Eugene Volokh provides me with an excellent launching point for some stuff I’ve been mulling over lately. He’s discussing recent polls which may show that the British public is not behind the US war on Iraq. In his wrapup, he says “I hope British public opinion is not being accurately reported here. But if it is, then just reflects the errors of the British public, not the errors of a hawkish policy.”
While (given his assumptions) there’s some validity to that stance, it fails to recognize that simply being convincing is an important goal for any diplomatic policy. If Bush’s hawkish stance turns Britain against the United States, and as a result Tony Blair is voted out and Britain joins the Franco/German coalition, it is not unreasonable to count that as a cost of the hawkish policy. At some point, one has to stand back and say “Wait a second. Perhaps it is not mere coincidence that the populace of so many European countries is upset with us; perhaps we might have put our case better.”
On my drive into work this morning, I was contemplating the rather aggressive actions France and Germany have taken lately. A lot of people are acting like this is some kind of inexplicable surprise. Well — you know, a lot of people warned of this several months ago. If the US takes unilateral action, they said, the world will turn against us. That foreign policy of Bush’s, they said, is going to make a lot of people very concerned. At the time, many claimed that the polls showing anti-American sentiment were just biased fluff, and that no rational nation would get upset about Bush’s preemptive doctrine.
Apparently, those who were concerned were right to be concerned. The question is not whether or not France and Germany are behaving rationally; the question is whether or not Bush’s policies will alienate much of the world. The answer, now, is obviously yes. Discussion of Bush’s policies must take into account the cost of that alienation; we can talk a lot about whether or not it’s worth it, but you can’t deny that it’s happening.
And in that regard, it might be wise to consider cautionary statements about the reaction of the Middle East to the actual invasion. Maybe — just maybe — those who warned us about the consequences in Europe are right about the possible consequences in the Middle East.