April 11, 2003 | Commentary on International Organizations

Thank You, France

This anti-French business has taken some interesting turns. Many restaurants are renaming French fries "freedom" fries. Some people are refusing to buy French wine or French cheese. There's even a disc jockey here in Washington who stood on a street corner selling "Freedom kisses" rather than … well, you know.

I, for one, think the French deserve our gratitude. It took their unique blend of hubris, cynicism and America-envy to expose the myth that the United Nations is the place to solve serious disputes among sovereign states.

The United Nations is in dire need of repair. Not destruction-the concept of a forum where nations can address common problems, such as hunger and human rights, can prove useful-but massive, wall-to-wall fixes.

Among those repairs should be a retreat by the United Nations from extensive involvement in matters of war and peace. In this arena, the United Nations usually only makes things worse. Even if it didn't, we shouldn't require U.N. approval to defend our citizens and interests. Otherwise, we're essentially letting the parochial concerns of other nations dictate U.S. policy.

After all, support for coalition efforts to remove Saddam Hussein should be a no-brainer. In addition to laughing off 17 resolutions ordering him to disarm, Saddam has gassed his own people, bombed his own retreating troops at the end of the first Gulf War and attacked three of his neighbors.

Now he has weapons that threaten the lives of literally hundreds of millions of people. He works with terrorist groups who can supply impressionable youths to serve as suicidal "delivery vehicles." And the French and Russians wanted us to get approval for an 18th resolution before we went to war, even though Saddam had thumbed his nose at the first 17? Call me cynical, but something tells me to peel back this curtain and see what's behind.

And, voilà , as the French would say. The arguments made by Paris, Moscow and Berlin may sound positively continental-peace beats war, etc. But it turns out their motives are more-how to put this delicately?-situational. All three have extensive commercial interests in Iraq, including expensive oil contracts and, as we discovered in the opening days of the war, sales of some forbidden weaponry.

And it's just barely possible these contracts-these deals with a devil-might not be honored under a new government. The United States has promised only that the oil and other resources of Iraq will be used to benefit the Iraqi people. France, Germany and Russia will have to wait to see exactly what that means.

The proposition that war is "illegal" unless it carries the Security Council's seal of approval is as laughable as the spectacle of our diplomats trying to coax Cameroon and Mauritania into voting for that elusive 18th resolution. Of the 200 or so wars fought since 1945, the Security Council has "approved" two-the Korean War and the first Gulf War.

Founding ideals aside, the United Nations is a debating society backed by one of the world's truly impenetrable bureaucracies. Occasionally, when its peacekeeping forces and its charitable organizations do some good, the organization rises to the soaring ideals on which it was founded.

But when it allows self-interested states to make political points at the expense of others while the world moves closer to destruction, it earns not our respect, but our regret at what's become of those soaring ideals.

So mercì, France. Quite a legacy.


-Edwin Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy research institute.

About the Author

Edwin J. Feulner, Ph.D. Founder, Chairman of the Asian Studies Center, and Chung Ju-yung Fellow
Founder's Office

Related Issues: International Organizations