The Two Faces of France


My enemy's enemy isn't always the nicest person in town. Even so, it seems to be part of the human condition that when we find ourselves on the same side as someone, we assume that they must be like us, saintly and moral, while conversely our opponents -- and anyone who sides with them -- must be serious demons from the darker depths of hell.

Alas, it is not usually so. France is at the moment a good example for both tendencies. While the antiwar movement sings the praises of Paris, the Republican right, isolationists and xenophobes (including, for example, Rupert Murdoch and his media minions,) think that the country can do no right. They make strong tasting cheese, refuse to drink Budweiser, and have the temerity to agree with the bulk of the world's nations and the overwhelming majority of European voters that George Bush's administration is rushing to war with unseemly haste.

You would never guess from all these calls for "gratitude," from France to the U.S. that it was Lafayette and his French troops backed by the French fleet who actually won the American Revolution. If it were not for them, these Republicans would now be sitting in the House of Lords with fancy titles and singing "God Save the Queen." (In fact, maybe that's why they hate the French!)

And of course, somehow France, for its earlier disagreements with Israel and the U.S., like the rest of Europe had become anti-Semitic, hence New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman's sudden promotion of Hindu-nationalist governed India to replace France on the Security Council. (Perhaps someone should take Mr. Friedman to one side and disillusion him of the pathetic fallacy, often held by other NY Times op-ed writers -- that their pens are mightier than swords.) Last week Shimon Peres joined in the chorus of support for India in the position.

A reality check may be in order. The UN Charter can only be revised if two thirds of its members, including all the existing permanent members -- such as, for example, France -- agree to it. So either Peres and Friedman have caught Acquired Intellect Deficiency Syndrome from their proximity to George W. Bush, or they are merely indulging in a slightly more sophisticated version of calling the French "cheese-eating surrender monkeys."

The French are accused of being bullies for suggesting that East European candidate countries for the EU may wish to reconsider their positions if they expect to dip into EU funds. But who accuses them? The very people who tell them that they will not be admitted to NATO unless they sign bilateral treaties with the U.S. against the ICC -- or ignore their own people and support the U.S. on Iraq.

Even funnier are people now ostentatiously remembering that the French provided the technology for the Iraqi nuclear reactor; not least when the same people overlook the little detail that Paris provided the technology for Israel's nuclear reactor at Dimona which has armed its 200 plus nuclear weapons. Shimon Peres should know. He was the one who arranged it.

Which gets us to the other side. The people in the Security Council who applauded French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin's speech should have listened more carefully. He did not say "no war." He said "not now." And those who now see France as a paragon of global virtue had better have their own reality check.

After all, this is the France that has supported a repressive Moroccan monarchy for decades and only last year tried to legalize its defiance of UN resolutions over self-determination for the Western Sahara. France has never scrupled at national sovereignty where its ex-colonies are concerned and has happily sent in the Legion to Africa whenever its friends there were threatened. France was the happy retirement home and asylum for Baby Doc of Haiti and the Central African "Emperor" Jean-Bedel Bokassa -- who literally did eat babies.

Then there is the France that, along with John Major's Britain, pretty much made the Balkans safe for Milosevic's genocide for many years, and whose commanders were strongly implicated in the deal that gave the Serbs a free hand to kill 8,000 Bosnians in Srebrenica.

The France that sent troops to Rwanda -- to cover the retreat of the fleeing genocidal murderers -- is not quite the one we associate with M. de Villepin's impeccable Cartesian logic, any more than the one that, in conjunction with the U.S., bankrolled the arch-kleptocrat Joseph-Desire Mobutu over the many decades that he turned Zaire into an action replay of Conrad's "Heart of Darkness."

On the other hand, it was the same British and the French whose rapid reaction force was essential for the final rout of the Serbs in Bosnia, and who were prepared to put ground troops into Kosovo at a time when the U.S. President wanted no American military presence closer than 15,000 feet from the ground.

It was the French who moved the Security Council resolution about the Kurds and Shi'as being massacred by Saddam Hussein that led to no-fly zones, and who used to fly with the British and American air forces to enforce them. It has to be said that France's position on Iraq has varied -- and that the variations have not always been totally unrelated to the most recent contract of TotalElfAquitaine.

However, the uncouthness of what passes for American diplomacy has made it very difficult for the French to climb down gracefully, despite the clear signals they have been making. Before the threats and insults, the French would have been happy with a second resolution, which was after all what they said was necessary three months ago when Washington said it neither needed nor wanted one. Once they had held off the U.S. as much as possible, they would have acquiesced, in order to preserve the dignity of the Security Council -- and the contracts of TotalElfAquitaine.

So I am sorry to disappoint all you peaceniks who are currently singing the Marseillaise and shoving extra camembert in your Louis Vuitton suitcases as a gesture of solidarity, but if Bush and Powell can keep Rumsfeld and the chicken-hawks hooded and in their coops for the next week or two, there is every chance that France will cooperate with the war resolution when it comes to the vote.

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