Thursday, June 05, 2003

France and America – Clarity on the Confusion

Yesterday’s edition of le Figaro ran an interview with Pierre Manent, one of my professors at the Centre Raymond Aron. The piece is reproduced in the online version of le Figaro.

It does an excellent job of assessing where French and American diplomacy ran into problems during the lead-up to the Iraq war. It’s in French, so for those of you who don’t read French I’ll provide a quick summary of the main points.

In terms of France’s position, Manent goes after French diplomacy on some key points. First, he notes that France’s primary fault was that in opposing the US it gave de facto support to Saddam, one of the worst tyrants on the planet. Manent goes on to point out that, in its efforts to have an independent foreign policy, France has a nasty habit of siding with the most barbaric dictators, a position which blatantly contradicts its claims on behalf of democracy.

This brings us to another problem. France talked a great deal about preserving democracy and about the importance of international law. But, as Manent notes, France, like Europe in general, has become obsessed with a politics of pacifism. Despite Chirac’s denial that his country is essentially pacifist, Manent notes that there is no other name for it when the President of France declares that war is always the worst solution. As Manent points out, war is sometimes the best solution, especially when it’s the only solution available. To say that war is the worst solution is trite humanitarian ideology and incredibly dangerous.

Manent also takes France to task for its excessive support of the United Nations. France spoke and behaved as though the UN is the representative of democratic humanity. But, as Manent notes, there is no such thing as democratic humanity, there are only democratic nations, and at the UN democratic nations are in the minority.

Manent goes on to make one other point about France’s position that is worth noting. He says that it is meaningless to oppose American “unilateralism” to French “multilateralism” as though these were policy positions. That the world is multilateral is simply a fact. There are approximately 200 nations on the planet of which the US is the strongest, but by no means can we say that the US simply acts on its own. Indeed, the US rarely acts entirely on its own. More likely is a scenario whereby it allies itself with local players and some combination of European allies when engaging in a particular part of the world. To say the US is following a unilateral policy is simply rhetorical posturing that has no relation to reality, and feeds into the old worn out Marxist-Leninist vulgate that tries to paint the large capitalist powers as bent on dominating and oppressing the entire world. It’s an unthinking and juvenile view of the world, one that animates the anti-globalization types, and has no place in international relations.

Of course these bad ideas are all related and form part of the ideological baggage that dominates the European Union. Manent describes himself as a Euro-skeptic precisely because he feels that the EU contributes to the delusions we saw coming from France. So often we hear of the need for a common European mechanism that will allow for the formation of, in turn, a common foreign policy. But this view is based on a hidden prejudice that assumes that national foreign policies are not only inadequate to counter the US, but dangerous in themselves. It’s transnational progressivism back at work. As a result, any common EU foreign policy will necessarily be anti-American because the political form, or better yet, the anti-political form of the European Union will determine the content of the common foreign policy.

In contrast, Manent calls for co-operation between Europe’s three big players – Britain, France and Germany. This may seem unlikely considering the bad blood between Paris and London, but it is actually rather sensible. In terms of the individual countries, Manent notes that each one presents a slightly different picture. With France, its international ambitions are bigger than its means and so it has a habit of sacrificing principles and forming alliances with despots in order to regain some of its lost glory. In doing so it also tries to compensate for its rotten allies by invoking some sort of pseudo-Marxist moralism to hide its perfidy. Germany by contrast is in the opposite position. It has significant means but low ambitions, due in large part to the fact that when it has historically tried to follow its ambitions it has produced enormous disasters. As a result it tends to be unpredictable and immature which is still largely the case today. By contrast with France and Britain, Germany is still a fairly young nation, but it has a long tradition of robust moralism and impressive strength. It simply hasn’t learned what to do with them. Britian, as Manent points out, follows its traditional good sense and seems to merge its means seamlessly with its goals which is proof again why Britain remains, to this day, a model of political sobriety. For Manent, the only reasonable and practical common European policy would be one formulated by these countries. This would not mean creating some sort of artificial framework that binds them together, nor would it mean ignoring the rest of the smaller European nations. It would simply mean adjusting ends to means and living according to reality, which in turn would mean that Europe would be able to see that the US is not a unilateral giant requiring some sort of pacifistic EU to act as counter-weight. Rather, it would mean that France, Germany and Britain could follow independent but related paths, sometimes in tandem with the US, sometimes at variance, but avoiding both utter subservience and total hostility.

As for the US, Manent notes too that there was some bad faith on its part. By this he intends to say that the arguments for invading Iraq – the WMDs argument – always seemed a bit weak to Europeans, and seem even weaker today. On the other hand, as long as Europe is obsessed with international legalism and supranational structures, it seems as though the US is almost forced to make arguments based on these doctrines. The problem, it seems, lies in European delusions. The question is whether such delusions can be overcome. At the end of his article, Manent says things could be different, “if…” And that’s the problem, there are a lot of “ifs” in the current European turn against politics and toward humanitarian internationalism. If Europe continues on this route the divide between the US and Europe will grow of necessity. If Europe takes the irresponsible path of anti-politics, which it seems determined to do, then the gap will grow to everyone’s detriment. Of course, the US has to be careful here too. It has to be careful about ensuring that its own military means, however great, are not confused with its political ends. The US too is in difficult position and must be as certain as possible that its actions and its rhetoric are responsible, especially when dealing with a Europe determined to criticize and complain. It is not the best situation to be in, but it is one the US will weather. Europe, on the other hand, facing declining populations and weak economies, may find that it is playing a game it cannot win, and, even worse, it may find that its beloved European Union, with its illusions and its invocations to irresponsibility, only has
tens its demise.

(Sorry about the link to le Figaro. It appears that it has already expired. They don't keep these things up too long.)

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