The Cause of French Intransigence

French intransigence, especially with regard to cooperating with its friends, is certainly not a new phenomenon. In the late eighteenth century, immediately after American independence, the United States delegation worked tirelessly to reduce the trade barriers between the United States and France. Such an open market would have benefited both countries, but would have reduced the income for the French customs agents. Those special interests won out.

It certainly could not be argued that the American delegation was not sufficiently competent or persuasive. It was composed of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson. It is likely that Paris has not hosted such a high concentration of intellect and political wisdom since.

France’s immunity from conspicuous but inconvenient evidence is also not a new phenomenon. In characteristic anti-New World bigotry, France’s premier naturalist Georges de Buffon argued that plant and animal species in North America were inferior in size and robustness to their European counterparts. In defense of North America, Jefferson had a large moose killed and its remains sent to Paris to demonstrate the great size of American animals. Buffon was no more persuaded by the large carcass that Jefferson lay in front of him than the French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin was persuaded by the massive body of evidence demonstrating Iraqi non-compliance with UN resolutions that US Secretary of State Colin Powell laid before the UN.

The French have a number of special interests that only partially explain its foreign policy with respect to Iraq. They stand to reap several billion dollar contracts when the sanctions against Iraq are dropped. They have, therefore, continually sought to undermine the last decade of sanctions in the hopes of monetary gain. However, monetary gain alone is not sufficient to explain French antipathy to military action against Iraq.

It may also be the case that evidence of French non-compliance with sanctions against Iraq during the last dozen years will come to light in a post-war Iraq. This factor is also insufficient to explain French duplicity in this matter. The revelation of French cynical exploitation of the Iraqi market would surprise no one, and certainly not the French public.

Recent French actions reflect a much deeper and fundamental national psychosis. At one time, the French under Napoleon Bonaparte ruled Europe and an empire that extended to Egypt. Ever since the French have harbored delusions of national grandeur. They have not come to grips with the fact that since the Franco-Prussian War, they have been a nation in relative decline with respect to the rest of the world. Humiliating defeat at the hands of the Germans in World War II did not awake the French from this stupor, but perhaps made the fantasy of French importance even more alluring. Unfortunately for the French, from an economic and military standpoint, they can no longer be considered one of the great nations of the world.

The French have nurtured aspirations of grandeur and insufferable arrogance into a foreign policy by playing other real world powers against each other. During the Cold War, safely behind the physical buffer of German civilians, American troops and their independent nuclear deterrent, they tried to act as arbiter between the West and the Soviet block. They were not willing to devote the economic resources necessary to be a true super power but they were willing to interfere whenever possible to satisfy their swollen sense of significance.

The French are not blocking UN action against Iraq because they are concerned about unilateralism or about the use of force in general. The French regularly deploy forces in parts of former French African colonies and test nuclear weapons in the atmosphere with nary a concern about international legalisms. The French concern is that the United States, by virtue of its economy and military, is becoming a uni-polar power.

France is trying to organize a French-led Europe as a counter weight of world power and France’s current tactics are a meant as a direct challenge to American power. If it has to weaken the UN and NATO in the process it will do so. Iraq may develop weapons of mass destruction, but America is the true threat, a reminder of French decline.

The irony is that other European governments are equally concerned about French political dominance of the European Union. At one point, the French opposed the unification of Germany fearing that the resulting economic power of the enlarged state would dilute French influence. Now that Germany has decided to hide their economic problems by indulging in anti-Americanism, French political dominance in Europe is largely unchallenged. However, the governments of eight countries including Spain, Italy, Portugal and the United Kingdom indicated their support for the United States in a joint statement published in the Wall Street Journal. Part of the support was a real recognition that “the transatlantic bond [with the United States] is a guarantee of freedom” and partly as a way to assert their political independence from France.

Perhaps the world will be a lot simpler when France grows up. Everyday they allow Iraq to believe they can divide and delay decreases the likelihood that Iraq will comply with UN resolution 1441. The French actions virtually guarantee there will be no peaceful resolution. It also guarantees that US victory will come at the highest possible cost.

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