Playing The French Card

Steven den Beste weighs in today with a long-view look at the Bush strategery (sorry, couldn’t resist) for the fall campaign. Among many other things, he says,

I don’t know exactly when the Republican campaign will finally get serious. It doesn’t seem likely they’ll wait until October, so my best guess is it will be in September some time.

And I am pretty confident that when they do really get serious, the consequences for the Kerry campaign will be catastrophic. After the November election, a lot of people are going to wonder why it was that anyone ever thought that Kerry had a substantial chance of winning.

Now, den Beste doesn’t say stuff like that unless he’s reasonably convinced that he’s right. He goes on to lay out some of the issues which he believes will lead to a rather crushing Bush victory in November, among them:

Kerry has made a lot of nebulous pie-in-the-sky statements about involving NATO (and “traditional allies”) in Iraq and in the larger “War on Terror”. Recently Bush went to NATO and asked for help in Iraq, and he got rebuffed.

Bush went to NATO after the transfer of sovereignty to the new provisional Iraqi government. “Traditional Allies” in Europe (i.e. France) had previously said they would be willing to help in Iraq, but only if asked by a sovereign Iraqi government. But when both the US government and a sovereign Iraqi government did directly request NATO assistance, they (the “traditional allies”) still said “Non!”

As it turns out, NATO assistance would have been useful at the time it was requested, but it wasn’t really vital. The majority of NATO members are already helping out, and as the Iraqis themselves take more responsibility for their own internal security, there will be less need for foreign troops. Bush was publicly rebuffed, but that harmed NATO’s reputation more than Bush’s reputation.

When the Republicans finally start campaigning seriously, if Kerry continues to talk about NATO involvement, the Republicans will be able to respond by saying that Bush tried to involve NATO, and certain hostile nations within NATO blocked any NATO involvement.

If Bush and his political apparatus aren’t thinking along these same lines, they should be. There is eminently fertile ground to be exploited in Kerry’s Franco- and UN-philia among the vast majority of the American electorate, and I don’t think Kerry and his people realize their peril, even at this late date.

It’s clear from Kerry’s campaign statements that he regards agreement with the UN and France as indispensable elements of American foreign policy. For whatever reasons, this stance appears to be of near-religious importance to a fair chunk of the country’s liberal elites, from the press corps to the faculties to the entrenched foreign policy bureaucracies. “It’s so terrible! I was in Paris last week, and everyone there hates us! Well, Bush, anyway.”

What Kerry is likely to learn, to his dismay, is that no such consensus exists among the general electorate–quite the opposite, judging by both opinion polling and the recent grass-roots boycott of French products.

There is so much potential here for gain on the Bush side, I hardly believe that Karl Rove and his people aren’t aware of their good fortune. More likely, they’re playing Kerry for a sucker, in much the same way that they snookered Tom Daschle in the summer of 2002; waiting, not responding to attacks, letting him crawl out on a limb, and then sawing it off behind him: “Oh, you want to have a vote on going to war? Okay! Now, how exactly are you going to vote on that again?”

Daschle and his troops had no answer acceptable outside of their peacenik base, and they never recovered. Against all expectations, the Democrats lost two net Senate seats in an off-year election. Daschle himself is now a shadow of his previous national prominence, and may well lose his own seat in November.

I think the GOP has laid a very similar trap for Kerry, and French John has blundered right into it. Picture Bush’s debate response after Kerry ladles out another pompous tirade about ‘repairing relations with the rest of the world.’

“Senator, you want us to go to the UN for ‘legitimacy.’ But that’s the same corrupt UN that let Saddam Hussein steal ten billion dollars that was supposed to buy food and medicine for the Iraqi people. Some of that money is being used to attack our troops and innocent Iraqis right now. This is the same UN that wants our allies in Israel to tear down their defenses against terrorism.

“You also say we need to have France along before we take any action in the war on terror. But that’s the same France that armed and helped Saddam Hussein for decades. That’s the same France that signed sweetheart oil deals with Saddam Hussein, and tried to keep him in power to protect them. That’s the same France that built him a nuclear reactor which could have produced atomic bombs.

“That’s the same France that refused to help the free government of Afghanistan when they pleaded for security help with their elections. They stood in the way of their own NATO allies in helping Mr. Karzai and his people, for no good reason whatsoever.

“You’re saying you want the United States to base its foreign and defense policy decisions around making these people happy. Are you crazy?”

UPDATE: A prime example of what I’m talking about here, from self-described “liberal hawk” Jeff Jarvis:

Are we more isolated in the world? Sure, we are. Some are trying to kill us, others say they hate us, others won’t support us. And what is — and what should be — the American reponse? F’ em. Or at least that’s my response.

I will bet you my dog that there are a hell of a lot more Americans who say “F’ em,” as opposed to, “that’s terrible!” when they hear that the French ‘hate us.’