Thursday, January 30, 2003

A Member of the French National Assembly Speaks....And Other Odds and Ends

"Our place, the place of Europe is with the Americans and with all democracies supporting a new alliance in order to promote together the universal values of liberty and human dignity that bind us together."

These are the words of Alain Madelin, deputy in the French National Assembly, writing today in le Figaro. In a well-argued piece, Madelin addresses the concerns, often legitimate, of those French opposed to joining with the US against Iraq. In a systematic and frank manner, Madelin deals with the doubts raised by a possible conflict.

To my mind, it is this sort of dialogue that is most needed. I have a great deal of sympathy with those who feel the US perhaps has not made a convincing case for invading Iraq. At the same time, I have my doubts whether many opposed to an attack would be supportive regardless of the evidence that may be presented. Indeed, one of the most unfortunate aspects of discussions I have with French citizens about a possible war is their propensity to reduce the issue to the conception that George W. Bush is a warmongering idiot. In part, the fault for this lies with those in the American press who, during the 2000 election, were so desperate to see Al Gore elected president, that they resorted to attacking Bush's intellectual capacities. This charge spread quickly in the rather leftist European media, and today it is a common belief that Bush is simply stupid. In fact, there are many in Europe who would be more supportive of war if they did not hold this view of Bush. This is made all the more unfortunate when we consider that the members of Bush's administration are themselves highly intelligent, often extremely well-educated individuals.

It may be hard to believe that an unjust smear on the part of those desperate to elect Al Gore by compensating for his staid and condescending manner should have such an impact on decisions about whether to go to war. But stranger things have happened. Does the name Helen ring any bells?

And incidentally, I'd like to raise another point I find a bit perplexing. There are quite a number of opponents to war in Iraq who contend that a policy of containment should be used against Saddam, even claiming that containment has in fact worked since the first Gulf War. Those taking this line tend to point to the containment policy used against the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The problem is that while the Soviets were contained on their immediate borders, it wasn't long before they simply decided to jump the containing wall and start backing revolutionary groups in Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. As a result, the Cold War often ended up being a hot war in many third world countries which otherwise may have been able to develop much faster. Indeed, countries such as Ethiopia and Angola suffered heavily when the Soviet Union interfered in their politics. Today, Saddam Hussein, though he is contained, supports terrorist groups both financially and militarily. While some argue that Saddam is a secular leader and not a great friend of Osama bin Laden, it should be noted that Saddam is perfectly willing to align himself with Islam when it serves his cause. He is a man without principle, and secularism is itself a principle, one that would never get in the way of Saddam forming an alliance with an enemy of his enemy.

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