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Le Chutzpah
Don't call the French principled.


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Jonah Goldberg

On Wednesday, French president Jacques Chirac declared: “As far as we are concerned, war always means failure and therefore everything must be done to avoid war.”

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Not only does this encapsulate French military philosophy to a T (or is that a “Ç”?), it summarizes the full extent of the mainstream antiwar movement’s “argument.” This shouldn’t be news to anybody by now, but just to clarify: If you go into every situation saying there’s absolutely nothing worth fighting over, you will inevitably end up on a cot sleeping next to a guy named Tiny, bringing him breakfast in his cell every morning, and spending your afternoons ironing his boxers. Or, in the case of the French, you might spend your afternoon rounding up Jews to send to Germany, but you get the point.

I’m sorry to pick on those two titans of what Don Rumsfeld calls “Old Europe,” especially considering the fact that all of official Germany and France are banging their spoons on their high chairs about this (entirely accurate) description. Indeed, the bleating from the Euros over Rummy’s reference to Das Alte Europa virtually mutes by comparison the kerfuffle here in the U.S. when a German official compared our sitting president to Hitler; or when, a few years ago, former French defense minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement said America was dedicated to “the organized cretinization of our people.” I’m sorry, Monsieur Chevenement, but from where I’m sitting, any cretinization going on in France has been purely self-inflicted.

Consider for a moment the current French position — and, no, I don’t mean prone. This week they announced that containment works. The French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, declared, “Already we know for a fact that Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs are being largely blocked, even frozen. We must do everything possible to strengthen this process.”

Well, if France knows for “a fact,” then France also knows for a fact that Iraq has such weapons programs. After all, you can’t block or freeze what doesn’t exist (if you don’t find this logic compelling, go right now and tell your wife that your longstanding efforts to bed Filipino hookers have been “largely blocked, even frozen” by her constant inspections into your bank account and that she therefore has no reason to take a more aggressive posture towards you. Then, see what happens).

So, if France knows for “a fact” that these programs exist, then it knows for a fact that Iraq lied in its weapons declaration. Because, you see, the Iraqis themselves insist they have no weapons programs to halt. In short, France wants to keep inspections going because that’s the best way to keep Iraq in a permanent state of non-compliance. I could have sworn that when the U.N. said Iraq had one last chance to cooperate with the U.N., it didn’t mean it had one last chance to make the U.N. look stupid by playing keep-away.

Imagine your kid has been playing with matches. You confront him. He puts his hands behind his back. You say, Let me see what’s in your hands. He says no. You insist. He shows you one hand. You say, Let me see the other. He returns the first behind his back and shows you the other one. You demand to see the other hand. He says no. He plays the same game for a while. Then he hides the matches in his pants. And so on. According to the great minds of Old Europe, a smart and sophisticated father would keep playing this game indefinitely, while a boorish (i.e., an American) father would say, “Listen, kid. If you don’t stop this B.S. — and right now — it’ll take UNMOVIC a year just to find my boot in your ass.”

Well, color me doltish because we know Saddam Hussein has tons of chemical and biological weapons he’s hiding behind his back. President Bush — another alleged dolt — was right when he said this feels like the replay of a bad movie. What’s so insulting is that the French and the Germans seem to expect us to take their arguments seriously.

And what’s so disappointing is that so many Americans are taking them seriously. Wading through the internal contradictions and verbal mobius strips of the peace-at-all-costs idiocy spouted by our domestic mau-maus of the antiwar argy-bargy has me feeling like one of those muppets whose eyes bounce around independently of each other.

For example, there’s the crowd that insists there’s no proof that Saddam Hussein has nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons — while simultaneously arguing that we shouldn’t disarm Saddam because he might use those weapons on us in retaliation. “Don’t shoot! He’s unarmed! And if you do he might shoot back” is an argument fit for a world where clocks melt, hands draw each other, and people take Barbra Streisand seriously.

I don’t want to rehash all of the same old tired antiwar arguments (see here and here), but just to be quick: If we wanted Saddam’s oil we could have taken it in 1991 when we won the first Gulf War. For that matter, if we were the oil-hungry empire these buffoons keep saying we are, we could have taken Kuwait’s and Saudi Arabia’s while we were at it. Or — if we wanted so badly to get Iraq’s oil to flow through America’s “Big Oil” — we could simply agree with Saddam that we’ll lift the sanctions if he gives us the oil contracts. He’s indicated more than once that that would be fine with him.

And if we’re responsible for “creating” the monster that is Saddam Hussein, our moral obligation isn’t to let him continue torturing and killing, it’s to fix the problem by getting rid of him. If war is “always” a failure, then we failed when we stopped Hitler and the Holocaust. It was a failure when the slaves were freed and it was a failure when America broke from England. And — if you’re of a lefty bent — it was also a failure when the Bolsheviks beat the White Russians and it was a failure when Castro pushed Batista’s troops to the sea.

But, as the German who was tired of fighting said, let’s get back to the French. President Chirac now favors containment, as does the editor of The Nation — a magazine which now more than ever reads like it was poorly translated from Le Monde’s reject pile. What’s so funny is that these are the very quarters from which the bleating over the cruelty of containment has been loudest (see my syndicated column on France). France, to the head-bobbing approval of the American Left, has been arguing for years that sanctions should go. The French bailed out of our enforcement of the no-fly zones years ago. Throughout much of the 1990s their mouths have been running like a piece of Brie left on top of your TV set about the devastating impact sanctions have had on Iraqi children.

And just to set the record straight: The sanctions regime has improved the health of all Iraqi children not under Saddam Hussein’s thumb. In the Kurdish North — where American and British, but not French, planes prevent mass slaughter — there is no mass starvation or child-health crisis. Saddam, and not sanctions, has killed hundreds of thousands of children in order to score propaganda points, which have in turn been manfully presented to the world community by Mr. Chirac in exchange for fat oil contracts. In effect, the French (and Russians) do not want a war-for-oil because the current peace-for-oil allows them to collect billions from the corpses of dead Iraqi children.

So when the French now say they are in favor of sanctions and continued inspections, they merely mean they are in favor of preventing the U.S. from changing the status quo and depriving the French of blood money. One would not normally associate the word “chutzpah” with a country so hostile to its Jews, but there you have it.

But there is a positive moral to this story. The irony is that the very fact that so many members of the peace-at-any-cost school now favor sanctions proves that the threat of violence has its uses. After all, if Bush weren’t threatening war, the French, The Nation, et al., would still be crying about the need to repeal the sanctions rather than the need to stiffen them up. So malleable are their convictions, you almost get the sense that if Bush were to threaten genocide these people would champion “mere” war as an acceptable alternative.

But Bush need not make such threats to put some steel in the Gallic spine. Should it look like Bush will go to war without U.N. approval, France will jettison its principles like so much ballast and sail right along in the American armada’s wake, so as not to miss out entirely on the new division of Iraq’s petroleum pie. And that’s the point. Here in America, France’s useful idiots — as Lenin would surely call them — believe the French are staking out their position on the basis of principle. These Americans are, frankly, fools. Just because you’re principled in your opposition to war hardly means that everyone who makes your case does so for your reasons. You may think the U.S. needs U.N. approval and, because France says the same thing, you think they agree with you. But the French spout this righteous drivel because they want to hamstring American influence to their advantage. After all, they virtually never seek U.N. Security Council approval for their own military nannying of their basket-case former African colonies.

France is doing what it thinks is best for France — not the world, not America, not humanity, but France. If that involves screwing America, they’ll do it. If that involves leaping to America’s defense at the last minute like the cartoon dog who’s got the big dog at his side, they’ll do that too. If you are a dedicated opponent of an American war, fine. It’s perfectly defensible to be rooting for France’s success at the U.N.

But if France’s righteous bloviating against war makes them your Dashboard Saint of International Integrity, it’s either because you are sand-poundingly ignorant of how the world works or it’s because you think France’s self-interest is more important than America’s. If the former applies to you, read a book. If it’s the latter, maybe you should move there along with Alec Baldwin, Robert Altman, and the rest of the crowd who promised to leave a long time ago. But whatever you do, don’t call France’s position principled, because that just insults us both.



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