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Did he quiet them down?


The end of June offered political sensationalism gourmets a new episode in the Băsescu - Tăriceanu duel. While we do not claim to compete with the reports and analyses in the media at the time, we would like to provide readers with a different scales to measure the foreign policy decision to pull out Romanian troops from Iraq.

The pros


Surprisingly enough, Premier Tăriceanu was the first to score, as he tackled a taboo topic-directly infringing on President Băsescu's exclusivist attributions.

The Premier must have hit a tender spot, given that the President deemed fit to blend, in his broadcast reply, the pro-NATO political rhetoric with a by no means genteel style. Proof in this respect stand the infantile label he stuck on Bogdan Olteanu, incumbent Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, or his hardly flattering remarks about the Minister of Defence, or his tearing to pieces the pub-like (sic!) decision-making process as used by PNL leaders.

But did the Premier's move benefit Romania? NO, and here is why...

Mr. Tăriceanu's key argument was that Romania no longer derives benefits from the hazardous and costly military involvement in Iraq.

His case is quite strong, essentially. Many states in the pro-USA coalition of will have already pulled out their military forces from Iraq, the most relevant example for Bucharest being Budapest's approach of the issue. In the direct competition with Hungary, Romania came out defeated, in terms of diplomatic performance, on each major topic: NATO accession (1997 compared to 2002), EU accession (2004, as against 2007) or the general reform, with a decisive impact on foreign perception and capacity.

We thus become painfully aware that Romania has nothing to offer the US except for the lives of Romanian soldiers and the import of "asymmetrical" threats specific to the post-9/11 era. Because an even partial replacement of American troops in the new anti-terrorist/Islamist theatres is adequately valued in Washington. Romania doesn't actually have a functioning market economy, but a substantial underground economy; it doesn't have a responsible political class, but a hyper-corrupt one (see the actual living standards for Romanian politicians, most of whom have benefited from the plundering of public assets). To say nothing about the most important aspect, namely the rule of law, the prevalence of (well written) law.

But both USA and EU have nonetheless offered political-more accurately, geo-strategic-leverage to a country easy to subdue to the will of "the strongest" (bandwagoning, in International Relations Theory jargon). We do not question the value of Romanian troops taking part in international missions, on the contrary. Their professionalism and courage, proven to and appreciated by the Western allies in Iraq, Afghanistan or former Yugoslavia, are virtually the only arguments of Romania's strategic importance to the West.

Not only have all Eastern European states (except for Poland) already withdrawn from Iraq, but the US and UK themselves are also preparing for an honourable gradual pullout. The "Iraqisation" of the military efforts to combat the Islamist attacks and chaos will complement the pullout of the bulk of American-British troops.

The announcement of the Romanian military pullout is therefore justifiable, but only insofar as it is wisely achieved. No one can officially challenge a state's sovereign right to pursue its own national interest, as long as this does not infringe upon international law. But one cannot explain why, without an official decision of the relevant authorities (CSAT and the Parliament of Romania), the Ministry of Defence issues a memo authorising military attachés in Western embassies to announce the Iraq pullout decision. Particularly to NATO allies or to strategic partners US and the United Kingdom.

Romania is a small country, nowhere near Spain or Italy, the United States' former ad-hoc allies in Washington's unilateral anti-terrorist interventions. Consequently, the Iraq pullout must not be a bone of contention for the two palaces, because Bucharest cannot afford an inconsistent foreign policy decision, on two conflicting voices. Because an experienced politician such as Premier Tăriceanu must have known that his proposal will not pass in CSAT. For the sake of a political guerrilla war, Romania is losing its circumstantial credibility. We should put political realism to use and stop deceiving ourselves. Romania doesn't have a fair credibility, based on political-economic performance, but a circumstantial, second-hand one, which can only be upgraded in time. But how many political projects have benefited from bi-party consistency in post-1989 Romania?


The cons


President Băsescu's political conduct is equally damaging for Romania (at a foreign level).

When accusing the non-polyglot Minister of Defence of undermining national interests, the President implicitly takes responsibility for having invited and endorsed incompetence at the helm of the national defence and security, in December 2004. As an aside, Mr. Băsescu's selection ability was to be questioned from the very beginning in the field of international relations, with his choice of a former subordinate in the Bucharest City Hall as Minister for European Integration, given that the respective character made a fool of herself in hearings in the Senate's Committee on Foreign Affairs. Mention could be made also of the President's statement last year, when he extolled the Tariceanu Cabinet as the best performing one since 1989, only to publicly voice this spring his regret for choosing Tăriceanu as Prime Minister.

Forsaking one's former allies once they turn undesirable doesn't sell abroad, given that Minister of Defence Atanasiu was and still is representing Romania in relevant international meetings. Because, although guilty of seriously affecting national interests, in the President's opinion, the Minister of Defence was not asked to resign. Where from this clemency for a deed that got Antonescu the death sentence in 1946? Or is it the case that no political mistake was actually made, and that everything is part of a paternalist, fluctuating and circumstantial rhetoric? In other words, of a non-credible rhetoric?

To use the American political jargon, the President is flip-flopping (he proves inconsistency, incoherence), an accusation which proved fatal for John Kerry in his presidential competition with George Bush jr. in 2004. Ever since the beginning of his mandate, the President of Romania outlined the objective of having Bucharest placed on the Washington-London axis, an institutional formula as inexistent then as it is now. Moreover, the obstinacy of having Romania exclusively circumscribed to the traditional bilateral relation between the US and UK has substantially affected the equally important relationship with key European partners France and Germany. Consolidation of a common defence and security stand is of utmost importance to the future of the EU, and Romania must be able to make a contribution to Petersberg (crisis management) missions carried out by the European Rapid Reaction Force. One of the major benefits of our presence in Iraq is the training of our rapid reaction units in an actual, real theatre. But their number is small, and the military contribution Romania undertook to make to European structures is equal to the one for NATO and the Washington-London axis. Yet another argument that could have made President Băsescu accept the Premier's proposal, once made, and one that would have allowed Romania to preserve a coherent image. Romania would have had six months to complete the diplomatic and military preparation for the Iraq pullout, instead of the current perception that Bucharest is dominated by confusion and by an incendiary-prone approach of topics with an international impact, which are rapidly dismissed as irrelevant through last-moment agreements.


A different referendum is called for


The President wasted an opportunity to act as a balanced ruler, able at last to give up the self-righteous unilateralism of making decisions which counterbalance the moves of a rival, a former political ally in the electoral race. Since both have constitutional attributions in the field of security and foreign policy, consultation and consensus are mandatory when it comes to Romania's performance in the international arena. And the President's prominence and popularity would not have been impaired-on the contrary-had he chosen to back the pullout. Because in fact this is not about who's (relatively) right, but about complying with the law. And if the laws are wrong and they lead to bad governance or institutional blockage, then a referendum must be organised, to either validate presidential prerogatives on the American model (i.e. incorporating the Executive ones), or to assign, according to the British model, full powers to the Premier and only a honorary role to the Head of State. The current system won't work.




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