How to make sense of recent French shenanigans over Iraq?? Well, Thomas Friedman now thinks that France is the enemy. He's getting as loony as Safire (and that's loony!), but he does have a point that France's proposal – essentially a very rapid transfer of power to the Iraqi governing council – is a proposal whose point is surely to act as a poison pill in negotiations: France knows that the U.S. cannot, should not, transfer power so rapidly, and so it's clearly trying to put itself into a position where the U.S. rejects one of its proposals. (Wish France had shown some interest in the will of the Iraqi people before!)
So, as far as I can tell, the French are deliberately sabotaging the negotiations. What motives do they probably have?
Well, partly it must be a desire to ensure that it looks like it's playing a constructive role and not just a destructive one. Look at those rejectionist Yanks, the thinking must be, throwing out our perfectly sensible proposal.
It must also partly be a desire to ensure that it avoids any sort of troop commitment. Recent interventions in Africa have been costly to France, and its military is a bit stretched these days.
But I think the main reason is that France really wants the U.S. to fail in Iraq. This is not because, as Friedman thinks, France is turning into an enemy of the U.S., so much as that France turned a while ago into an enemy of G.W.B. It cannot have escaped the attention of the French that Bush has staked his reputation on his venture in Iraq, any more than the Bush admin's visceral dislike of France went unnoticed in the capitals of Europe.
We were repeatedly assured by hawks in the buildup to war that, although Europe and the Middle East hated the war, if it was done and done quickly, they would get over it and come back to the table. One problem with this sort of assurance is that if Europeans or leaders in the Middle East get wind of it, they start to resent the obvious cheapness of their resistance to a particular policy. Unfortunately, I think, word got out.
It's not just
spite that's driving the French policy. Folding too easily would confirm the view that, like it or not, the U.S. has only to persist in a policy to get everyone to eventually agree on it. In the long run, that's a precedent no one wants to set.
Alas, I think all the tough talk convinced France that the only way to drive home, really drive home, the indispensability of the world community – and the U.N. in particular, where French influence is artificially high – is to turn Iraq into a burning shithole that represents a permanent stain on American honour and prestige. That's the strategy.
The point, again, isn't to take over America's role in the world. It's to scare a generation of Americans into the belief that multilateralism is good, and unilaterialism (i.e., doing something without the French) is bad.
Now, where does the well-being of all the Iraqis and American troops fit into this? They are, I'm afraid, to be sacrificed to this 'larger point'.
One other thing: It's possible to note all this and still think, as I do, that the Bush admin's unilateralism was a complete screw up.