Today's date:
Spring 2003


France’s Five Cardinal Sins

André Glucksmann is a French philosopher. This comment was translated by Tony Paschall for the International Herald Tribune, where it appeared on February 22.

Paris—The usual trans-Atlantic spats are growing into a full-blown divorce. It is time everyone swept off his own doorstep and closely examined his government’s responsibilities. In my view, Paris has committed five cardinal sins.

1. demolition. Responding to the eight-plus-10 European states that have sided with the United States, President Jacques Chirac sealed an “alliance for peace” with President Vladimir Putin of Russia on Feb. 10. In so doing, he revived in Central Europe the harsh memory of three centuries spent in the shadow—or under the heel—of the Russian “big brother.”

With the European community divided and NATO splintering, the Franco-German duo calls itself “Europe” and says it speaks for 25 nations, but represents only three (thanks to Belgium). The “old European” couple criticizes American “arrogance” and “unilateralism,” compliments that can easily be turned back on them. Is there a more insane way to saw off the branch you’re sitting on? Is there a less productive path to European unity?

2. moral scandal. The French-German-Russian coalition (joined by China and Syria) proclaims itself the “moral” axis, the “peace camp.” But this “anti-war party” has its feet firmly planted in war. For those who may have forgotten, think of the Caucasus, where the Russian Army razed Chechnya’s capital city, Grozny, and left from 100,000 to 300,000 cadavers in its wake.

No more horrific war is being waged against civilians today. The Holocaust Museum in Washington—which can hardly be suspected of spreading extremist Islamic propaganda—ranks the Chechen conflict No. 1 on its “genocide watch.” What are the anti-war activists dreaming of when Chirac promises Putin his support?

In the name of “international law,” Paris and Berlin are choosing curious allies. Witness the recent election, thanks to the abstention of the Europeans, of Libya to the chair of the UN Human Rights Commission! Putin, Jiang Zemin of China, Moammar Kada? of Libya, Bashar Assad of Syria. Why is the “peace camp” attracting butchers?

3. demagogy over democracy. Eighty percent of Westerners support peace over war. Who wouldn’t? Draping themselves in “global opinion” and scoffing at other governments as “vassals” of the war clique, Paris and Berlin are recycling arguments used by the Stalinist “peace movements.” The revolutionaries of yesteryear pitted “peoples” against “formal democracy.” Do Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany today question the notion that, in a proper democracy, decisions are made not by polling institutes, or at the stock market, or in the streets, but in the voting booth? The elected representatives in London, Prague, Sofia, Madrid and Warsaw are as legitimate as those in Paris and Berlin.

4. powerlessness. The same global opinion polls, meanwhile, show that 75 percent of the world views Saddam as a threat to peace. While one actor can indeed trigger a conflict, it takes two to disarm. Yet for the past 12 years Baghdad did nothing but deceive and delay. A malevolent state can easily camouflage instruments of biological and chemical terror, scientists agree. Dragging out inspections and adding inspectors would have only allowed the dictator to push the game into overtime forever.

5. wait and not see. Well-meaning souls whisper, “Certainly the Iraqi tyrant is a villain. He’s tortured, killed, gassed. But how many other leaders around the world have blood on their hands? Why pick on Saddam?” Because he was more frightening. Because he was an ever-present powder keg in the heart of a ?re zone. Because we had to stop him from playing with his apocalyptic matches.

Imagine Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s leader, with his arsenal, ruling Iraq, threatening to pulverize not Seoul but Riyadh. The planet would be petrified! The Iraqi problem is not that of a local dictator, but a global peril. However, if you listen to the “peace party,” it’s always too early—“Iraq has no nuclear weapons; there’s no need to intervene”—or too late—“North Korea has nuclear weapons; it’s too dangerous to take action.”

Paris and Berlin are living on a cloud. That does not mean American strategists are infallible or that we have to hand them a blank check.