But this is not the beginning of a great reconciliation. These countries were no help before the war, during the war or after the war. France tried to rally the world to stop the U.S. from deposing Saddam. Russia was sending night-vision goggles to Saddam. Not one lifted a finger to help the postwar reconstruction.
Some Americans are bitter about this, others merely confused. Democrats think it's our fault. They charge Bush with mishandling relations with the allies. Theirs is an etymological problem. Events have overtaken vocabulary. These countries are not allies. It is sheer laziness now that counts France and Germany as old allies, sheer naivete that counts Russia as a new one.
It should not surprise us. Countries have different interests. For a half-century, anticommunism papered over those differences, but communism is gone. Europe lives by Lord Palmerston's axiom: nations have no permanent allies, only permanent interests. Alliance with America is no longer a permanent interest. The postwar alliance that once structured and indeed defined our world is dead. It died in 2003.
To be sure, there are some countries that see their ultimate security as dependent upon the international order maintained by the U.S. These are not insignificant countries, and over time they may become the kernel of an entirely new alliance system. They include Anglo-Saxons (Britain, Australia) and a few Europeans (Italy, Spain, Poland, other newly liberated East European countries). They understand that the sinews of stability free commerce, open sea lanes, regional balances of power, nonproliferation, deterrence are provided overwhelmingly by the American colossus. They understand that without it, the world collapses into chaos and worse. They believe in the American umbrella and are committed to helping the umbrella holder.
As for the rest, they are content to leave America out there twisting in the wind. They do not wish us destroyed they are not crazy but they are not unhappy to see us distracted, diminished and occasionally defeated.
When the Iraq war began, the French Foreign Minister refused a reporter's question as to which side he wanted to win. This was not a mere expression of pique. When the existential enemy was Nazism or communism, the world rallied to the American protector. But Arab-Islamic radicalism is different. Its hatreds are wide, but its strategic focus is America. Its monument is ground zero. Ground zero is not in Paris.
The neutrals know that perhaps in the long run they too will be threatened. For now, however, they are quite content to see the U.S. carry the fight against the new barbarians. The U.S. was attacked; it will carry the fight regardless.
For much of the world, the war on terrorism offers not just a free ride but a strategic bonus: American diminishment. France unabashedly declares that American dominance is intolerable and the world should by right be not unipolar but multipolar. Much of the rest of the world believes it but does not have France's nerve to say it.
The hard fact is that war on many fronts is consuming and containing American power. While America spends blood and treasure in faraway places like Baghdad, China builds the economic and military superpower of the future. Europe knits itself into another continental colossus. And the rest of the world goes about its business. Meanwhile, the Americans take on the axis of evil one by one.
In the 1990s, containment of America took a different form. With the acquiescence of a Democratic Administration uncomfortable with American power, silk ropes were fashioned to tie down Gulliver: a myriad of treaties, protocols and prohibitions on everything from carbon emissions to land mines to nuclear testing. With the advent of the Bush Administration, contemptuous of these restraints, that would no longer work. Enter al-Qaeda.
The neutrals may wax poetic about America's sins, but they do not hate us. The problem is not emotion, but calculation. At root, it is a matter of interests. Interests diverge. No use wailing about it. The grand alliances are dead. With a few trusted friends, America must carry on alone.