Along the Tracks

Thursday, February 20, 2003

France still sleeping

Over at National Review Online, Jonah Goldberg defends his interpretation of French policy on Iraq as “appeasement.” And of course (as usual), Jonah’s right: It is appeasement.

But after reading his column and a fair volume of other dissections of French policies, I’m beginning to see there is an assumption everyone makes about France - and other nations, for that matter - which may not be accurate: We all assume the French have as a fundamental foreign policy goal avoiding “their own September 11.”

This may not be true.

Now, I’m not saying the French want to see 3,000 of their own citizens die; I’m saying they do not see this as a real danger, and in any case, not a subject to which foreign policy initiatives offer any direct answers. Germany is clearly on the same policy page. Both of these nations, along with others outspoken against attacking Iraq (or the war on terrorism in general), have a passive, largely-domestic policy when it comes to terrorism - arrest the active agents, maybe freeze some assets, but that’s about it. In world affairs, they see terrorism as a criminal enterprise, similar to smuggling or opium production. Conferences to coordinate law enforcement efforts are about as “multilateral” as these nations seek to be on the issue. Remember, prior to 9/11, the U.S. policy was almost indistinguishable from that presently exercised by the French.

Britain’s leaders have been largely convinced of the futility of treating terrorism as a law enforcement problem (although, judging by polls, the British public has not) without having to suffer their own large-scale attack directly. The same can be said for other members of the “coalition of the willing.” For France and Germany, the idea of stopping major terrorist plots through application of military force has not been accepted. Indeed, if there is a foreign policy advantage related to terrorism which these two hope to exploit, it is that the anger from Islamists and their apologists now is focused on the U.S., U.K., and their coalition. By making opposition to these anti-terror allies an open policy, the French and Germans hope to redirect any planned attacks away from their borders.

But this really is a secondary consideration. The primary objective of this opposition is to solidify French-German leadership in the European Union and advance French-German leadership on the world stage. To the Franco-German axis, 9/11 is not a harbinger, it is history, and they have “moved on.”

The “wake up call” of 9/11 did not awaken everyone.

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