An interesting game is going on in the Security Council, and the whole thing actually seems to be circling around just what the word “consult” means.

The conflict in the SC that has been going on for the last couple weeks has been mainly the Americans saying we needed an inspection resolution that mandated military action immediately should it become apparent that Saddam was not cooperating, and the French taking the point position in arguing that the resolution should dictate a further series of discussions if and when the inspections are hindered. It was this disagreement that would prompt France, Russia and China to veto an SC resolution. Now, it seems a compromise is in the works that apparently frees the US to act alone if it so wishes, but also requires to first “consult” the SC after Saddam is revealed to be less than totally forthcoming during the inspections.

It’s funny how one word can have two different meanings. I’m guessing the US interprets the word this way: we lay out what we want to do and why with our allies. If they agree, great; we attack Iraq together. If they don’t, we listen briefly to their concerns, but if those concerns aren’t persuasive, we attack Iraq alone (which actually wouldn’t be alone, because we’ll still have a host of allies in a fighting coalition – Britain, Australia, Kuwait, Qatar etc etc – but the initiative will be ours and will not come from the UN).

I don’t think it’s outrageous to suggest that France has a slightly different conception of the word “consult” in this context. The compromised text says that the US would be free to act alone only after a debate was held in the UN, and I’m guessing that France and other SC members intend specifically to hold this debate on their watch, by their timetable and standards of how long the debate has to be in order to be considered satisfactory, meaning it goes on as long as they want it to, and cannot be said to be over (thus freeing the US to act alone) until all parties are explicitly satisfied that it is . What I see is months of debate, while France and other SC nations continually harangue the US with new motions and issues for discussion, or they simply rehash old, tired discredited arguments again and again. Really however, the only true message they would be intending to send is, “Come on, just give it up. You know, we can keep this up as long as you can…”

And of course they could, for while we would be spending billions of dollars of real money in mobilization and preparation costs, French diplomats would simply be continually dipping into their limitless storehouses filled to the brim with empty rhetoric. Talk is cheap, preparing for a war isn’t. And they will happily prattle on, reminding us that we solemnly promised to wait until there was a satisfactory debate before we went off all half-cocked like the crazy cowboys we are.

There was a Simpsons episode where Homer wanted to buy a gun, and Marge was against it. They held a legnthy discussion about the matter, and trying to be concilatory and settle the issue, Homer says, “Look, come with me to an NRA meeting, and if you’re still not convinced guns are great, then we’ll argue some more,” sending the clear message that the only outcome that won’t lead to further discussion is Marge acquiescing to his side . Well, I think it’s a pretty safe bet to say that France will be taking the same stance. Anything the US says during this “debate” will only lead to more debate, that is until those clodheaded Americans see the light of truth that is the sophisticated French point of view and abandon any plans for war against Saddam.

Of course, Bush, Powell et al won’t let this happen, and I honestly wonder if the French know that. Perhaps they are so accustomed to empty rhetoric that they don’t really buy into statements by Powell about not allowing the US to be “handcuffed,” thinking that such pronouncements are merely part of the game of international diplomacy. “Have to pay lip service to things like independence, sovereignty… etc etc blah, blah, blah.. . but we don’t really mean any of that, do we? Of course not.”

Unsophisticated Americans like George Bush are just the kind of people who are too simplistic to grasp such highly cultured practices. Doublespeak is just too chic for them.

last update : 19-4-2018

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