France watching out for its own
April 17, 2003
While it appears that relations between the United States and France and the European Union are slowly on the mend, it may be well to remember that France is an independent country and has a long history of law and democracy.
Those who would seek to trash France because the country disagreed with Washington on the Iraqi war may do well to consider France’s position as well as its history in relation to the United States.
France is a leading member on the United Nations Security Council, the prime political action part of the U.N. It is one of five permanent members — Russian, China, the United Kingdom and the United States the others.
It is also a leading power in the European Union that includes most of Western Europe and will soon add much of Eastern Europe. It with Germany in many ways dominate the EU.
And there is the crux of France’s split with the United States. The EU doesn’t have a military force of its own; NATO forces are separate from the EU. Most of France’s military is committed to various U.N. and unilateral situations. It had little to offer in a Iraqi war.
But it had much to lose if the U.N. were bypassed by the U.S. The French are a proud people and view their permanent seat on the Security Council as proof of its world position. To downgrade the U.N. as the U.S. has done is to downgrade la Belle France, to remove its last vestige of world power (although anyone visiting Africa or Southeast Asia sees much evidence that France remains a major player there).
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So President Jacques Chirac was trying to act in his country’s best interests just as President George Bush was acting in what he saw as the United States’ best interests. The French population overwhelmingly backed Chirac’s position. Diplomacy, not war, best suited the needs of France and perhaps the EU, except for the United Kingdom..
Seeing the war from France’s viewpoint, and from that of its many allies, requires a pause in a rush to judgment. Foolishly dumping French wine or renaming something “freedom fries” is an impulsive gesture, not one based on onjective reasoning.
One might well recall that had not France contributed greatly to the American Revolution (and cost France’s king a crown in the process), it might have been many years later if ever that the U.S. would have become an independent country.
And over the centuries France has been generous to the United States — the Statue of Liberty is just one small example, as are its cuisine and art.
France has paid heavily in two major wars. In the first she lost millions of potential leaders, artists, writers, farmers. In the Second World War she lost pride and national direction. In Vietnam she lost a colony and face and thousands of soldiers.
One can perhaps understand France’s reluctance to go to war against a country in which it has vast investments. And without convincing evidence of the existence of weapons of mass destruction (the issue is still in doubt) France simply couldn’t go along with Bush.
France is often seen as the cultural center of the Western world. While Englishmay have surplanted French as the major world language, French is still considered a language of grace and rivaled only by Italian for natural beauty. Perhaps it is that sense of culture that limits French participation in wars these days: “Cultured” folk talk rather than fight. The French tend to look at things intellectually rather than emotionally.
So take a little time to look at the French stand on the Iraqi war from a different perspective. The French are at times touchy, but in the many years I worked around Europe and in France, they were never unkind, even when I forgot to pronounce the letter “i” as “ah” in front of “m” or “n.”