Man Without Qualities

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Risky Business

Even as France and its "allies" are pushing for more time for the inspectors in Iraq, the New York Times and Reuters are reporting:

As hopes for a peaceful solution dimmed, U.N. arms inspectors were even forced to pull out five of their eight helicopters from Iraq on Sunday after insurers cancelled cover because of war risks.

So it comes to this: Neither France nor Germany nor any other "peace loving" country is willing to provide a government indemnity as a substitute for the United Nations insurance policy needed to keep the inspectors' aircraft in Iraq. But, Mr. Chirac keeps explaining that it's so, so, so important to keep the inspections going. Almost every aircraft lease and security instrument in existence assumes that if the aircraft is placed in a dangerous military situation causing the insurance to be withdrawn some solvent state will step up to the plate.

But not France or Germany or any other such high minded nation. They apparently don't want to take any risk of having to pay for a helicopter needed by inspectors whose work, we are repeatedly told, is essential to continued world peace!

And we can all see just how principled the French position has been now that Mr. Chirac is willing to cash it in in exchange for just 30 more days of meaningless French-face-saving inspection time - rendered all the more meaningless by the depletion of 5 out of the 8 helicopters used by the inspectors. Can Mr. Chirac really be so stupid as to think that this last minute offer will salvage French standing with Britain and the United States? Can he really think that France will be welcomed back like a naughty child?

French voters have a low opinion of stupid politicians, much more so than in most other countries. It is in Britain and the United States, not France, that the phrase "he's too clever by half" has wide currency. In France, a politician having evident "intelligence" (often confused with nastiness) is generally seen by a voter as being at least as important as the politician having views or positions with which the voter agrees - especially in matters of international affairs. When the dust settles, the French voters are going to see Mr. Chirac as having played this very, very stupidly and not having obtained what he (and they) apparently wanted. It is therefore likely that his political standing will collapse - notwithstanding those French polls showing widespread voter agreement with his position.

Who can wait?

MORE: From the Wall Street Journal

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