Man Without Qualities

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

The Inevitably Good French

The Man Without Qualities has predicted that once France becomes convinced that war with Iraq is inevitable, France would likely begin to do the right thing - at least under the assumption that French opposition is not a matter of principle (which no sensible person seems to thinks it is). While others have argued that such a war has been inevitable for a long time, the Man Without Qualities has consistently pointed out that the French have not been signaling that they see it that way.

That may now be changing. The French government is reportedly indicating that it will not veto a second Security Council resolution authorizing war with Iraq. Of course, it is still possible that the French are confident that they will not need to use their veto. But recent reports that the United States believes it will be able to muster a Security Council majority including Russia and China are not consistent with such French confidence.

Mr. Chirac spent the weekend in Algeria, and it is interesting to imagine the nature of his conversations with the Algerian government. It has become increasingly clear that France under Mr. Chirac has sought to carve out for itself the role of an international go-between, a middle man who can - for a fee - moderate between American power and any of (1) the increasingly ossified nations of "Old Europe," (2) the needful, weak nations newly emerged from the remains of the Second World or (3) the nutty, corrupt, and/or deranged nations of the Third World. France apparently planned to do all this through a web or treaties and international pressure mechanisms.

But the Iraq situation is disintermediating France out of the picture. If one is the ruler of a nearly barbaric Arab country such as Algeria, for example, why does one need France now? Surely the Algerians must realize that the only way they are going to know they have control of the United States is to deal directly with - and obtain agreement and understanding from - the United States. France is irrelevant.

The only thing worse that having to accept the American agenda now would be to not accept it and have the United States take out Iraq over violent but impotent French objections. That, combined with losing all those Iraqi commercial relations, is quite a price for a middling has-been of a country like France to pay.

If indeed the French have had a "change of heart" maybe the EU will even agree to provide humanitarian assistance to the war victims.

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