Thirty? Wow! That’s a big number!

BY CHRIS GIOVINAZZO

The bush administration

gets criticized a lot for a “go it alone” approach to foreign policy. Have these critics been reading the newspapers? This weekend, the New York Times reported that 30 nations are contributing troops to the efforts in Iraq. Thirty! That sure is a whole lot of countries.

“Oh sure,” the nitpickers say, “but these allies have second-rate militaries and they’re not sending nearly enough soldiers or money to really make a dent in the enormous U.S. burden.” I have a pretty unbeatable response to that: Thirty countries. When you’ve got thirty nations helping out – that’s right, count ’em, thirty – it adds up.

For example, a critic might complain, “what are the 100 Mongolian soldiers doing for us in Iraq?” Sure, the critics are correct that Mongolia has contributed “only” 100 troops. So what? I bet 100 Mongolian soldiers could do a pretty good job guarding the Iraqi National Gallery. That clearly wasn’t what they were assigned to do, but the point is, it could have been. More important: sure the Mongolians don’t look that helpful by themselves. But they are just one of thirty countries helping out. Thirty!

The same kinds of criticism might be voiced about the 115 Nicaraguans, or the 29 Kazakhstanis, or the 43 Estonians, or the 9 New Zealanders working alongside America to keep the peace and rebuild Iraq. The point remains the same: thirty countries total. Let’s look at the whole picture, people! If you put together the forces from just these four nations, you’ve got a large (and culturally fascinating) fighting force of 196 soldiers. And that’s just four countries out of thirty!

* * *

You may think I’m making up these numbers, but I’m not. These are official numbers of the entire contingents from each nation – see for yourself at http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/20/international/middleeast/20DIPL.html. Could there be a sadder or more laughable testament to the damage this administration has done to our world standing?

I’ve heard that hindsight is always 20/20. Looking back, I think we might have avoided some of this resentment and unwillingness to help. Can we imagine ways we might have behaved differently that would have improved our world image? Here are a few ideas which might help engender global goodwill in the future:

First, when seeking the support of our major allies, try not to imply that we don’t actually care what they think.

Second, please don’t argue that the U.N. makes itself irrelevant by voting against us because we will then ignore the U.N.’s vote and do whatever we want. This argument appears to be unconvincing to the majority of our allies. Rightly or wrongly, our allies believe that if the U.N. votes against the United States, and we then ignore the U.N. vote and do what we want anyway, it is the United States which makes the U.N. irrelevant! Be aware of this strange foreign viewpoint.

Third, if the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the Anti-Ballistic Missiles Treaty, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, treaties on biological and chemical warfare, new conventions restricting trade of land mines and small arms, the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Protocol are all supported by most of the world when you take office, see if it might be possible to support one or two of them.

Fourth, avoid talking a lot about how much we support free trade and how much we care about economic opportunities for the developing world’s economies while simultaneously adopting massive steel tariffs and the largest agriculture subsidies in United States history. Some foreign nations see these positions as hypocritical.

And last, although padding our intelligence and overstating the threat posed by an enemy might help persuade the world that military action is appropriate, later it may become clear that we exaggerated. At that later time, foreign countries tend to get upset at us for what they see as U.S. deception. Although irritating, this might be a reason to evaluate intelligence and foreign threats objectively.

These are just a few tips. As I said, hindsight is 20/20. Who would have thought of these radical ideas a few years ago?

Besides Bill Clinton, I mean.

Chris Giovinazzo’s column appears biweekly. He’s full of all sorts of advice.

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