Kerry is Wrong to Rely on Much Help

One of the key contentions in different outlooks on the War on Terrorism centers around the suggestion that it is in every civilized nation’s best interest to control terrorism. This outlook is part of the intellectual framework that lets Kerry suggest that greatly helpful allies would have been available if only the President were better at diplomacy. The best interest argument may be true as a long term concept, but short term factors may interceed.

Saudi Arabia makes an excellent example of this. It is definitely in the long term interests of the Kingdom to eliminate Islamist terrorism because one of the major goals of such terrorism is to gain control of places like Saudi Arabia in order to create governments more like those found in Iran. Many Islamist terrorist factions are closely tied to the more fundamentalist sects found in Saudi Arabia. The government of Saudi Arabia is afraid to alienate these fundamentalist sects, so it attempts to accommodate them. Historically, one of the ways it has done so is by failing to investigate such groups when found in its own borders, so long as such groups carry out terrorism outside its borders. It also funds, or allows funding to go to these terrorist groups. This is a kind of 'throw them to the crocodiles and hope the beasts are satisfied' appeasement which can actually work quite well in the short term--though it tends to make the beast stronger in the long term. So long as the Saudi government can deflect the violence to other places, it makes some level of sense to do so. It is this type of appeasement that the administration tried to counter with the "for us or against us" idea.

Similar incentives are at work in Europe. France, especially, has a large and unassimilated Muslim population. If France can deflect terrorism onto the United States, it is in the best short-term interest of France to do so. And so long as everyone believes that the United States will act against terrorism when it gets too bad, the free rider effect comes into play. It is certainly in the best interests of all civilized countries that terrorism be dealt with. So long as the United States is forced to deal with it, and when you notice that dealing with it is going to take a long time, it may not be in the best interest of many countries to join (and especially to be seen to join) the US in actively fighting terrorism outside their borders. If the US is dealing with the problem, why attract attention to yourself? If you don't want to spend money on your military, why do so if the US will fill the gap? If the danger can be deflected onto the US, why get involved? This likely is not the total reasoning of many European governments, but it is a strong incentive to stay out of the conflicts as much as possible, and perhaps even demonize the US when they get a chance.

A similar logic operates in the Sudan and exposes much of the European rhetoric about 'just wars' and their attachment to treaties as mere words. Genocide in the Sudan is not a threat to Europe. It is a Muslim country with long-standing ties to terrorism. Why risk getting involved over ethnic cleansing which will be over after a couple hundred thousand more people are killed? The attachment to 'international law' in the form of treaties suddenly vanishes. It can't be used against the US, and might cause terrorists to notice them. So why bother with it?

All that is assuming that Europe has military might to offer. That might not be true. But in either case, Kerry's belief that Europe will be offering much to the War on Terrorism is a fantasy, and that goes double for Iraq. And that isn't even considering economic incentives which may play a part in certain country's unwillingess to engage in confrontation in the Middle East.

The incentives are not inevitabilities, of course. But I suspect that resisting them is not so much a matter of diplomacy as national outlook.

Posted by Sebastian Holsclaw at October 29, 2004 2:34 AM