News Analysis: A new degree of trust at G-8

Posted in Other | 11-Jun-04 | Author: John Vinocur| Source: International Herald Tribune

Doubters find a reasonable Bush

SAVANNAH, Georgia During the Cuban missile crisis, a European diplomat at the Group of 8 summit meeting here recalled, an emissary of John F. Kennedy paid an urgent visit to Charles de Gaulle in Paris. He came planning an elaborate presentation of photos of Soviet missile emplacements aimed at the United States.

The general, the diplomat said, told Kennedy's man to forget the slide show. He said it was unnecessary because France trusted America.

Characterizing the summit meeting on Sea Island, which ended on Thursday, the diplomat said international trust in 2004 had different, less grand, less elegant parameters.

But depending on the individual relationship and the individual motivation, and considering that a unifying resolution on Iraq had passed the United Nations Security Council, the talks on Sea Island probably increased the level of confidence between the United States and many of its partners, the diplomat said.

After the destructive dispute over Iraq between the Bush administration and the Russians, Germans and French, the level of international trust had reached a spectacular low, the diplomat added.

The United States may have deceived other nations on the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and the countries opposing the war may have done so to win elections, to maintain wobbling positions of influence in Europe and the Arab worlds, or for the atavistic pleasure of harassing the Americans.

Beyond the shirt-sleeved photo-ops, and hingeing on the leaders' motivations, tradeoffs and a new degree of mutual comfort were available.

President George W. Bush wanted circumstances that wrapped American policy in Iraq and American notions for the future of the Middle East into the consensual folds of international approval. To the extent that neither the Security Council resolution nor the summit participants' American-driven statement on building reform and democracy in the Arab World brought new elements of confrontation, Bush scored points toward softening a caricature.

Although well short of blanket trust, among the Russians, Germans and French, Bush had acquired, for the moment at least, an aura of reasonableness.

Even the least trusting of Bush's partners, President Jacques Chirac of France - he threw verbal political darts at the Americans' Middle East initiative and their desire for a role in relation to Iraq - said the U.S. "had played the game" of international consultations and confidence-building in getting the UN resolution approved.

The participants' national motivations were central in determining just what measure of confidence could be restored.

In the case of the Russians, their priorities were prospects of a return, with U.S. support, to a significant economic role in Iraq and of entering the World Trade Organization. Iraq had largely played itself out as a factor in Russian domestic politics for President Vladimir Putin, while the Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis of the run-up to the war disappeared with the coming of new realities.

The Germans, who characterized Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's meeting with Bush as excellent, sought to portray Bush as comfortably accepting their refusal to commit troops to Iraq. The Americans, a diplomat said, have been "constructively" talking to Berlin for months about Iraq and the Middle East, creating a sense of dialogue missing earlier from Bush's foreign policy.

Casting the United States as more engaged in genuine multilateral discussions was a way for Schröder to place in acceptable domestic political terms his very palpable movement in the direction of good relations with the Bush administration.

The strategic goal involved improving Germany's weakened position in Eastern Europe, where many countries regarded Schröder's opposition to the war as challenging America's security engagement in Europe.

The Germans also sought to palpably differentiate their global viewpoint and relationship with United States from that of France. A German official said the summit meeting helped in restoring the perception of a distinct German world role that had suffered from the notion a catchall "FrenchandGerman" position existed on every issue involving America.

Schröder tried to sound as positive as possible about everything that was on the Bush administration's summit meeting agenda. The Middle East initiative was "really a partnership offer," he said.

The Iraq resolution, the chancellor went on, offers the Iraqi people "some more stability" and "some more opportunity."

The German official explained that if there was no enthusiasm about a NATO role in Iraq, Germany would do nothing to block it, suggesting that what was being discussed was a not terribly controversial undertaking by the alliance to remake Iraq's armed forces for the soon-to-be sovereign government.

Perhaps because France, unlike Germany or Russia, sees no particular yield for itself in the Arab world or Europe by adding its bit of legitimization to the trust-reconstruction process with America, Chirac singled himself out at the summit meeting by jabbing rather harder than expected at the sought-after mood of reconciliation.

When he talked about the world economy, there was no mention of the United States' recovery-leading growth rate, but a warning about its deficit.

On NATO (France is not a member of its military organization and has limited influence), Chirac spoke out against its "intervention" in Iraq, knowing that NATO's general secretary, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, has said that if Iraq asks for help the alliance cannot close its eyes.

Most strikingly, because a G-8 plan to assist in reform in the Arab world tends to subsume France in an American-engineered project, Chirac warned that the Middle East did not need "missionaries of democracy." The phrase was a jarring one in the sense that the initiative makes clear it is not crusading or seeking a missionary role, both aggressive notions to Arabs.

Still, Chirac carefully balanced his expressions of little confidence with recitals of French-American friendship in precast concrete, while offering no active opposition to the summit meeting's policy admonitions.

In the end, maybe because he felt France relatively isolated, Chirac saw no gain either in directly suggesting that there was little behind the summit facade. Since Bush was not likely to point out such a shortfall in reality, the notion of renewed trust on Sea Island had a small life of its own.