France and the War on Terror
The ‘War on Terror’, as a term, refers an ongoing campaign spearheaded by the United States of America and its allies with the supposed aim of “ending international terrorism.” The now historically tragic events of the ‘homeland’ attacks on September 11, 2001 underscored not only the vulnerabilities of the world’s ONLY superpower but also, after Pres. George W. Bush’s now infamous speech, divided the international diplomatic community into two: those who were with the United States and those who were against. Among the powerful nations opposed to the American methods, none was more vocal, and perhaps more successful than France.
International society is now confronted with a paradox. It’s most powerful member, the United States, conceiving of itself as the model of civilization, responsible for international order and progress, is committed to policies that are inherently or even deliberately destructive of central elements in the system of international law and existing norms of international cooperation and order, which condemns as outmoded, if not hostile to American national interests. It does so with emphasis on military methods and diminished attention to international opinion and precedent. Even among its allies, this has provoked uneasiness, even fear of the unpredictability of American actions, and of their new ruthlessness. (Pfaff 2004)
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In a departure from how papers on this matter is usually organized, I wish to formulate my conclusions about the nature and importance of France’s role in this so-called war by simultaneously offering the written work of David Frum and Richard Perle. In An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror (2003), the authors speak of the matter in tones that are unabashedly pro-American, conversely, anti-French. By countering their very strong sentiments on the obstructive role of France, I aim to show that the role of France in the War Against Terror is vital in that it provides an alternative to American ‘hyperpower’ methods and will gain importance in avoiding a “clash of civilizations” and toppling of international law, especially now when the United Nations has lost so much credibility in its supposed role of “international peacekeeping.”
“The 1990s were a decade of illusions in foreign policy. On September 11, 2001, this age of illusion ended. The United States asked its friends and allies to join in the fight against terror—and discovered that after the first emotional expressions of sympathy for the victims, those friends and allies were prepared to do little. September 11 revealed what Americans had been concealing from themselves for far too long: The end of the Cold War and the emergence of the United States as the world’s superpower had not put an end to the rivalries and animosities of nations. It had simply redirected them—often against the United States. “The jealousy and resentment that animate the terrorists also affect many of our former cold war allies. The French call the United States a “hyperpower”. We are, they say, simultaneously the strongest military, economic, and cultural force on the planet—as France was 250 years ago. Unsurprisingly, they are not overjoyed by our good fortune.” (Frum & Perle 235)
The above-cited authors view the matter in a dangerously simplistic manner. France, along with the other countries that thought along the same line, did not support a military operation against Iraq and certainly took issue with the now-infamous words “you’re either with us or against us.” Jacques Chirac, the French president, made it abundantly clear that France’s hesitance in supporting the operation was not a way of coddling terrorists but merely a deference to the principles of international law and the diplomatic machinery of the United Nations. The United States government took this a little too personally and even went as far as to unofficially rename French fries to freedom fries. This absurd moment, from many, coupled with the increasing evidence that there were no weapons of mass destruction, made a lot of eyebrows raise in the international community. As the United States looked more and more ridiculous and their accusation baseless, France stepped up into the light and became something of a field ‘leveler.’
“In the weeks leading up to the Iraq campaign, French President Jacque Chirac volunteered as Saddam Hussein’s most important ally and protector. French foreign minister Dominique Villepin jetted around Africa, offering bribes to France’s former colonies to vote against the United States at the UN on the second Iraq resolution. Chirac actually threatened to bar the new democracies of central Europe from the European Union if they joined the U.S.-led coalition against Iraq. In 2003, France led the opposition within NATO to dispatching air defense units to protect Turkey, a NATO member, if Iraq attacked it—a shocking break with the long history and essential purpose of the NATO alliance. And as the gleefully smashed up an alliance that had kept the peace of the world for half a century, the ministers of the Chirac government preened and congratulated themselves. “The President of France and the pope”—in that order—“saved the world from a ‘clash of civilizations,’ “ a high French official told a conference in Europe in the spring of 2003. And where France led, other NATO countries followed: Germany most importantly, but also France’s pilot fish, Belgium. Outside NATO, France’s anti-American campaign had a damaging effect as well, emboldening Russia to adopt an anti-American stance that it would not have dared adopt on its own.” (Frum & Perle 244)
While the authors do not even pretend an unbiased stance, nor do they legitimize their claims with any specific documentary evidence, one thing is clear: France is becoming a strong political adversary of the United States of America. In these times of a superpower running amok in the free world, a challenger has arisen from the Old World that in itself polices the police. And while they are not as strong militarily nor economically speaking than the USA, its political influence in European States serves to counter-balance the Bush unilateralism.
Frum, D. & Perle, R. (2003) An End to Evil New York: Random House.
Pfaff, W. (2004) Fear, Anger and Failuer: A Chronicle of the Bush Adminstration’s War Against
Terror New York: Algora Publishing.