Can we retire now this idea that the “religious” Osama and the “secular” Saddam have nothing to do with one another?
I remember watching a large pro-Iraq demo in London four months ago. Tens of thousands of men and women in Islamic dress marched along Piccadilly chanting pro-Saddam slogans. Maybe Saddam has nothing to do with Islamic extremism – but Islamic extremism sure has a lot to do with him.
The French Excuse
I debated a member of the French parliament on BBC’s Newsnight yesterday. He promised very soothingly that France would nonetheless “be with America at the end.” I could hardly believe my ears. The French are wrecking NATO – poisoning the minds of a generation of Americas against them – all for something they are not ultimately serious about? Could they be that frivolous?
I suspect not. I suspect that this quarrel represents real differences, some of them cynical and personally motivated, some of them profound and strategic.
The personal motivation? Well let’s just say that if I were president of France, and people around me had been selling weaponry to Iraq for a quarter-century, and maybe also receiving some fees in the process, and conceivably even sharing those fees with friendly politicians – well I’d be nervous too about the thought of the United States barging into Baghdad and exposing the files of the Iraqi government to the world’s view. What may look like perfectly routine business transactions from the point of view of the people collecting the fees may look rather different when printed in the newspapers. People can be so censorious!
The strategic? I think we have only begun to reckon with how threatened and encircled France feels. The French, unlike the Germans, are not pacifists. They are perfectly prepared to intervene with force, as they did just a while ago in the Ivory Coast, and in the mid-1990s in Rwanda. (True, usually they prefer to intervene to support the local dictator – but that’s another story.) Nor do they usually wait for the UN’s blessing. But now, they see American and British influence growing inside Europe: How many young people, do you suppose, are studying French in emerging EU and NATO states like Latvia and Bulgaria? How many do you think want to work for nationalized French companies rather than Microsoft or Citibank or White & Case? How many local soldiers wish to buy their military equipment from Dassault rather than Boeing? About the threat to French dominance of Europe there is little the French government can do for the moment. But now the U.S. is extending its reach inside the Middle East, which the French have long regarded (for inscrutable reasons) as somehow their natural sphere of influence. France is an important friend to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and Bashir Assad’s Syria – about the only Western friend they have as a matter of fact. How valuable will France’s support be to a post-Saddam Iraq? Not very. And this is a deeply, deeply distressing prospect to a nation that regards prestige as its supreme foreign policy interest – even ahead of fees.
Unhappiness in the INC
Meanwhile, the Iraqi National Congress has been telling its friends in the press that it feels very ill-used by the Bush administration. See this from Judith Miller of the New York Times or this from the New Republic. By now it should be clear that the debate in Washington has ceased to be: Are we going to war? It is becoming instead: What kind of Iraq do we want after after the war? And if Saddam is replaced by another nationalist dictator from the Sunni minority, what exactly will this war have accomplished?
The Washington Post has the most detailed account of the INC’s disgruntlement, this time (unusually!) with on-the-record quotes from Ahmed Chalabi, the INC’s head. The reports in the Times and Post represent the culmination of a decade-long quarrel between the INC and its many supporters in Congress and its enemies and detractors in Saudi Arabia, the State Department, and (above all!) the CIA. I’ll explain the background to the quarrel – and its implications – on the back page of the next print edition of NR.
My mistake yesterday: The bookstore at which I’ll be signing in the Twin Cities on Monday, February 17, is Bound to be Read of St. Paul, not Minneapolis.