Matthew Yglesias is the one of the few American bloggers that I know of who regularly writes about European politics. He now has an interesting take on the breakdown of the Dutch Balkenende IV cabinet because of a political dispute on the continuation of the Dutch military mission in Afghanistan.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’s quite fair to say that NATO’s push to get the Dutch to extent their troop deployment to Afghanistan was “the cause” of the breakdown of the grand coalition that had been governing the Netherlands. Rather it looks to me like Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende rather cleverly found a way to use it as a pretext to shift the political situation to his advantage.
Basically now he’s created the circumstances where the Dutch military will leave Afghanistan, which is what most Dutch voters want, but wherein he also gets to blame the Labor Party for having forced this situation and diminished the Netherlands’ standing in the eyes of NATO and the United States. He has a good talking point in which he can accuse Labor, his main partner in the coalition but also his main political rival, of irresponsibility while also reassuring the voters that the troops will be coming home one way or another.
As several commenters say, this interpretation has not featured yet in the Dutch media. Although interesting, I think it is wrong on several counts. First, I don’t think the Dutch public, like any other public anywhere, cares very much about the reputation of their country in international politics. This will therefore not be such a great argument in the hands of Balkenende and his party, the CDA. Second, I think Balkenende and his associates in the cabinet in all honesty did not want the troops to come home; they really wanted a prolongation, as they did fear the damage to the reputation of the Netherlands abroad. Thirdly – and here I venture into my own “analysis” - I think it is ridiculous for Balkenende and the CDA to blame the damage to the international reputation of the Netherlands, which is indisputably there, solely to the PvdA (Labour Party). Looking at some reconstructions of the crucial last meeting of the council of ministers, one can see that Balkenende made demands on the PvdA which they could impossibly fulfill – basically asking for a complete turnabout of their position. If Balkenende and the CDA cared so much for the international reputation of the Netherlands, they should have made room for a compromise to which the PvdA could agree, like an elaborate training mission in Afghanistan. But this requires responsible leadership. And that, as after eight years of governance might be deducted, is what Balkenende utterly lacks.