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The revolt of the lilliputians

The column by Robert Kagan about France posted by Trunk today points out that even the Germans are questioning France’s approach to the U.S. regarding Iraq. I think this is because the French approach represents a serious departure from what had promised to be a reasonably successful method of coping with U.S. power. That method consisted of persuading the U.S. to participate in, and increasingly be bound by, multilateral organizations that constrain our actions. Indeed, the stated project of the European foreign policy elites has been, in the words of one of its members, to tie up the American Gulliver, Lilliputian-style, in a web of tiny chains And the policy had been working to some degree. The first President Bush bought into mulitlateralism to the point that he declined to overthrow Saddam Hussein in part, apparently, because our partners hadn’t agreed to it. President Clinton, as suspicious of U.S. power as his Euro-cronies, was more than happy to cede significant control of its exercise to others. And the current President Bush has been willing to walk a ways down the bunny trail of multilateralism in the current confrontation with Iraq.
The most natural course for the Europeans to have taken with respect to Iraq, consistent with the approach described above, would have been to induce the U.S. to make further concessions to the authority of the Security Council in exchange, ultimately, for the Security Council’s grudging approval. This outcome would have been no worse than a draw for multilateralism and would have left the Europeans well positioned to obtain future victories under Democratic administrations to come. But France has overplayed its hand. Even the U.S. — even many of its liberal Democrats — cannot be suckered into ceding substantial control over its foreign policy to a Europe that is too anti-American to deal in good faith. Not, at least, when we are waging war against the threat posed by terrorism to our basic security. Recall, for example, the debate over whether the U.S. should sign the Treaty of Rome and participate in the International Criminal Court. To many, the argument of conservative opponents of the ICC that U.S. officials and soldiers might end up being tried for war crimes must have seemed far-fetched a year ago. But is it still so implausible now, given the views of U.S. foreign policy being expressed not just in the “European street,” but also by the leaders of Germany and France?
In sum, France lost patience with the gradualistic approach to constraining U.S. power. In true Napoleonic fashion, it has seized the opportunity presented by the situation with Iraq to attack Gulliver head-on, and thus, win or lose, cease being Lilliputians. But fortunately, this encounter is likely to be a liberating experience for Gulliver too. For the rest of Europe, it may prove a dismaying one.

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