Geopolitical glass houses
Arnaud de Borchgrave
21 Feb 2003:
The fog of jingoism appears to have displaced the fog of war. The media and television comedians, on both sides of the Atlantic, have been hurling scurrilous brickbats at each other that are building an Atlantic wall of cloddish incomprehension.
Even a serious writer like John Le Carre, in an op-ed piece in the Times of London, said, "America has entered one of its periods of historical madness, but this is the worst I can remember." Comparing racial profiling to the McCarthy era, Mr. Le Carre also wrote, "The freedoms that have made America the envy of the world are being systematically eroded."
The French are not alone in their opposition to war on Iraq, which is widely regarded as a distraction from the war on terror. In Britain, Prime Minister Tony Blair, who is president Bush's staunchest foreign supporter, is totally isolated, with 80 percent of the people against the war. One in 3 Brits believe the U.S. is more dangerous to world peace than either Iraq or North Korea, while 93 percent thought Mr. Bush was ready to go to war in pursuit of his own interests rather than to achieve a safer world. In Italy, the second most important member of the coalition of the willing, it is also 20 percent pro and 80 percent con. Some 1 million anti-war demonstrators marched in Rome last week.
On late night U.S. television, the "frogs" — i.e., the French — are lampooned mercilessly as they train the new Afghan national army to drop their weapons and put up their arms. In Paris, George W. Bush is shown at the Demilitarized Zone, peering at North Korean positions with the lens caps still on his binoculars. The president is either out of his depth in a parking lot puddle or suffering from delusions of adequacy.
This is not the first time Europeans and Americans have a very different view of the world. It was Gen. Charles de Gaulle, as the leader of the Free French after France had surrendered to the Nazis, who made an impassioned radio appeal to America on July 14, 1941, to join the struggle against Nazi tyranny. Five months later, the Japanese brought America into World War II.
In 1954, President Eisenhower refused to intervene in Vietnam to save besieged French forces at Dien Bien Phu. France was defeated and the U.S. picked up France's colonial burden south of the 17th parallel, which de Gaulle said was a grievous mistake that America would live to regret. And it was Eisenhower who ordered France, Britain and Israel in 1956 to cease and desist after they had invaded Egypt to secure the Suez Canal nationalized by Egyptian dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser. Their forces evacuated Egypt with flags at half-staff. Nikita Khrushchev had succeeded in rattling "Ike" by rattling his intercontinental rockets.
And the U.S. had voted with the Soviet Union in the U.N. Security Council for the first and only time in the history of the Cold War. Thus Moscow was given a free hand to complete its suppression of the Hungarian revolution and de Gaulle, just 18 months from resuming full power as president, decided France now had to give top priority to crashing a nuclear weapons program as it could no longer rely on the U.S. deterrent.
Nasser was the Saddam Hussein of his day. He had hired Nazi scientists on the lam to build rockets and develop chemical weapons of mass destruction. And Egyptian dissenters were routinely tortured in the Mukhabarat's prisons. The three powers regarded Nasser as a mortal danger to their interests in the Middle East, much the same argument Washington now makes about Saddam. U.S. appeasement of Khrushchev and Nasser gave the Egyptian despot another 14 years of absolute power — and troublemaking in the Pan Arab sandbox.
It would probably come as a surprise to younger policy-planning players to learn that it was France that secretly gave Israel the know-how for its first atomic bomb. Nobel Peace Prize winner Shimon Peres, then in his late 20s and already director-general of Israel's Defense Ministry, negotiated the deal. The quid pro quo was France's participation in the Suez operation against Nasser.
During the Vietnam War, the U.S. was not only without European allies, but they were engaged almost non-stop in friendly fire against the U.S. As President Johnson escalated with more than 500,000 troops, President de Gaulle flew to Phnom Penh to denounce American imperialism in former French Indochina.
De Gaulle, once described by Time magazine as "having the supercilious look of a constipated camel," was just limbering up for a coup d'etat against NATO. In 1966, unable to impose his Francocentric views on a NATO dominated by the U.S. and Britain, de Gaulle gave NATO its walking papers and pulled France out of the Atlantic Alliance's integrated command structure. NATO and the Supreme Headquarters, Allied Powers Europe, moved a few miles east into Belgium. But that tectonic crisis 47 years ago made today's Franco-American altercation over Iraq seem like rien du tout.
Almost everyone — with the notable exception of the jaywalkers interviewed by Jay Leno who can't tell which countries border on the U.S. — knows about the Marquis Lafayette. But few remember that at the crucial victory of Yorktown in October 1781 French forces outnumbered Americans.
There have been many ups and downs in Franco-U.S. relations over the past two centuries. But policy on a whim or a bon mot — e.g., France and Germany are "old Europe — is not worthy of the world's only superpower.
A rudimentary knowledge of the interpretation of nightmares is indispensable to understand French psychology. France was bled white twice in 31 years in the 20th century; saved from defeat by the Americans in World War I; defeated in World War II and liberated by the Americans; defeated at Dien Bien Phu after an eight-year war in Indochina; defeated after another eight-year war, this time with Algeria; 16 consecutive years of fighting after World War II and no military victory to show for its efforts.
That President Jacques Chirac argues war can only be the last resort is hardly surprising. Today, France has 5,000 serving in Afghanistan. A little diplomatic stroking will bring Mr. Chirac along in Iraq, too..
Arnaud de Borchgrave is editor at large for The Washington Times, a position he also holds with United Press International.