A dream is a wish your heart makes when you’re fast asleep.
– Jiminy Cricket
The recurring reverie of Europe, of course, is a peaceful planet ruled by gentle people who work for large, international bureaucracies — like, say, Kofi Annan and the tribe of soft-spoken shepherds who dwell beneath the U.N.’s giant blue banner.
But in the last few weeks, the results of two closely related events have left the Europeans tossing and turning as their wish-filled dream becomes a nightmare in which the U.N. stops producing pan-pipe music, and becomes instead a tool for increasing violence to a horrific level.
The first event was the pathetic conclusion of the European-led diplomatic “initiative” intended to convince the Iranians not to build nuclear weapons. The European approach was a time-honored one, something they learned through centuries of colonial rule: They offered the natives baksheesh — called, more politely, “incentives.” At the same time they relied on that most modern of global institutions, the U.N., and produced a resolution, thus creating a carrot-and-stick strategy they thought might work.
The outcome of this diplomatic “initiative” has been obvious forever. Not even Iranians can be persuaded carrots make a meal and confusing a U.N. resolution with a stick offends the dignity of sticks everywhere. The Iranians know that in the U.N., they will be placed under the care of the Russians and the Chinese and the Security Council resolution threatening them with unspecified punishments will be like every other Security Council resolution: Ignored.
Nevertheless, the European press has been giving the cover of sincerity to Tehran for years; they have reported the comings and goings of European prime ministers and foreign secretaries with deference and dignity, as if these were serious people on serious missions. The Iranians themselves pulled back the curtain on this series of skits when they delivered their unkind response to the Europeans last Tuesday (and repeated, along with Russian guarantees of Security Council toothlessness, this morning in Le Monde): After years of make-believe negotiations, the Iranians said they were now finally ready to get “serious.”
As this report in the Guardian suggests, the reaction to the Iranian threat in the European media has been fairly predictable: As an interviewer on the BBC’s World Service said on Wednesday, it’s an American problem, not a European one. This is a view reflected in this dossier of pieces in Le Monde and echoed in the Independent, where the Americans are afraid of what the paper calls a “threat” in sneer quotes. On the BBC and elsewhere, the Persians are being portrayed as shrewd tacticians nurtured by a thousand years of chess playing and carpet selling, while George Bush is seen as a poker player trying to bluff his way out of a bad situation. (But in the Daily Telegraph some signs of intelligent life: A poll today reveals that a majority of Britons believe Islam — and not just its crazy fundamentalists, either — poses a threat to the West.)
The second event is related to the first in that it concerns the fact that Iran is already waging war in Lebanon. This is something the French-led passage of Security Council resolution 1701 is supposed to arrest by bringing peace to the region by, among other things, disarming Hezbollah. Too late the French realized to their horror that if they wanted peace, they would have to be among the ones who imposed it.
For days, the French tried to weasel out of their own resolution; Le Figaro dutifully editorialized in support (ridiculing Fijians along the way!) of Chirac’s “caution” in sending in only 200 soldiers — even as it ran a round-up of European press ridicule in which the Italians and others accused France of cowardice and deceit. The response was shrill, especially for Europeans skilled in cynical non-responses. Even the Belgians laughed: “France retreats,” said RTBF.
By Wednesday, U.N. critic Jed Babbin was on the BBC to filet the French not once, but twice. The second time was on BBC2’s Newsnight when Babbin was booked opposite a nearly speechless French politician. She grew wide-eyed as Babbin coolly explained that in resolution 1701, France had gotten all that Chirac had demanded — and it still wasn’t enough to spur the country into accepting the leadership role it had claimed as a right in Lebanon. He was relentless, honest, and precise in outlining French duplicity. France, he said in the most stinging insult of all, could no longer be considered a “serious nation.” This left the French politician stammering like Elmer Fudd. It was the best demonstration of French cooking I’ve seen since Julia Childs died.
Finally came yesterday’s announcement on French television — and reported here by Le Figaro — by a tanned and surprisingly sober looking Chirac that France would send 1,600 more troops into Lebanon where they will avoid contact with Hezbollah as the Iranians, who have already indicated that nuking Israel isn’t an entirely unpleasant idea, proceed to rearm the Hezbo terrorists.
In the end, it wasn’t the European media or a sweet dream of peace that stirred the French government to take what even the BBC reports will surely be a meaningless stand in Lebanon no matter how many men the Europeans put on the ground. The thing that finally moved France was Italy’s offer to send in 3000 men. According to La Repubblica, Annan called Romano Prodi and asked his country to be ready to take command, since the French were vanishing.
Italians! That was too much, even for France. First the World Cup, now this!
— Denis Boyles is author of Vile France: Fear, Duplicity, Cowardice and Cheese.