, and it is the responsibility of all the international community to help the process, to make sure that we go forward all together.
Amanpour: Do you believe the United States should set a timetable for the withdrawal of its troops?
De Villepin: I believe that anything should be done coordinated with the local situation in Iraq and the regional situation. I think that the timetable should be a global timetable. The real timetable is the Iraqi situation. We should avoid at all cost the chaos in Iraq which of course would be disastrous for the whole region.