TCS Daily

Frank Considerations

By Uriah Kriegel - April 16, 2003 12:00 AM

This past weekend in St. Petersburg, French, German, and Russian leaders meet to coordinate the next stage in the their diplomatic battle against the US over Iraq. France, Germany, and Russia want Iraq's reconstruction to be handled by the UN rather than the US-British alliance. They seem determined to present a unified front to pressure the alliance into yielding post-war reconstruction. It is clear, however, that the ultimate decision on this is entirely in the hands of Washington. And Washington certainly appears disinclined toward such a course of action.

In the months since the UN diplomatic standoff between France at the US, many Americans have developed a renewed and deepened antipathy for the French. This is an understandable reaction, but it has not always been based on rational considerations. Now that the US appears to have won the war in Iraq quite spectacularly, many on this side of the pond would like to see the French left out of any position of influence in post-war Iraq and rendered practically irrelevant in the new Middle East. Again, this is understandable as a gut reaction. But we must also make sure that it is rationally justified. There is too much at stake to allow gut reactions to shape Middle East diplomacy.

There is a very simple justification for leaving the French out of Iraq's reconstruction, however. It is simply that the present conditions in Iraq, which allow for its reconfiguration, were created by the US, not France. In particular, the creation of these new conditions was financed by the American taxpayer and the American nation has paid for it in American blood as well.

If the Americans and the French had similar visions for the Middle East, it would make sense for the Americans to invite the French to take a more-than-symbolic part in the reconstruction of Iraq, despite bearing the cost for Iraq's liberation. But through its reticence in the UN and its continued shouldering of Saddam's regime in the face of American pressure, France has demonstrated that its vision for the Middle East is radically different from America's. It would be odd for America to allow the French to implement their radically different approach at American cost. If the French want to implement their radically different vision, they would have to finance themselves the creation of conditions under which their vision might be implemented.

The French claim that the US unfairly hands contracts for the reconstruction of Iraq to American companies rather than French ones. But again, it is the American economy that has assumed the cost of turning Iraq into something that needs reconstruction, not the French economy. The price was paid by the American taxpayer, not the French taxpayer. For French companies to get contracts for Iraq's reconstruction would be for the French economy to gain from the Iraq campaign without ever having invested in it.

Moreover, according to figures by SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, French (and especially Russian) companies have gained enough from pre-war trade with Iraq's regime. Over the last thirty years, 13% of Iraqi imported weaponry was brought over from France and 57% from Russia, in contrast to the 1% bought from the US and 0% from Britain. This means that between the two of them, France and Russia have taken care of 70% of all foreign-produced weapons that were at Saddam's disposal in his war against the US and Britain.

Beyond the fact that the French do not deserve a stake in post-war Iraq, leaving them out will also send the French nation an important message.

For centuries, the developed world has been destabilized by French and German thirst for power and national glory. Now these two nations are yet again at the heart of a destabilizing movement, this time on the same side. The developed world is today united under a benevolent, freedom-loving super-power. But this super-power is not France, and that drives the French crazy. In their quest to undermine American hegemony - with the sole purpose of raising their own standing - the French have not hesitated to make allies of such vile and oppressive regimes as Syria's and China's, and to seek a common anti-American front with Russia, itself hardly a paragon of human rights.

But it is important to draw certain distinctions within the coalition of the unwilling. Germany's opposition to the war is grounded in genuine and deep-seated pacifist feelings emanating from its own post-W.W.II soul-searching. The French opposition, by contrast, is grounded chiefly in the same old self-aggrandizing vanity that has characterized French foreign policy for centuries. To this extent, at least, France represents a genuine danger to today's world order. How to deal with that danger is a complicated question, but one thing is certain: France cannot behave the way it has during the UN debate on Iraq and expect there to be no repercussions in terms of antagonizing America. Leaving France out of Iraq's reconstruction will underline this message.

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