The US, France, and Iraq

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As an American living in France, I am frequently asked by French and foreign friends and colleagues where I stand regarding Iraq. It's a fair question, especially in light of the much-publicized disagreement between the American and French governments on this issue, and the huge amount of propaganda it has generated on both sides of the Atlantic.

First of all, one noticeable difference strikes me between the two positions: French people who are in favor of a military intervention in Iraq (I haven't met many, but there are a few) are not accused of being unpatriotic or against their country. By contrast, most Americans tend to adopt a friend or foe attitude: if you do not agree with us, you are our enemy. The tone can become exceedingly vicious, as evidenced by the many contributions I have read on Internet forums where the topic is being debated. This lack of tolerance seems odd coming from a nation that wants to bring democracy to Iraq. Doesn't democracy also mean freedom of thought and liberty to express one's opinion?

At the risk, then, of being called unpatriotic, anti-American, or God knows what else, I am stating very clearly that as far as the question of Iraq is concerned, I am squarely in the French camp. Simply put, American foreign policy is not credible. Not only has the Bush administration failed to prove that the Iraqi regime indeed possesses weapons of mass destruction; it has also failed to demonstrate in a convincing manner in what way Iraq represents a threat to other nations in general and the United States in particular. Certainly, the Security Council of the United Nations has not sanctioned a military intervention, in spite of heavy American and British lobbying.

To be sure, Saddam Hussein is a dictator of the worst kind, and I certainly agree that Iraq, the Middle East, and the world would be better off without him. This, however, is hardly enough to justify a war. Can we really tolerate a world in which one nation can arbitrarily and unilaterally decide who is fit to be a head of state of another nation and who is not? And would Iraq be the first priority if this were so? How about North Korea? Doesn't the confirmed presence of nuclear weapons represent a greater threat than the alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction?

The so-called "pre-emptive strike" ("so-called" because "pre-emptive" implies that one strikes before being struck) violates all notions of international law and creates a very dangerous precedent. UN Resolution 1441, adopted by the Security Council on November 8, 2002, does mention (point 13) that "the Council has repeatedly warned Iraq that it will face serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations", but surely it is up to the Security Council, and not individual members, to make decisions regarding these consequences. This is even explicitly stated in the next (and last) point: [The Security Council] "14. decides to remain seized of the matter."

The enormous pressure of the American and British military buildup in the Middle East has been instrumental in bringing about an increase in Iraqi cooperation, so it did serve a purpose without a shot being fired. The inspectors reported to the Security Council that they felt the disarmament of Iraq could be achieved given more time. Consequently, most member nations were willing to wait a little longer to allow for a peaceful resolution of the conflict. This, incidentally, is what France's position has been all along: allow the inspectors the time they asked for, after which they would either report that disarmament had been achieved, or that it could not be achieved due to lack of Iraqi cooperation. In the latter case, France was perfectly willing to join a coalition to disarm Iraq by force. I find that position eminently reasonable.

Doesn't it strike people as mildly inconsistent that on the one hand, the Bush administration justifies its action by a UN resolution (1441) and on the other hand acts without the backing of the UN Security Council? This is like using the International Court of Law in The Hague when it suits one's purpose, but refusing to be bound by that same court's decisions (oh, sorry, this actually is the position of the Bush administration... never mind). Certainly, it is the kind of behavior that is making America, or at least the current American administration, increasingly unpopular in Europe as well as in other parts of the world. This is true even in nations like Great Britain (undoubtedly America's most loyal ally today) and Germany (America's staunchest ally during the cold war), as a recent poll published in the New York Times (March 19, 2003) has shown.

Europeans do not generally believe that the motives of the American government in wanting to remove Saddam Hussein from power are altruistic, and I share their skepticism. Of course, France has her own agenda and is also acting in her national interest, but it so happens that this interest is best served by following a course that reduces the likelihood of war and does not entail the illegal aggression of a sovereign state.

My disagreement is not with America or the American people; rather, it is with the Bush administration which has shown an almost unbelievable degree of arrogance in dealing with any and all international issues. It has also squandered all the goodwill the United States enjoyed following the tragic events of September 11, 2001.

As I write these lines, bombs are falling on Baghdad, and undoubtedly the "coalition of the willing" (or "willing governments", given the lack of popular support in most of the countries making up this so-called coalition) will achieve a great victory. Mr. Bush will establish the military foothold in the Middle East he so ardently desires and thereby reduce US dependency on shaky Saudi Arabia, and his entire cabinet of oil industry executives will be able to assure the flow of the black gold to America for the foreseeable future. If that isn't worth a few dead Iraqis and Americans, what is?

In the meantime, like many Americans living abroad, I will keep a low profile and hope for the day when I will not have to be ashamed of my country's behavior on the world stage any longer. Ours is a resourceful nation. The United States has survived many disasters; it will also survive George W. Bush's presidency.

Valbonne, March 21, 2003

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