TCS Daily

With Allies Like These...

By Nick Schulz - March 25, 2004 12:00 AM

"... the administration stubbornly holds to failed polices that drive potential allies away."

-- Sen. John Kerry

An unvarying refrain of Sen. John Kerry and other Bush administration critics is that the White House alienated America's allies in its haste to wage war in Iraq. Multilateral approaches in foreign policy are to be preferred, the critics point out. Allies are important and should not be taken for granted. After all, the United States will need allied support as it seeks to combat global terror threats. We are all worse off when we ignore our allies' concerns.

Indeed, the hawkish Weekly Standard has even bought into parts of this argument. Editor William Kristol criticized the administration for not doing enough to strengthen ties to European allies. Kristol writes:

"The Bush administration shows little sense of urgency in making our case in Europe. The most unfriendly European voices... haven't hesitated to draw their own conclusions. Their conclusions will become authoritative if they remain uncontroverted."

It's an effective critique. Who wouldn't want, other things being equal, our allies to support us? But are other things equal? Or is there more to the story?

In his powerful new book "The French Betrayal of America" (Crown Forum, $25.00) veteran investigative reporter Ken Timmerman, who has written for many magazines and newspapers including Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and Reader's Digest, demonstrates there's more -- indeed, a lot more -- to the story.

In it we learn that:

  • During the diplomatic haggling in the run-up to Gulf War II, the French flat-out lied to the United States. According to Timmerman's sources, Jacques Chirac assured the United States that France would support the U.S. when the decision was made to go to war. This is what "gave the president the confidence to keep sending Colin Powell back to the U.N." According to a source familiar with the conversations Bush had with Chirac, "They also explain why the administration has been going after the French so aggressively ever since. They lied."
  • Timmerman also reports how French business and government worked for decades to develop deep ties to Iraq and to benefit from Saddam Hussein's regime. Deals were negotiated that would provide billions "to the French state owned-oil company Total and huge kickbacks to the French politicians who greased the skids," Timmerman reports. As it turns out those protest signs barking "No War for Oil" are right on the mark -- it had become official French policy.
  • Timmerman, who worked as a journalist in France for 18 years, demonstrates in striking detail how France morphed into an exceedingly corrupt corporate state: fascism with a friendly face. The French willingness to put its corporatist interests above all other concerns resulted in their encouraging Saddam Hussein to wipe out the Marsh Arabs at the behest of French contractors. The French refused to send engineers into an area where they might be kidnapped, "so they suggested that the Iraqis 'clean up' the area ahead of time," Timmerman reports. The Iraqis did just that and "some three hundred thousand marsh Arabs were sent into forced exile in Iran, their way of life gone forever."

It's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the only things that matter to French business and government officials at the highest levels are lining their pockets and extending regional and global influence. As such, they reject sentimental thinking; they also reject high-minded appeals to freedom and universal human rights. They are cold calculators who make decisions always designed to maximize their base interests.

France will do what's best for French interests, the concerns of the rest of its allies be damned. As writer Ilya Shapiro recently put it:

"[I]t is anathema to the Old World mind ... that a nation would choose to pursue other than parochial mercantilist interests. This is why French companies violated the sanctions against post-Gulf War Iraq while the chattering class decried the Yankee drive to trade blood for oil."

You almost have to admire the French for their single-mindedness. The French practice hardball statecraft -- and they're good at it: a waning economic and military power's concerns round out the campaign themes of one of the two major American political party candidates.

In a speech in 1984 Jeane Kirkpatrick discussed American critics of an assertive U.S. foreign policy and characterized them by saying that "they always blame America first." There's a lot of blaming America first going around today, in the United States and abroad. But Timmerman demonstrates in devastating detail that if there's blame to be placed, it belongs on the other side of the Atlantic.

Nick Schulz is editor of


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