France's Dangerous Hypocrisy

It's easy to criticize the Bush Administration for its arrogant style of diplomacy. It came into office with a unilateral chip on its shoulder, tearing up treaties for arms control and global warming, treating old allies and traditional multilateral institutions with disdain. But on Iraq, the Administration did ultimately go to the U.N. to work within the world community, winning a unanimous Security Council vote demanding that Saddam Hussein disarm or suffer the consequences. Had all 15 members of the Security Council stood firm after passing Resolution 1441, there's a chance that war might have been averted.

Not now. France has decided on a quixotic quest to oppose implementing the resolution it voted for in November. It is leading a Paris-Berlin-Moscow coalition calling for more inspections and more time. It hopes to sap support for a second U.N. resolution the U.S. and Britain are now proposing that essentially repeats 1441's demand. The French position damages the credibility of the U.N., the very institution that France insisted the U.S. engage on Iraq. If France wants to deter American unilateralism, it makes no sense to undermine multilateral institutions like the U.N. or NATO.

France's famed logic fails when applied to Iraq. It is calling for more inspectors to find weapons of mass destruction. Yet inspections have never worked. Former President Bill Clinton says all the U.N. inspections in the eight years of his two terms turned up little. Only when Saddam's son-in-law defected did the U.S. learn of massive bioweapons research and production going on in Iraq. It was a shock. Clinton, like Bush, has no faith that inspections can produce disarmament. Neither should we. Neither should the French.

What about containment? France is arguing that Iraq can be contained just with more inspectors, perhaps backed by U.N. troops inside the country. The Cold War policy of containment, however, was based on rational states acting to preserve their own security. September 11 undermines this rationale. Weapons of mass destruction can easily "leak" from tyrannical dictatorships, such as Iraq, which notoriously used them on neighboring countries and their own people. And certainly, suicidal fundamentalists welcoming death cannot be contained rationally. Terrorism makes uncertainty a reason for action, not inaction.

So illogical is France's position on the U.N. that it raises the question of just what the country's true aim is. Sadly, the answer increasingly appears to be nothing less than pure anti-Americanism--yet another Gaullist moment to pursue French power and glory as leader of an anti-American campaign. French President Jacques Chirac seems willing to undermine both the European Union and NATO to achieve this goal. How else to explain his haughty upbraiding of Poland, Hungary, and other Eastern and Central European countries for being "childish" and "badly brought up" for supporting the U.S. on Iraq, or his threat to blackball them from the EU? How to explain blocking NATO from sending help to Turkey, a NATO member, on the eve of war? In grasping for power by embracing anti-Americanism, France is tearing apart the international institutions it publicly claims to support.

We are approaching a watershed moment in history. A dangerous and unwelcome war now looks inevitable. The perception of the U.S. in the world will be framed, for years to come, as either the leader of an international coalition liberating the people of Iraq and disarming a dangerous dictator or an imperial power imposing its will in the Middle East. The Bush Administration has made many serious diplomatic mistakes, but the hope now is for the U.S. to garner 10 of 15 Security Council votes in early March, with France casting the only permanent member veto. If Russia and China abstain, as seems likely, the vote would isolate France and bestow some of the multilateral legitimacy the U.S. seeks. If the U.N. and other multilateral institutions are to be relevant in a post-September 11 world, they must enforce their resolutions.

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