According to French President Jacques Chirac, the United States is little more than a bully on the world stage, determined to intimidate all who fail to see the need to disarm Saddam Hussein. But we have nothing on Chirac, who can bully with the best of them when things don't go his way.
Consider how he's using the pro-American sentiments voiced by certain European nations as an excuse to oppose their entry into the European Union. Bulgaria, Romania, Estonia and Albania, among others, are being "childish" and "dangerous," Chirac has said, warning that they had "missed a great opportunity to shut up" and had jeopardized their chances of entering Europe's richest club.
The result has been a huge backlash across Europe against French arrogance, and increasing isolation for the position of Paris and Berlin on the Iraq question. They are being outflanked by the "New Europe" led by Britain, Italy, Spain and Poland, whose determination to end decades of French-German domination prompted them to submit an op-ed to The Wall Street Journal on Jan. 30, signed by five other European nations, praising U.S. "bravery, generosity and farsightedness" and warning that the transatlantic relationship "must not become a casualty of the current Iraqi regime's persistent attempts to threaten world security."
So far, France and Germany aren't budging. Indeed, they are expected to present their own long-term plan for Iraqi disarmament to the U.N. Security Council: triple the number of weapons inspectors in Iraq, establish a no-fly zone over the whole country, and deploy thousands of U.N. peacekeepers.
While the United States and Great Britain are certain to reject this proposal, Baghdad would welcome it with open arms. Iraq knows full well that a force of European peacekeepers sent into Iraq while hundreds of thousands of Allied troops mass on its borders would become the military equivalent of the hapless human shields currently making their way from London to Baghdad by red double-decker bus to show "solidarity" with the Iraqi regime.
So why make such a proposal? Perhaps because both France and Germany would be greatly embarrassed by the contents of the Iraqi regime's voluminous archives, should they be opened after Iraq's liberation. More than 80 German companies (which Baghdad named in its weapons report to the United Nations) helped build Iraq's weapons program. And French arms sales and military expertise have played a critical role in developing Iraq's military machine over the past 20 years.
The prospect of such a revelation may be the reason the Franco-German proposal is riddled with hypocrisy. For years both nations have refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Northern and Southern no-fly zones. Yet now they call for these zones to cover the whole of Iraq. Paris and Berlin have long condemned the idea of a post-war U.S.-led occupation force in Iraq as an imperial adventure, yet now call for a neo-colonial French-led "peacekeeping" operation.
The fact that French and German strategists would even consider advancing such a proposal reveals the extent to which the leaders of these two nations have lost touch with reality. Both nations have shamelessly appeased the Iraqi regime for decades, barely breathing a whiff of criticism of the medieval barbarity of Saddam's rule.
To a large extent, their proposal is a knee-jerk reaction to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's observation that France and Germany represent "Old Europe." The French and the Germans were incensed by Rumsfeld's remarks, not so much because they were insulting, but because they're true. Rumsfeld uttered a simple fact: Paris and Berlin no longer carry the weight they once did in international affairs -- that they're fading powers on the world stage with little real influence.
So France and Germany are reduced to denying the obvious: That the people of Iraq will be liberated by a large, broad-based international coalition. The concept of America having to "go it alone" in Iraq is an illusion conjured by the shrinking number of opponents to military action. At least 18 European allies will actively support the United States. The tide is beginning to turn against "Old Europe," and a new Europe, pro-American in outlook and led by Great Britain, is starting to emerge.
Paris and Berlin face a stark choice in the weeks ahead. They can either oppose military action against Iraq, consigning the U.N. Security Council to a position of total irrelevance on the international stage, or they can join in what will be one of the biggest alliances ever assembled to remove a brutal dictatorship from power.
Nile Gardiner is Visiting Fellow in Anglo-American Security Policy at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org).
Distributed nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire