FOREIGN EDITORIAL: Win-win policy
As one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, France’s insistence upon the authority, effectiveness and legitimacy of international action against Iraq is driving the Bush White House to distraction. Indeed, the French stand has been welcomed by everyone except Washington. It seems even the British have been grateful that the French have been saying publicly what the Blair government was only prepared to whisper in private to George W. Bush and his hawkish administration. With its stand, President Jacques Chirac’s government has won support throughout both the Arab and wider world.
However, since altruism is rarely the basis on which nations formulate their foreign policy, analysts have been speculating why Paris is taking such an uncompromising line on Iraq. The easy explanation is that the French have long made a fine art of being splendidly contrary in their international politics. In the 1960s they pursued their own independent nuclear deterrent and as a result, refused to come under the NATO command umbrella. At the height of the Cold War, when Washington was trying to lead a united front against the Soviet Union, the French opened their own bilateral relations with Moscow.
Though their traditional rivals, the British, would like to characterize French behavior as willful, the French have the political savvy to play a long and farsighted game. Before Saddam invaded Kuwait, French commercial involvement with Iraq was extensive and profitable. This was widely assumed to be the motive behind the Chirac government’s prominence in calling for an easing of sanctions against Iraq. France wanted to be well placed to pick up contracts when a grateful Saddam regime returned to the international fold.
It is likely that Chirac is thinking several moves ahead, to the point where the Bush regime has flown in the face of all friendly advice and launched its military into Iraq. Give or take the odd chemical counterattack or heroic last-ditch stand by the Republican Guard, Saddam’s defeat will probably be a walkover. It is the post-invasion period that Paris may be thinking about. Americans are psychologically ill-equipped to be an army of occupation in an Arab world for which they have demonstrated a complete lack of understanding.
Whatever good will they will bring to their attempts to organize a successor regime to Saddam will be destroyed immediately by their continued slavish support for Israel. Any US-installed government will be doomed by that association. By extension, British influence too will have been damaged by Washington’s failure. Then step forward the French government, at the head of European Union mediators, with the probable backing of Russia and perhaps China, to sort out the mess created by Washington and London and thus earn extensive regional gratitude and standing. Indeed, French diplomacy at the moment approaches the immaculate. If Washington is dissuaded from its dangerous unilateral aggression against Iraq, it will be the French who will be seen to have successfully championed common sense and the legitimacy of the UN. Truly a win-win game for Chirac. —Arab News, Oct 30