So now that what will be the final resolution has been passed, and with a US victory in securing freedom to act regardless of what France and the rest of the SC desires, the spin is starting to come fast and furious.

For instance, there’s this piece in the New York Times by Elaine Sciolino, who ardently tries to make it seem that the resolution was a joint France-US effort of harmony and cooperation, characterized by deep mutual respect and for each other in seeking an optimal solution, and more importantly, a roughly equal place of prominence in the decision making. Her desperation in trying to set up this house of cards is rather embarrassing, and she makes numerous claims that are happily and obliviously preposterous to anyone who didn’t have their head in some fanciful cloud of Franco-American puppy dog love.

FOR eight tumultuous weeks, the French and the Americans played a magnificently elegant diplomatic game. They feinted. They sparred. They shared their feelings and pledged their trust. But they never threatened. And they never leaked the secrets of their talks.

I’m not exactly sure how Sciolino knows all these in-depth details of how happy and civilized these negotiations were, especially since neither side “shared the secrets of their talks.” Without further evidence, an equally plausible scenario is that France and the US had constant screaming matches at each other and were shattering empty liquor bottles against the walls of their trailer, they were merely decent enough to send the kids to the neighbors while it was going on.

Of course France is going to characterize the situation as Sciolino does above, whether or not it was actually true (and I think there is a preponderance of evidence that it wasn’t). Suppose France was completely against the resolution that eventually came about, but was eventually cowed into acceptance because they realized that if the US was really determined to oust Saddam, Bush and Co. could do it happily without the consent of the UN, and certainly without the approval of the French, leaving them stripped naked on the stage of global affairs, having had their last vestements of international importance torn from their shivering, weak body. This way, Madame France gets to keep some of her clothes on. It doesn’t mean that everyone isn’t perfectly aware of what’s under there, just that no one has to acknowledge it in public, if they feel so politely inclined.

In the end, just days after elections in which President Bush’s party solidified its control of Congress, the two sides suddenly reached agreement on a resolution in the Security Council giving Iraq “a final opportunity” to disarm peacefully or face “serious consequences.”

That’s a funny coincidence, isn’t it?

Chirac was crossing all his fingers and some of his toes in hoping that the American people would repudiate Bush and his policies on Tuesday, and maybe knock some sense into the reckless cowboy. Instead, the President grabbed a victory that many people, history included, were not expecting. When that didn’t happen, Chirac decided that he was in fact never going to be able to influence Bush, not after being roundly approved of by both Congress and the American public (indeed, in reality, Chirac would not have been able to dissuade Bush even if Tuesday hadn’t gone so well for him, but I think he was still working off that belief until recently).

So “the two sides suddenly reached an agreement” to the extent that one side essentially capitulated and accepted some token cosmetic changes to make it sound as if the SC plays a much larger role than they would, with language that leaves the US completely free to do as it intends, at worst requesting that it listen to the complaints of its “allies” (as if we haven’t gotten used to that already over the last 14 months).

The six-page measure leaves the United States free to attack Iraq without Security Council authorization. But it accommodates the French demand for a two-stage process in which the Security Council has the chance to assess the seriousness of any Iraqi violation and to consider how to respond. In another compromise that would declare Iraq in “material breach” of its United Nations obligations, the United States changed the wording to allow United Nations inspectors to determine whether Iraq had violated its obligations.

Again, the Security Council can assess the situation merrily to its heart content. They’ll just be doing that while the US is gassing up its bombers and greasing the axles on its tanks.

They can decide to attack Saddam. They can decide to not attck. They can decide to discuss it for another month or so. Or they can decide to put Jello down their pants and dance on table-tops singing the French national anthem . No matter what they say or what further resolution they decide to pass, it will not affect what the US does in Iraq one whit. This is why I think it’s possible that Bush will discreetly inform the UNSC that he intends to start the military campaign on day X, and the SC will dutifully pass a resolution authorizing, advising, perhaps even mandating that action begin on day X to respond to Saddam’s refusal to follow the stipulations for inspections, and we will be once again greeted with editorials like Sciolino’s telling us how important and vital the warm, mutually respectful Franco-American relations in the SC are. The French and the rest of the SC will do this to retain their veneer of importance. Bush will do this either out of genuine magnanimity, or perhaps just cuz he gets off on throwing France a bone every once in a while.

That sounds crude and overly harsh doesn’t it? But there’s still some good, rational sense there. For Bush, it is doubly rewarding. On the one hand, he gets to look like the generous consensus builder, by letting others play an important role, and on the other, he only reinforces through his generosity the fact that he is the one in a position of real power, and France et al get to participate at his say-so. Caesar did the same thing when presented with those who had fought against him in the internecine wars of Rome, deciding to grant them clementia rather than have them executed. Sure, their lives were spared, but it was very clear that this happened at Caesar’s command, and throughout their entire life they and others were well-aware of this fact. Sometimes being nice isn’t really so nice as you might think.

At times during the negotiations, it appeared there would have to be a winner and a loser. French President Jacques Chirac made clear he detested the Bush doctrine, which said the United States would be justified in using pre-emptive force. He felt that only the United Nations had the authority to decide what to do about Iraq. Mr. Bush said that if the rest of the world didn’t have the courage to move against Iraq, the United States would do it by itself.

But from the outset, France and the United States were determined to stick together.

Ok, this just plain doesn’t make any sense, and I wish I was as clever as Lileks and could mock it appropriately, but I’m not clever, so you’ll just have to do with me simply pointing out the obvious point that the US telling France to piss off and going it alone no matter what criticisms or pronouncements or resolutions they breathlessly fire off is a mite short of the two countries sticking together like bosom buddies.

First, Mr. Chirac left open the possibility of military action against Iraq, even as he said the Security Council should have a late-in-the-game chance to disapprove of any use of force. Then, a few days later, in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 12, Mr. Bush left open the possibility that he was willing to work through the United Nations as an alternative to acting alone.

What one has to believe in order to not condemn Ms. Sciolino as hopelessly naive is that she knows full well that this talk on both sides was diplomatic rhetoric intended to make it seem as if both sides were assuredly moving toward a mutual solution, each giving in considerable concessions in the spirit of multilateralism. The separate reasons why Bush and Chirac would each do this were already explained above.

The UN has enough translators that they are able to take a speech being made in any language and translate it into the language of each member of the General Assembly, but what they could really use is kind of program set up whereby they remold the diplospeak into plain language, without all the articifices that diplomacy requires. If they had such a thing, Chirac’s pledged openness to a military solution would go something like this: “I’d rather cut off my own ear than go into Iraq and forfeit all the billions of dollars that France has invested there over the last 10 years, during which time we hoped to capitalize on the US’ refusal to deal with Saddam and Iraq as long as they were in breach of UNSC resolutions; not to mention the fact that I and millions of my fellow Frenchmen are deathly afraid that all the unassimilated Arabs from our former colonies who are now living in France will suddenly decide to take a holiday from civility and turn every inner city area in France into Los Angeles, circa April 1992.”

And in turn, Bush’s apparent willingness to forego any of kind of military action would sound something like this: “We’re going in there, no matter what that frog Chirac wants. Sure, it would be nice if we could be absolutely sure that Saddam had completely disarmed and stopped supporting any terrorist organizations (assuming there was any chance in hell of him doing that in the first place), but that could only happen if we moved to Fantasyland, USA, and I’m staying put right here.”

For France, the bargaining that followed was not just a matter of pursuing its principles, but a chance for the center-right government of Mr . Chirac to negotiate directly and at the highest levels with the United States – which it did, passionately and seriously. By accepting the tough approach of the United States on the need to rid Iraq of its weapons programs, the French helped shift the emphasis away from the initial American demand that Saddam Hussein be removed from power.

Again, Sciolino accepts the delicate diplomatic veneer for the core reality of the situation. She seems to do this a lot. Maybe she’d be interested in buying a bridge or two from me. I’ve got the deeds to some good ones.

The American emphasis was always the same. Always. In effect, the French convinced the Americans to shift their position from saying, “We are going to do X,” to “We are going to do X, but only if the sun rises tomorrow. We swear. Scout’s honor.”

Sciolino conveniently forgets that it is the French who had made any of kind of non-trivial shift in their stance, since for most of the time they were committed to not allowing any kind of military action outright no matter if Saddam lines up each weapons inspector and shoots them in the back of the head. They wanted a further debate initiated at that point, and they wanted the US to be completely restrained by what decisions that debate came to. Now the debate is still there, but it’s utterly meaningless. It’s a discussion completely for show. Letting the kids hold their model UN and make lots of important and grave-sounding speeches while you make preparations for war isn’t much of a concession, in my humble opinion.

As for the Americans, they get almost all of what they demanded: an understanding from every major power that whether the world likes it or not, they stand poised to invade Iraq unless Mr. Hussein takes the unlikely step of disarming.

Exactly. How Sciolino thinks this is anything short of American unilateralism, with the rest of the UNSC going along merely for appearances, is utterly beyond me.

Throughout the process, both the Americans and the French recognized that diplomacy works best when it is backed by force, so they weren’t working at cross purposes after all.

This is simply not true.

France has made it abundantly clear that it believes in force only up to the point that it is never actually going to be used, and that is no force at all. You can have all the weapons you like, but when you have demonstrated that you’re not going to use them come hell or high water, they might as well be paper weights. I think it is perfectly believable to posit that, were Chirac the dominant force in the SC, the negotiations and repeated failed inspection cycles could last literally 10 years into the future, easy. That is assuming of course, that Saddam’s nuclear programs wouldn’t have already come to fruition by then, which they likely would have, and then all bets are off.

If the diplomatic part of the equation succeeds and Saddam Hussein disarms, the Americans can still claim a victory for their forcefulness (the regime has changed – isn’t that regime change?), while the French can claim credit for their wisdom.

Oh dear.

“Isn’t that regime change?”

I suppose we could also see if Saddam will give us some quarters for a dollar. That would be even easier, and isn’t that “regime change” as well?

“It was essential for France to play this diplomatic game because we had to save the United Nations,” said Claude de Kemoularia, a former French ambassador to the United Nations .

No you didn’t.

All you did was save the United Nations from putting out into the open what everyone knows already: that it is an irrevelant organization, at least as far as threats to security go.

“So we should be happy about the outcome. The best diplomacy is when both parties are convinced that they have succeeded in presenting their points of view and everyone leaves the room satisfied.”

A slightly less ideal outcome that you will have to live with in this situation is when one party realizes that it has no ability to restrain the actions of the other party, and that the best (but by no means good) solution is to act as if you’ve wrung some sort of concession from the other side and declare a victory.

last update : 23-5-2018

Comments are closed.