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Richard Holbrooke, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and Germany, as well as chief negotiator of the Dayton Accords, will be the likely U.S. secretary of state if George Bush loses the November election to John Kerry. He spoke with Global Viewpoint editor Nathan Gardels on Friday, June 11.

An interview with Richard Holbrooke

NATHAN GARDELS: Although the French and others have already rejected the proposal, donft you agree with President George Bush that Iraq is an appropriate mission for NATO, even though it is "out of area," that is, Europe?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE: Iraq is an appropriate mission for NATO. As a supporter of NATO expansion in the post-Cold War period, my mantra for NATO has long been "out of area, or out of business." I pushed for NATO to go into Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as Afghanistan from the beginning.

The problem with Bushfs proposal at the G8 meeting last week is that it was way too late. By the time he got around to it, positions had hardened so deeply within the Atlantic Alliance that America was unable to play its traditional leadership role within NATO.

The Bush administration never understood the value of NATO with regard to Iraq. By the time they recognized what NATO could contribute, they had damaged relationships so much they could only seek a fraction of what is needed. And they couldnft even get that.

Right after the U.S. went into Afghanistan, the British, the French and the Germans offered NATO help in Afghanistan. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder even went to the Bundestag to get approval for this idea, winning narrowly. Rather than capitalize on that, General Tommy Franks and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld rejected the offer immediately.

This was a very bad start to the post-9-11 era. By the time we got to Iraq, the Atlantic Alliance was deeply strained. It is a long and difficult road back.

The G8 summit at Sea Island was thus a failure for the U.S. It got neither of the two items it most wanted: debt relief for Iraq and NATO commitments. The administration is paying with endless friction for two years of high-handed, arrogant behavior toward its most important allies.

GARDELS: Do you think allies such as France, Germany, Spain and others might be more cooperative if Kerry were elected president and the Bush baggage was left behind?

HOLBROOKE: It would be presumptuous to guess what will happen even a few months down the road, in the U.S. or Iraq. Having said that, there is a clear difference between Kerry and Bush. John Kerry, by contrast, is fundamentally steeped in the traditions of internationalism and alliance building. This administration -- though suffering from a profound schism between moderates and hardliners -- believes in going it alone, unless you want to come along on its terms. Even the worldfs greatest superpower canft run things that way indefinitely.

This is even more serious when our force strength is stretched so thin that in order for the U.S. to reinforce its position in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has to strip South Korea of a brigade of combat troops in the middle of the most delicate negotiations with North Korea. That is an extraordinary decision.

At the same time, we are moving the last U.S. troops from Bosnia before that mission is completed -- a totally irresponsible act that jeopardizes the peace there. The mass murderers Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic are still at large.

GARDELS: The Bush administration is insisting that any U.S. troops operating in Iraq in association with a U.N. mandate be exempt from prosecution under the International Criminal Court. Do you agree with that position?

HOLBROOKE: That is a core position of the administration. And I donft see anything wrong with it. Iraq is not the place to flesh out problems over the ICC. Before the U.S. can consider involvement in the ICC, it needs to be able to protect its own troops from governments or administrations that might apply standards of justice different from those of the U.S. It is a very tricky problem.

GARDELS: Do you things looking up in Iraq at all?

HOLBROOKE: The arrival of Ambassador John Negroponte in Iraq may help relieve some of the growing anti-American tension of recent months, which was largely a backlash against the pro-consul role of Ambassador Paul Bremer. Negroponte is a very seasoned diplomat, with experience stretching all the way back to Vietnam.

GARDELS: What is the challenge for the NATO summit in Istanbul [scheduled for June 28 and 29]?

HOLBROOKE: In the end, the divisiveness of the allies over Iraq will still be the issue. Bush redefined success downward at the G8, so he will try to salvage what he can in Istanbul. It is a sad story of failed leadership by the country that created NATO and led it for over 50 years.

c Global Viewpoint. Distributed by Tribune Media Services International.
For immediate release. Distributed June 14, 2004