Germany and France Dis' Kerry

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John Kerry has been making frequent statements that the mere presence of someone else besides Bush in the White House will be enough to get all this international support in Iraq besides what there already is, by which he means mainly France and Germany, with perhaps Russia and individual leaders of the U.N. such as Kofi Annan thrown in the mix. He hasn't said why he himself would make a difference in terms of his actions, just that his not being Bush is enough. In his NPR interview last week that I commented on here, he basically conceded this. The problem with this attitude is that the French and German governments have been fairly clear that Kerry's presence in the White House wouldn't necessarily change anything, and the impression seems to be that they just don't want to be involved. We'll see if this affects what Kerry says in the debate on Thursday. I don't expect a different message from what we've been hearing.

What really bothers me, though, has nothing to do with Kerry. The French official in particular said whether they provide troops depends as much as who's in power in Iraq as it does on who's in power in the U.S. Does this mean that they'd be supportive of those who support the insurgency win the January election but won't be supportive if the new government gets pretty much confirmed by the election> I hope not, but I can't really think of another interpretation, unless there's some minority party in Iraq that they would support (while not supporting Allawi) on some grounds that aren't worth worrying about. Is there?

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What the French are really saying is that they will support someone who rarely, if ever, practices "cowboy diplomacy", charging straight into situations without consulting long-standing allies. The problem with the French and Germans, and with the wider European Union in general, is that their political system emphasizes and depends on consensus in order to get anything done. This method of decision-making is called "the matrix style", and as the number of issues and the resulting complexity increase, it becomes harder and harder to accomplish anything at all.

(A former colleague of mine used to work for Polaroid, where they use pretty much the same style of decision making for everything, involving building consensus for hundreds and hundreds of people at a time. My friend attributes much of Polaroid's trouble and demise to this style of governing, where one dissenting voice can cause the process to start over again.)

What the Europeans see as America is the type of decisiveness that they themselves lack and abhor. It was military "decisions" that got Europe into two devastating wars; they'd be darned if they will ever get dragged into another one again. Curiously, right after the 9/11 attacks, NATO invoked the Article 5 of its charter in supporting America, regarding the attacks on Washington and New York as attacks upon them all. So while they wasted little time in declaring nominal solidarity, they have wasted much time until now in acting on their convictions.

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