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Last Updated

24 Jan 2003

Source: Wall Street Journal, January 24, 2003


Nos Amis, the French

Can the French read? We ask this after the latest French government threat to veto any U.N. Security Council effort to enforce the resolution that the French have already voted for, indeed that they helped write. Perhaps educational standards are slipping in Paris.

Certainly loyalty standards are. France was one of 15 nations (and one of five with a veto) that voted unanimously for U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 last November. The French in particular spent two excruciating months negotiating every single word with Secretary of State Colin Powell. Yet all of a sudden President Jacques Chirac and his Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, want to forget the words that they themselves endorsed.

Even Mr. Powell seems to feel he was betrayed, no doubt because the French have made him look feckless in the eyes of a U.S. President he urged to take his case to the U.N. Perhaps Mr. Powell soon will remind the French of what they signed.

He could start with paragraph two of the resolution's orders, which afford Iraq "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations." The resolution didn't say the Iraqis have six more months to think about it, or that they get a do-over. This is their last chance. After 11 years of Iraqi resistance and refusal to honor U.N. commands, we assume the French agreed to that word "final" for a reason.

Paragraph three moves on to demand that Iraq provide "a currently accurate, full, and complete declaration of all aspects of its programs to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons." No one, not even chief U.N. inspector Hans Blix, believes the Iraqis have provided anywhere close to such a full declaration. They have refused even to admit to the tons of VX nerve gas , anthrax toxin, and other agents that the U.N. inspectors cataloged in the 1990s.

Meanwhile, paragraph four couldn't be clearer about what any such "false statements or omissions" represent: Any "failure by Iraq at any time to comply with, and cooperate fully in the implementation of, this resolution shall constitute a further material breach of Iraq's obligations." And a material breach must be "reported to the council" for further action and enforcement.

Assuming Mr. Powell has the patience, he could also point to resolution 1441's paragraph 10, which "requests all member states to give full support" to the inspectors "in the discharge of their mandates." Yet instead of urging Saddam Hussein to comply with the U.N., France spends its energies urging the U.S. not to do anything about his continuing non-compliance. "War is always the admission of defeat, and is always the worst of solutions," Mr. Chirac now says, in an amusing burst of French pacifism.

If French U.N. promises are to be taken seriously, then what we have here is in fact Gallic contempt for the "international community" that the French claim to honor. They are not only encouraging Saddam to resist but they are also putting an American President into a position where he will have no choice but to act on his own and demonstrate how irrelevant to world security the U.N. Security Council, complete with its French veto, really is.

But perhaps we are taking all of this pacifist and "international law" jabbering far too seriously. The French, after all, don't worry much about international opinion when they want to dispatch their own troops to quell violence in one of their former colonies. Or when they want to sink a Greenpeace ship, as Francois Mitterrand did in the early 1980s.

Their affection for non-violence and "international law" only seems to assert itself when it constrains the U.S. By aligning himself with and thus shoring up the politically weak anti-American German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Mr. Chirac has a chance to make himself Europe's dominant player. He can also show up Britain's Tony Blair, who's already America's best friend, and at the same time recall for his countrymen the Gaullist days of the force de frappe and independence from NATO.

But the French and Germans should be careful how much independence they wish for. As we note optimistically in the editorial below, the U.S. and Europe share common values. But we are now in a post-Cold War, post-9/11 world in which Americans have learned that they are uniquely threatened by terrorists and the states that sponsor them.

A country that uses its veto to stand in the way of American self-defense will not find many Americans wanting to guarantee its defense in the future. We will turn for help, and help in turn, those countries in Europe and elsewhere that are on America's side.