Diplomatic inanity

AFTER WEEKS OF BOASTING the support of international leaders in his bid to unseat President Bush, John Kerry finally received a foreign endorsement he didn’t want. Kerry’s subsequent denouncement of foreign involvement in the race, a speedy retreat and reversal, reveals less about his own principles than it does about the failings of unquestioning support of “internationalism.”

With Old Europe irate over American refusal to defer to UN Security Council politicking in its Iraq War effort and the Democrats invigorated by the spark (and eventual flameout) of Howard Dean, Kerry has thrust himself to the head of the Left’s cosmopolitan moment. Having assumed the dual crowns of Democratic Presidential Nominee and Acting UN Ambassador to the United States, Kerry revealed his core constituency – not Soccer Moms, but Soccer (Prime) Ministers:

“I have heard from people, foreign leaders elsewhere in the world who don’t appreciate the Bush administration and would love to see a change in leadership of the United States,” he said on March 14.

But this tactic came to a stunning halt a mere four days later, when his campaign announced, “It is simply not appropriate for any foreign leader to endorse a candidate in America’s presidential election. John Kerry does not seek, and will not accept, any such endorsement.”

What happened? Quite simply, Mahathir Mohamed happened.

Mahathir, for 22 years Prime Minister of Malaysia, said, “I think Kerry would be much more willing to listen to the voices of the people and of the rest of the world.”

Of course, such words would have been utterly unremarkable were they spoken by France’s Chirac or de Villepin, Germany’s Schroeder, or the UN’s Annan. But instead they were uttered by Mahathir, a vigorous anti-Semite. (“Jews rule the world by proxy,” he announced last October.)

The rejection of Mahathir was a no-brainer. But Kerry’s unquestioning embrace of “internationalism” in preceding months has been equally mindless. Mahathir, Chirac and Schroeder are far more similar than they are different, particularly with respect to the buildup to and aftermath of the Iraq War.

Through the 1990s, Iraq and Malaysia enjoyed friendly diplomacy, with Mahathir’s Malaysia repeatedly calling for the end of economic sanctions against the nation. In March 2000, as his wife was leading a group to visit Iraq, Mahathir announced that, for the good of the Iraqi people, he opposed pressure to remove Hussein from office. Later, in July 2002, he reasserted his position: “It’s up to the people (of Iraq) to change the government if they can, but they cannot,” the Malaysian National News Agency quoted. Of course, by 2002 the human rights atrocities of the Hussein regime were widely known. Mahathir’s opposition to sanctions in the name of the “people” was laughable; the Hussein regime used any relaxation of sanctions to its own benefit, not to that of the people Saddam raped, starved, tortured, and murdered.

Hussein voiced his gratitude. In 1999, his vice-president told reporters that Saddam was happy to note the friendly bilateral ties between the nations. I don’t doubt Saddam: in 1999, Malaysia was a member of the UN Security Council – the arbiter of international “legitimacy” in the eyes of cosmopolitan internationalists.

While their motivations were less transparent, France and Germany demonstrated unity with Mahathir in the war debate. Following the Iraq War, Mahathir shared a joint press conference with Jacques Chirac. Chirac (a “good” endorser of Kerry) pledged full unity with Mahathir (a “bad” endorser): “I fully share the Prime Minister’s views. I will not add anything … I have the same views before, during, and after the war.”

Relations with Germany were no less cordial. At a dinner hosted by Mahathir in Schroeder’s honor, Mahathir said, “I would like to congratulate you for the very principled stand that Germany under your leadership took over the invasion of Iraq. We are much heartened to see that your country and a few European countries still believe in the UN and international consensus. We look up to you and other like-minded countries to restore confidence in the UN and in International law.”

My purpose is not to tie Chirac and Schroeder to Mahathir’s bigotry. Instead, it’s to highlight the important difference between the three: at least Mahathir went on the record with his underlying interests. We have absolutely no idea why Chirac and Schroeder stood steadfast against the attack on Hussein after they welcomed similar action against Slobodan Milosevic (another international effort without UN Security Council approval). What was the difference? Why defend Iraq? We’ll never know – at least not until the U.N. oil-for-food scandal is unpacked. But to take their opposition to U.S. action as virgin principle would be as ignorant as to have accepted Mahathir’s opposition as a neutral defense of the rule of international law.

Make no mistake: we’re all unilateralists. Each nation, in the end, works to further its own long-term interests. But Kerry and others so eager to embrace France, Germany and the UN pause for nary a moment to consider the unilateralist interests of these other “allies.” If they spent half as much time scrutinizing France and Germany’s motivations as they do Halliburton’s, they might not be so quick to embrace “internationalism” for its own sake.

Not every Prime Minister is Tony Blair. Some are Chiracs, some Schroeders, some Mahathirs. Until the Mahathir endorsement, Kerry – master of “nuance,” according to the latest buzz – made no effort to differentiate among them. Must they all scream their dirty secrets to the world before the Democrats take notice?

Adam White is the Record’s Editorial Page Editor. His column appears weekly.

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