Washington — The French seem to be increasingly adamant about staying out of a coalition against Saddam Hussein, even as the evidence mounts that Saddam possesses weapons of mass destruction, sponsors international terrorists, and has a soft spot for al Qaeda. We should not be surprised. The French are merely being true to their nature. They are perverse.
They have been perverse since the 1920s and their last great diplomatic coup, the Kellogg-Briand Pact. Knowledgeable students of the Pact know it was not what it appeared to be — how very French. It appeared to be a starry-eyed pact between the wily French and the naïve Americans “to outlaw war.” In truth, it was a sly effort by the French Foreign Minister, Aristide Briand, to rope the Americans, who had just avoided “entangling alliance” in the League of Nations, into an alliance with France, ostensibly to end war, but really to bolster the French against a nation that they had feared for six decades, the surging Germans. Our secretary of state, Frank B. Kellogg, proved to be even cleverer than M. Briand. Congratulating Briand on his brilliance in envisaging the prohibition of war, Kellogg insisted that the pact’s benefits be extended to other nations. Eventually practically every nation on earth signed the agreement. Thus the United States’ obligation to protect France from Germany was not greater than that of, say, Luxembourg. Franco-German relations remained France’s obligation, not America’s.
After Kellogg-Briand it was all downhill for the French as a great power. They have played the role of diplomatic spoiler ever since. Yes, in the post-World War II period they had a few moments of true gloire. There was President Charles de Gaulle’s majestic rebuff of the Soviet ambassador when the Russian subtly threatened France during the Cuban missile crisis. The towering Frenchman stood by Washington, shook the Soviet’s hand, and suggested to him that in death Communists burn in hell. Yet this was the rare instance of the perverse French playing the role of the hero. Usually they were a monkey wrench in Western diplomacy. From the earliest days of the Cold War, at a time when French independence was wholly dependent on Washington, they were prissy marplots.
I was rereading the second volume of President Harry Truman’s memoirs the other day, for his decisions in 1947 are redolent of the historic decisions being made by President George W. Bush. As Britain, France, the United States, and the Soviet Union were establishing their four-part administration of Berlin, who was it who was frustrating the allies’ administration of the former Nazi capital? The Soviets, as might be expected, but President Truman was almost equally vexed by our dear allies, the French.
Thus today as President Jacques Chirac savors his achievement in rebuffing Prime Minister Tony Blair’s request that the French join in a coalition with London and Washington against Baghdad, the French are merely being true to their perverse nature. We would have a better chance bringing them into the coalition if we asked them not to join us. President Bush could complain that we do not want our troops fighting at the side of heavily cologned soldiers who are prone to look backwards when they enter battle. He could say that American forces do not need the French. Our females in uniform can more than compensate for their absence.
Besides the French are doing such a magnificent job in the Ivory Coast. That is the place for them to fight terrorism. Though our President might point out that we are alarmed by the spectacle of French unilateralism in the Ivory Coast. It is a grievous blow to the timeless conventions of international law.
It is often said that the perversity that the French display towards America stems from their anti-Americanism. Supposedly, President Chirac shunned Prime Minister Blair’s overtures to join in coalition against Saddam because the French are anti-American. Actually it is not Chirac’s anti-Americanism that keeps his troops home but his pro-crastination. The French would rather let us pacify Iraq. Then when things settle down, they will offer to administer Baghdad as agreeably as they administered Berlin. And their troops will have been about as essential to the liberation of Iraq as they were to the liberation of Europe. The French are just being true to their nature, which includes long lunches, and for every soldier a bottle of cologne.