Steve Den Beste has two interesting, and for Den Beste, short, posts up on the nature of allies. The first details the French trying to back into some sort of position in Iraq:
Anyway, the French are once again making noises about maybe helping out in Iraq. They don't want to make such an offer openly and unambiguously, since they'd look (even more) like fools if it were rejected, so instead they're dangling the possibility like a fishing lure in a pond, hoping for a strike. For example, they're talking about the possibility of helping to train Iraqi policemen. (After all, French police are world-renowned for their efficiency and effectiveness at fighting crime.)
And they might be willing to send troops to Iraq (as part of a UN peacekeeping force authorized by a UNSC resolution, and only after the US fully transfers sovereignty to an Iraqi government). Maybe not, though. See, the idea is to give the impression that they could be talked around, without openly making any offers that could be refused. It's something a French hooker would understand: making an offer without really offering; leaving it all subtle and implied, so that if it is turned down you can pretend there was never really an offer in the first place. It's all about sophisticated nuances.
Here Den Beste sees through the fog of French rhetoric to the motives. Those motives are basically that the French foreign policy in the last two years has been driven by an ignorant anti-Americanism which has not worked. The Americans know it, the French know it and most of the world knows it. But the French simply cannot admit that they were wrong and the US right. They can't because the trained seals in the French press and political elite are far too heavily invested in humbling the superpower and restoring, again, the glory of France as a world power.
The only fig leaf the French can reverse policy behind is the UN. Sadly the Americans seem willing to let the UN come back into Iraq
. The problem with bringing the UN back into Iraq is that the UN is not at all committed to the wholesale regime change that the United States and Great Britain and Australia fought to create. Democracy building has never been the UN's strong suit. (And why would it be, there are not that many democracies which are members of the UN.) But, for the French, the only way out of the corner into which they have painted themselves is, as Den Beste points out, for the Americans to see the error of their ways and let a multi-national organization take over from here.
Den Beste then turns his attention to the Japanese.
I think that one of our allies in this war hasn't gotten the recognition it deserves. I know that I have neglected it, and I wanted to correct that oversight. Japan has been a steadfast supporter of the US from the very beginning, and deserves credit for that, and considerable gratitude.
Now the Japanese are shipping out 1000 troops to Iraq for non-combatant duties. Den Beste cannot help but notice that France, an ostensible ally in WWII and liberated by the Americans and British cannot bring itself to fight along side with the West, whereas Japan, a deadly enemy, has been onside from the outset. The irony is striking.
Along the way Den Beste notes that the English have, at best, been a conflicted ally with many on the left refusing to have any part in a war which, however justified, they saw as an extension of American power which had to be opposed. He is too polite to mention Canada's remarkably lily livered refusal to support America in Iraq.
His general point seems to be that
Treaties and organizations do not create alliances; at best they recognize alliances that effectively already exist. And when conditions change so that one ally sees more value in the other ally being hurt than in cooperating with the other for mutual benefit, then treaties and organizations become useless and empty and may even become a liability.
When circumstances change so that the disagreements between allies are seen as more important than mutual interest they may share, then the alliance no longer exists as a practical matter. It may continue in name and in public posturing, but it is false and empty and may even be used by one "ally" as a means of screwing over the other.
I think this is right as far as it goes; but I think the underlying causes of the shifts in America's allies is worth thinking about carefully.
For France, Germany and to a lesser degree England, the years since the Second World War have been years of decline in terms of military and economic strength and, with that decline, centrality to the world's affairs. For nations for whom Great Power politics were second nature and whose Wars became world wars, this decline in influence and importance is galling and inexplicable. How can America, which is filled with reckless, unsubtle cowboys who remain fixated on guns and war while really civilized people have moved on, be the sole superpower? How can an idiot like Ronald Regan have actually outspent the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe into capitulation? Worse, how can America have developed a world class popular culture and have taken over highbrow, high culture all at the same time. These are not questions which Old Europe expected to have to face as a result of WWII. It was not that the Europeans thought everything would carry on as before, it was that they simply could not imagine that America would ever attain and then surpass Great power status. Nor could they imagine that the epicenters of art, fashion, music, literature, science, medicine and education would so quickly skip across the Atlantic.
Moreover, in France, and to a lesser degree England, the traditional elites are under seige. The French political class is far too well educated to believe for an instant that the current French economy is sustainable for more than the next decade. But they are powerless to act given that government by strike is often far more effective than government by legislation. As well, in both France and England, there are now significant unassimilated Muslim minorities whose presence and politics constrain the politicians' ability to act.
For Japan, defeat in WWII was far more complete. It was not just that the Japanese Army lost, rather it was that several hundred years of tradition was summarily dismissed as Douglas Macarthur set out to rebuild Japan from the paddy up. In the course of that rebuilding the Japanese became very adept at a modified form of American Capitalism which, in the 1980's, looked as though it might work even better than the template it was derived from. The Japanese make things -- cars, stereos, digital cameras -- which people all over the world want. Their major businesses and banks, while they have been having a rough time lately, are internationally competitive.
Culturally, Japan is sufficiently different from America that it can both enjoy and embrace American culture - the non-Christian Japanese love Christmas for no reason other than its fun - while retaining their own cultural identity. An identity which they are utterly comfortable with and confident about.
Alliances are about comfort, trust and converging goals. If you see a potential ally as culturally threatening the alliance is unlikely to succeed. For France, America is simply too successful, too big, too omnivorous to be embraced with any real affection. The French elites understand - even if they don't accept - the fragility of French culture and identity. They understand the uncompetitiveness of the French economy and its "workers". And they have no idea what to do about it. Their own self confidence has collapsed to the point where they are unable to tolerate even mild dissent from the press.
The Japanese, long since over the humiliation of their defeat in WWII, are supremely confident in the nature of being Japanese. They know their economy is troubled but they also know it is able to compete with the Americans and win on occasion. Japan has a real and expanding sphere of economic influence (in contrast to the French who can, occasionally, if they pay the airfare, host a conference of bankrupt African nations and Canada and call it Le Francophonie). Most of all, the Japanese realize that Walt Disney, Micky D's, the Internet and WalMart are economic realities rather than cultural issues.
Japan seems to have gone past yearning for the good old days before the War when the beastly Americans knew their place. France and the loony Left in England never have. Which is why Japan is an ally and France an envious enemy.