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Postmodern Politician

Bernard Kouchner reacts to the Iraq war

Editor's Note: Paul Berman, who wrote this week's cover story on Tariq Ramadan and the compatibility of Islamism and Western values, wrote his last cover story about Joschka Fischer, which later became Power and the Idealists. That book has just come out in paperback with a new foreword by Richard Holbrooke (who compares Berman to the great historian Edmund Wilson), and its hero is Bernard Kouchner, the French antitotalitarian leftist (and founder of Doctors without Borders) whom President Nicolas Sarkozy just appointed as foreign minister. In fact, Berman's account is, as yet, the most complete biography of Kouchner written in English. Today, we conclude with the fifth of the five-part serialization of section in Power and the Idealists about Kouchner.

Only, by then, everything was already going to hell, from Kouchner's point of view. He was already furious--judging, at least, from what he went on to write during the next year. He was furious at his own government, in Paris. Bush and the United States had been putting ever more pressure on Saddam and had been making it ever more obvious that, unless Saddam caved, the invasion was guaranteed to go ahead. The French should have done everything possible to make these American threats look ever more fearsome.

Instead, Chirac's French foreign minister was running around the world actively campaigning against the American policy. Kouchner was convinced that, by agitating so energetically against the American invasion, French diplomacy was only sustaining Saddam in his fantasy that somebody, somewhere, was going to rescue his regime. This was a disaster. The no-war policy was the enemy of the less-than-war possibility. After the invasion, when the American investigators had finally managed to interview Saddam and some of his generals in their prison cells, we learned that, until the last moment, Saddam did imagine that, because of objections in the Security Council, the United States was not going to invade. This was Kouchner's fear entirely--what he had warned against in his manifesto in Le Monde.

Then again, Kouchner was furious at the Bush administration. The whole style of the American administration rubbed him the wrong way. On this point, too, Kouchner was of one mind with Michnik. The official American arguments for war made no sense to him. He understood the larger strategic issues at stake. He spoke about Arab extremism and not just about the dangers posed by this or that particular organization or political party. He knew that something ambitious had to be done, not just in Iraq but with an eye to transforming the entire region. Chatting with Cohn-Bendit, Kouchner pointed out that gentle and conciliatory approaches had made no progress at all in coping with the extremist currents in the past. He was furious that Bush didn't make the pure humanitarian case. The argument for war against Saddam, in Kouchner's eyes, resembled the argument for war against Milosevic, except that, compared to the Serbian nationalists, Saddam was worse, by far. Some opponents of the war make the case that, as the years went by, Saddam's boot had begun to tread less heavily on Iraqi necks, and the dictatorship was no longer the dreadful atrocity that it had been, in the past; and war was no longer justified. Kouchner saw this differently. Saddam staged an election in 2002 and triumphed with 100 percent of the vote--which, in Kouchner's eyes, ought to have shown the world that, in darkest Iraq, there was no room whatsoever for political opposition, nor the slightest hope for political alternatives in the future, nor anything but fear, torture, murder, poverty, demagogy, and paranoia: the ruin of an entire society.

So why didn't the Bush administration rest its case on human-rights and humanitarian grounds? Kouchner was genuinely puzzled by this. He judged that a human-rights and humanitarian argument would have carried a weight in Europe, politically speaking. Kouchner and Michnik--to cite only those two men--were some of the most admired figures anywhere on the continent. There is such a thing as moral prestige, and these men embodied it. That was why Cohn-Bendit argued with them in such a friendly and ingratiating style, and with such conspicuous respect--never for a moment challenging their motives or their ideological bonafides. Why didn't the Bush administration, in trying to drum up a few European allies, look to these people and their arguments--to the dissident heroes and the admired humanitarians? Why not make at least a cursory effort, a gesture, to bolster those people's standing and popularity and persuasiveness in Europe? The Bush administration made no such effort. But then, why not, at the very minimum, put a bit more emphasis on human rights at the UN? Kouchner pointed out to Cohn-Bendit that, despite what the American state department may have imagined, a human-rights approach enjoyed quite a lot of support at the UN.

In December 2002, the General Assembly voted a resolution condemning human rights in Iraq--Resolution 57/232, which was adopted nearly unanimously. This did not have to be a meaningless gesture. The whole trajectory of thinking at the UN, over the course of the nineteen-nineties, had led ever more steadily in the direction of Kouchner's "right to intervene." In 2001, after the terrorist attacks, Kofi Annan and the UN were awarded the Nobel Prize, and, in his acceptance speech at Stockholm, Annan spelled out the new thinking. "Today's real borders," he said, "are not between nations, but between powerful and powerless, free and fettered, privileged and humiliated. Today, no walls can separate humanitarian or human rights crises in one part of the world from national security crises in the other." Here was precisely the logic for the invasion of Iraq, declaimed with the deep solemnity of a UN Secretary General at a Nobel Prize ceremony. The logic was to end the tyranny of the extremists in Iraq as part of a larger campaign to bring about the downfall of extremist currents throughout the region: a human-rights intervention that was also going to be a national-security intervention.

Why didn't the Bush administration seize on that kind of thinking and make a fuss over Resolution 57/232--and, on that basis, call for Saddam's final overthrow? But this was outside the realm of possibility, in Washington. During the whole period after 1989, the worldwide human-rights movement and the worldwide humanitarian movement had veered in ever more militant directions, until the UN had responded with speeches like the one that Annan delivered in Stockholm. "Without borders" had become the concept of the hour. But the Republican Party in the United States had remained pretty much indifferent to these developments. The Republicans, most of them, had sunk into a nationalist isolation and simply could not understand the shifting mentality in the NGOs or at the UN. The Republicans did believe in borders. Bush himself, having run for president as an opponent of the Kosovo war, could hardly be expected to sing a song of human rights and humanitarianism in connection to Iraq--at least, not without undergoing a philosophical transformation. And so, the administration never managed to understand that, within the UN and among the sundry do-good NGOs, quite a few people might have turned out to be America's allies, if only America had presented a case on grounds of human rights and humanitarianism.

Kouchner was beside himself about this. He preferred Tony Blair. In Kosovo, when Kouchner was still the UN administrator, Blair arrived on a state visit, and the two men fell into what appears to have been, in their eyes, a lively and fascinating discussion of the ever pesky question of who was going to foot the bill for British patients in French hospitals. During the build-up to the Iraq war, Blair spoke about Saddam's weapons and even led the British public to suppose that Saddam's weapons posed a terrifying immediate threat--in forty-five minutes, no less. This was, in Kouchner's word, a "lie." And yet, as he observed, Blair knew very well that, in regard to Iraq, the real argument for intervention rested on something larger. A journalist in the know (Peter Stothard, formerly of the London Times), reported that, in Blair's private mutterings as he paced around the office, the prime minister had left no doubt whatsoever that tyrants worried him more than weapons. Blair chose to keep those thoughts to himself. Why was that? Kouchner knew why. It was because the antipathy for Bush among the British public was overwhelming, and antipathy was going to trump any kind of human-rights or humanitarian argument. And it was because the British, following the French example, had never really comprehended the meaning of September 11--had never entirely appreciated the dangers posed by the extremist currents in the Arab world. Kouchner was beside himself over these things, too--beside himself that Tony Blair, who knew better, had failed to cope more skillfully with these vexing political difficulties.

But mostly Kouchner fumed at the Americans, and fumed still more once the war had gotten underway. By the time that he and Cohn-Bendit sat down to ruminate over the good old days of the sixties for their When You Become President, the Americans had already rolled into Baghdad. The two or three weeks during which Donald Rumsfeld had seemed to be a military genius had come and gone, and the months were passing, and the immensity of the American blunders had become unmistakable. And Kouchner was dumbfounded. In Kosovo, he and his UN team had recognized right away that security was the number one key to everything else. And there was a number two key: the delicate matter of guaranteeing the personal dignity of everybody in an occupied society. The big problem facing the UN administrators in Kosovo had been what to do with Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian nationalist guerrillas--the Kosovo Liberation Army. The nationalist guerrillas emerged from the war against Milosevic with the deluded impression that somehow their own tiny ragtag army, and not NATO, had driven the Serbian soldiers out of the province; and the victors expected to reap the spoils. Kouchner and his UN colleagues had to come up with clever ways of dealing with those deluded people in their triumphal euphoria.

To disband the Kosovo Liberation Army would have made no sense at all. The nationalist guerrillas, offended in their pride, would have gone on fighting, crazy as that would have been. Kouchner and his team came up with the idea, then, of retaining the Kosovo Liberation Army, and reorganizing it into a National Guard, American-style--the Kosovo Protection Corps--which was going to be less than a full-time army, yet would dole out military prestige and a dependable salary to its soldiers. Reorganizing the guerrillas into the brand-new Kosovo Protection Corps was never going to untangle the million problems of Kosovo. And yet, this very clever maneuver accomplished what political maneuvers are generally supposed to accomplish, which is to buy time. Why didn't the Americans try something similar in Iraq? Why dissolve the Baathist army? Why not merely reorganize it, and keep on paying the soldiers, and let them retain their prestige, and, in this fashion, buy a little time to come up with deeper solutions to the problems of Iraq?

Kouchner was amazed that the Americans failed to protect the government buildings in Iraq; amazed that no one guarded the hospitals; amazed that America's soldiers made themselves so remote from the ordinary Iraqis--though, to be sure, this was how the American military had behaved in Kosovo, too. Kouchner knew very well that progress in disastrous situations can only come from face-to-face encounters with the everyday population. In his time in Kosovo, he had taken the trouble to learn to speak somewhat in Serbian. He orated in Albanian. He picked up a bit of Roma. He ran hair-raising risks to make himself a familiar face to the ordinary Kosovars--someone whom the people felt they could trust. He stood in front of angry crowds and announced bad news, when the news was bad. The Kosovo Albanians demanded information about their disappeared. Kouchner took it upon himself to tell them, face to face, that their disappeared were dead.

Why not approach the Iraqis in a similar fashion--respectfully, honestly, in a style that was sober, friendly, and personal? Why not study a little Arabic? Rulers from outside can perfectly well establish a relatively decent relation with liberated populations, if only they take the trouble to understand the people and present themselves properly, or so Kouchner believed. He knew that, in the UN bureaucracy and even in the American government, quite a few people had already demonstrated a talent for administering faraway regions. Not every American was an Ugly American. His own team in Kosovo was bursting with capable and selfless people, a magnificent team. Including some Americans! Why didn't the American viceroys in Iraq draw on people like Kouchner's team from the start?

His Gallic nostrils flared. He detected the unmistakable odor of executive incompetence. His phrase for the American administrators in Iraq was "obtuse dogmatism"--a damning phrase, given Kouchner's experience and enthusiasm for overthrowing Saddam. He could not understand the American treatment of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the Shiite leader in Iraq--the most influential person in the country. The American viceroy, Paul Bremer, never managed to meet Sistani. Kouchner was dumbfounded yet again. Iraq wasn't Bremer's country--it was Sistani's. The Americans blamed the ayatollah for refusing to meet with them, but Kouchner knew very well that, with a proper approach, any reasonable person will eventually yield to an insistent suitor. Sergio Vieira de Mello of the United Nations succeeded in meeting Sistani. The ayatollah was approachable. But, by the time the Americans made a serious effort, Sistani had already been offended, and it was too late.

Kouchner was apoplectic. And yet--this was interesting--he was not in despair. He figured that, fiascos and all, the intervention was going to be for the best, in the end. "You'll see," he told Cohn-Bendit, "history will say that the Americans liberated the Iraqis, whatever the future may be, even if they did it poorly." That was an impressive thing to say, given the scale and amplitude of Kouchner's experiences around the world. He was quite sure of his opinion. He said, "The Americans have led a legitimate war on the basis of bad and false reasons, and, unfortunately, without the international community. In the long run, they will win, even so--but badly."

He thought about the European peace movement. The mass marches against the war, the placards, the slogans, the chanting crowds--every last aspect of this movement reminded him of the grossest errors of the left-wing past. "In our generation," he told Cohn-Bendit, "antiwar marches used to offer protection to the worst Stalinist regimes, the most frightening massacres, and because of this, I wouldn't let myself take part anymore--nor would you, Danny. God knows how often we heard people shout, 'Down with Bush!' But I didn't hear even the tiniest cry, 'Down with Saddam!' And let's not even mention--or rather, we had better mention--the anti-Semitic incidents. . . ."

Cohn-Bendit tended to agree with this condemnation, though his tone was milder. For that matter, Kouchner himself sometimes softened his tone. Kouchner happened to attend a peace march in Boston before the war, and he noticed right away that America's peace movement was a bit more attractive than anything he had seen in Europe. "I found myself in the middle of a crowd of Democrats, sympathetic types, and not idiots. But when they demanded that America not intervene, they were doing exactly what Saddam wanted them to do." Kouchner's thoughts drifted back to France. The mild tone evaporated. "And then, there was this scandalous statistic, this poll--33 percent of the French preferred Saddam's victory to Bush's!"

Cohn-Bendit objected, "That was a statistic which turned up in one poll, and never again."

"You're wrong," said Kouchner, "they came up with it twice."

Kouchner was astonished by the failure of so many people on the left to see the larger grandeur in the interventionist idea, even in its peaceful versions. His idea was to establish the rudiments of a global social democracy, to call it that--though he didn't have any particular phrase to sum up his larger vision. He had developed a plan for worldwide health insurance, at an extremely primitive level, which could be offered at a cost of $34 per person per year (a sum that he derived from Jeffrey Sachs, the American economist). A minuscule amount. Perhaps even this tiny amount was out of reach, given how many people stood in need--yet, even so, Kouchner wanted to begin. This was globalization conceived in a positive light--a globalization of political rights and social benefits, and not just of markets. Maybe some of Kouchner's ideas on themes like this overlapped with the dreams and aspirations, the socialist nostalgias, of the antiglobalization movement. But the antiglobalizers did not recognize that power and wealth were needed to proceed with this kind of program.

Kouchner had no patience for those people, the antiglobalizers. He regarded them as incoherent. He sneered--and here he lost Cohn-Bendit. The antiglobalizers, in Cohn-Bendit's view, might well have made a few incoherent demands. But social protest movements are always a little unruly and excessive, and what the hell. Cohn-Bendit remembered all too clearly how the older generation used to sneer at his own mass demonstrations, and he had vowed never to do anything of the sort, once he had achieved the august status of a left-wing elder himself. Cohn-Bendit figured that, for all their flaws, the antiglobalization demonstrators were raising valid issues, and he was pleased--quite as if, in his eyes, the antiglobalizers were the heirs to his own 1968. Or so he suggested. Kouchner did his best to sympathize with Cohn-Bendit's paternal benediction. Okay, maybe the demonstrators had succeeded in bringing this or that important issue to public attention, and this was good. Kouchner made the concession.

But he could not get himself to respect these demonstrators. To go mill about the streets, chanting nonsensical slogans--what was this? Kouchner believed in action--in taking things into your own hands, and not just stamping your feet and demanding that someone else go do something. He was a Guevarist still, in his reformed fashion. He believed in risk. He thought big. He was a visionary. Anyway, he was a doctor. The antiglobalization rioters running amok in the streets of perfectly safe and wealthy cities like Seattle or Genoa--who were these people, in comparison to the volunteers who risked life and limb on behalf of the NGOs or the United Nations in the remotest jungles and deserts on earth? Really, the antiglobalists were zeros, in Kouchner's estimation. Do-nothings in romantic costumes. He seemed barely able to restrain himself from calling them petit bourgeois brats.

He had put together yet another NGO, this one called Malades sans frontières, or Patients Without Borders, to launch his program for worldwide health service. He had managed to persuade Chirac to back the new organization, together with the Socialist leaders in France. Kouchner had raised money from bankers. His new group had gone into Africa and begun to work, trying to construct local health organizations. Why didn't more people on the left recognize what it means to take action on behalf of the poor and the oppressed? "Direct action" was the anarchist ideal. Here was direct action. Global responsibility? Here it was. The logic for overthrowing Saddam descended from precisely this larger idea, in his judgment: solidarity with the oppressed, responsibility, action. Why didn't more people on the left view the war in that light?

But Kouchner's argument about Iraq mostly focused on a specific reality, and this was the scale of the disaster in Iraq under Saddam's rule. The grimness of the human landscape in Iraq, together with the plea for help that so many Iraqis had been making for so many years, sufficed to justify the invasion, even without reference to worldwide principles. Yet where were the champions of the humanitarian cause, the human-rights militants, who should have responded to these pleas? Kouchner wasn't concerned about the orthodox left--the traditional left that had always been wrong about totalitarian movements, the left that pictured America as the fountain of evil, the left that had never wanted to overthrow Milosevic, the left that, in February 2003, was perfectly content to march in the streets side by side with the supporters of Saddam and the wildest of Islamist totalitarians, as masses of people had done in the giant antiwar demonstrations in Paris and London. Kouchner didn't give a damn about the anarchist rioters at the antiglobalist demonstrations, either, even if Cohn-Bendit obliged him to mutter a sympathetic word or two. He cared about the human-rights and humanitarian militants. Those people, his own comrades, where were they?--the people who, during the Balkan war, had played such a noble role in calling for a NATO intervention? The people who had grown infuriated over Srebrenica--what had happened to those people, to their social consciences, to their rebellious spirit?

In France, a handful of intellectuals stood up to call for the overthrow of Saddam, even if they gagged at Bush and his clumsiness. Kouchner saluted Pascal Bruckner (who nearly writhed at the very thought of Bush), and the filmmaker Romain Goupil (one more '68er, from the Trotskyist ranks), and perhaps two or three others. Kouchner saluted Glucksmann, his fellow-thinker on questions of intervention ever since the Boat for Vietnam--Glucksmann, who, in his indifference to public opinion, went poring through Bush's speeches, looking for the passages that might be fairly reasonable. These were the intellectual heroes of France. Their numbers were pitiful. Not even a faction: a clique. Kouchner could have turned his gaze to other countries, and he would have found similar people to salute all over the world--Biermann and the philosopher Hans Magnus Enzensberger in Germany; Michnik and a good many of the old dissidents from the Slavic east; a variety of Blair's foreign-policy supporters, on the left and right, in the English-speaking countries; Mario Vargas Lllosa and still other people in the Spanish-speaking countries; and so forth, from one region to the next. And yet, these people added up to a pretty small minority among the world's intellectuals. Kouchner was right about this. In the case of Kosovo, in 1999, a lot of people in the Western countries had eventually come around to lending their support to what was, in the end, an American war. But, in the case of the Arab world in 2003 and afterward, there were still a great many people who figured that, if a giant wrong was crying out to be righted, wasn't this the Palestinian issue?

Kouchner did think the Palestinians had been wronged. He had worked on their behalf for decades, ever since the Lebanese civil war--just as he had worked on behalf of the Algerians, even earlier. But it was strange that, in regard to truly the largest of horrors and injustices in the Arab world, so many high-minded people preferred to avert their eyes. The tenor of Kouchner's comments on the intellectuals and human-rights and humanitarian militants suggested pretty plainly that, in his judgment, a huge number of people had betrayed their own best principles--had done this out of anti-American spite, or out of loathing for Bush, or who knows why, but they had done it. A dismaying situation: America, in its maladroit fashion, had just succeeded in overthrowing the worst tyranny of modern times, and the world's intellectuals were virtually quivering in indignation that such a thing had taken place. What did Kouchner feel about Cohn-Bendit, then? By Kouchner's logic, Danny Cohn-Bendit should have been marching at the head of a parade, calling for the overthrow of Saddam.

Cohn-Bendit did call for Saddam's overthrow, actually. It was just that, in Cohn-Bendit's estimate, the proper way to overthrow Saddam, as he explained, was to maintain a multilateral pressure, and help the Iraqis themselves overthrow their own dictator, someday. Kouchner could hardly take this seriously. Cohn-Bendit's program was a nonprogram. A make believe. Kouchner didn't point a finger, though.

Instead, in his amiable way, he talked with Cohn-Bendit about someone else, and this was Joschka Fischer. The two of them analyzed Fischer's three-piece suits. What were these supremely dignified and conservative suits about?

Cohn-Bendit observed that, for Fischer, three-piece suits and bodyguards were his "monk's habit"--proper costumes for a foreign minister. "When I speak to him about his outfit, Fischer always responds, 'These are my work clothes. If I don't wear them, I won't be recognized by my peers.'" Cohn-Bendit gave this some thought, and figured that, on balance, it was better to remain a humble politician like himself--a "simple" caucus leader for the Greens in the European parliament, with no need to deck himself out in diplomatic regalia. But then, this difference between himself and Fischer, between his own modesty and Fischer's superambitiousness, went back a long way.

Cohn-Bendit recalled the moment when he and Fischer first decided to go into ordinary politics. It was 1978, a mere two years after the Meinhof riots. The two of them and Cohn-Bendit's future wife were sitting around the table, talking about their prospects. The libertarian-spontex revolution was finished, and they knew it. Cohn-Bendit wanted to join the nascent Green movement.

Fischer said, "You're right, we should join the Greens. But, in order to have an influence over how this party-movement evolves, one of us is going to have to be a candidate for the Bundestag." This seemed true enough. On the other hand, anyone who ran for office was going to have to do a lot of glad-handing among the Green activists.

"It's not for me," Cohn-Bendit said. "But if you want to do it, I'll back you."

So he and Fischer made a pact. Fischer did the politicking, Cohn-Bendit endorsed him, and Fischer got himself elected. He was a Bundestag representative from Hesse. In this fashion, Fischer became the genuine politician, the one with big-time personal ambitions. But this involved accepting a politician's way of thinking and speaking.

"To reach a certain level of power in a party," Cohn-Bendit observed, "it's necessary at some moments not necessarily to lie but, in any case, not to say the truth. You keep quiet, you let things go. When he was climbing his way up through the Greens, Fischer was always calculating. He spoke only when he was sure of having the right effect. Otherwise he kept quiet. There's no point in being peremptory and wanting to push yourself on people when you don't have a majority."

Fischer bided his time, waited until his own popularity had grown, and only then did he act.

Cohn-Bendit explained, "That's how he became the most admired political man in Germany"--though Cohn-Bendit sometimes considered that Fischer's cautiousness was a mite excessive. In his oratory, for instance. Cohn-Bendit sincerely believed that Fischer's speeches would be livelier if only he wouldn't take so much advice from the chancellery--a suggestion which Cohn-Bendit offered in a frank and friendly spirit, from one pal to another.

Kouchner, too, wondered about those three-piece suits. "I've lived interesting moments with Joschka Fischer before and after he became Germany's foreign minister. But I think that he began to lose his way with his three-piece suit." What did this mean, though--to lose his way? Kouchner didn't explain. He had no desire to criticize Fischer, at least not openly. Kouchner was himself a politician, after all, and Fischer was his ally on most matters, maybe his biggest ally on the European continent. Kouchner pulled back. "I've never taken his three-piece suit seriously," he said, on afterthought. "I know the Joschka who is underneath the suit. I've been close to him in Strasbourg, Frankfurt, Paris, and other places, and we have in common our history of being activists and militants--qualities that are ever more rare in the political parties."

Kouchner sympathized with Fischer over his problems in political life. Kouchner knew very well that Fischer's popularity in Germany had exposed him to lies and calumnies from the second-rate press, and even from the first-rate press. He remembered the attacks on Cohn-Bendit's moral character, too--the scandal season of 2001. For that matter, Kouchner had run into his own hail of wild and dreadful accusations, lately--in his case, something about an oil company in Burma, where he had foolishly left himself vulnerable to attack as a corrupt politico of the lowest sort: an unscrupulous, fake humanitarian, secretly offering his benedictions for sale to the highest bidder. The journalists were gleeful about these attacks. The Burmese oil scandal taught Kouchner a lesson about public persecution, and he gazed at Fischer and at Cohn-Bendit, his brothers-in-politics, and pangs of solidarity for the wronged and the hanged throbbed in Kouchner's comradely heart.

And yet, and yet--what about those three-piece suits? Kouchner remembered one day when he was still the UN administrator in Kosovo. He traveled to Berlin and visited Fischer at the foreign ministry and was dismayed by the gray politicos in his entourage and by the wooden quality of the man's language. "I looked at the three-piece suit of this former ultra-radical and I understood that he had chosen a road that allowed him to rise higher than me in the political hierarchy." Maybe there was a note of jealousy here, or of personal distaste. Kouchner went on, "You're not going to talk me out of this idea that three-piece suits are a way of separating yourself from other people."

But the upsetting point, to Kouchner, was mostly a matter of principle. How could it be, after all, that Fischer had responded to the Iraq crisis the way he did? That was the question lurking behind those jabs at the three-piece suit. Fischer: a man with an upstanding background as revolutionary militant. A man who had lived his life by asking, résistant or collabo? A man who had learned about Srebrenica and had firmly responded by saying, "No more Auschwitz," and had pushed Germany to take action. From Kouchner's point of view, it was hard to understand why this same Fischer would have turned against the interventionist logic now, in the crisis over Iraq--Fischer of all people, the impudent rebel against despots and dictators of every sort. Kouchner suspected that, like Tony Blair, Fischer had kept his eye on the polls, and this was natural. But there had to be more to Fischer's response than political opportunism, there was obviously more, the tremble in his voice at Munich made this indisputable--and none of this was mysterious, not really.

Cohn-Bendit had laid out the reasoning, after all--Cohn-Bendit, the least opportunistic of all politicians. The several arguments about multilateralism, the United Nations, and international law, the worries about American "Bolshevism" and ineptitude, and about the sorry consequences that were likely to unfold in the Arab and Muslim world--those were substantial arguments, whatever Kouchner might think of them. Anyway, Fischer spoke up on his own account. During those same months in late 2003 and early 2004 when Kouchner and Cohn-Bendit were preparing their When You Become President, Fischer delivered a couple of speeches dealing with Iraq and the transatlantic crisis. And these speeches--at Princeton University in New Jersey in November 2003, and at the annual Munich security council, the one in February 2004--spelled out his thinking.

By Paul Berman