"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Monday, August 20, 2007

As Britain Steps Down, France Steps Up

Who'd a thunk it? I've always blamed France for the Iraq war, and of course that was right, as we shall see in a minute.

But first, as the new Gordon Brown regime evacuates the slim UK force from Basra, Nicolas Sarkozy's new foreign minister paid a surprise visit to Iraq on Sunday and offered to help. The world is stunned, but they shouldn't be. Bernard Kouchner, a founder of the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), is a most amazing man:

Now we are turning the page. There is a new perspective. We want to talk about the future. Democracy, integrity, sovereignty, reconciliation, and stopping the killings. That's my deep aim.


Why, just recently, I meself resolved to turn the page when maneuvered into discussing Iraq with my friends from the left: Don't mention Bush. Already, things have gone unfathomably smoother that way. (And never underestimate a little success on the ground, no matter how tenuous.)

Now, way back when The New Republic was a credible magazine (two months ago), it ran a fascinating article by Paul Berman on Kouchner and the Iraq War that's a must-read except you can't because it's behind their subscription wall. (The enterprising must-reader can get behind it by removing "tnr.com" from his stored cookies.)

Only, by then, everything was already going to hell, from Kouchner's point of view. He was already furious--judging, at least, from what he went on to write during the next year. He was furious at his own government, in Paris. Bush and the United States had been putting ever more pressure on Saddam and had been making it ever more obvious that, unless Saddam caved, the invasion was guaranteed to go ahead. The French should have done everything possible to make these American threats look ever more fearsome.

Instead, Chirac's French foreign minister was running around the world actively campaigning against the American policy. Kouchner was convinced that, by agitating so energetically against the American invasion, French diplomacy was only sustaining Saddam in his fantasy that somebody, somewhere, was going to rescue his regime. This was a disaster. The no-war policy was the enemy of the less-than-war possibility. After the invasion, when the American investigators had finally managed to interview Saddam and some of his generals in their prison cells, we learned that, until the last moment, Saddam did imagine that, because of objections in the Security Council, the United States was not going to invade. This was Kouchner's fear entirely--what he had warned against in his manifesto in
Le Monde.

Indeed---had France gotten the US/UK's back, Saddam and his lovely sons Uday and Attila would have abdicated and be sunning themselves on the Riviera as you read this instead of joining their hundreds of thousands of victims six feet under. Instead, the corrupt Chirac regime set about building a critical mass of world opposition to toppling Saddam & Sons. The US and UK were on the clock, and so they made the precipitous decision to drop a few bombs and try to take him out. The die was cast, but the timing was dictated by France, not---according to popular belief---America and Britain.

The TNR article continues unsparingly with Kouchner's disagreement with casting the die and invading, his disdain for Bush's rhetorical clumsiness in playing the WMD card in the court of world opinion instead of what Kouchner saw as a slam-dunk humanitarian argument (although that could have been more Blair's idea, seeking UK legal cover), disagreement with disbanding the Ba'athist army (although it largely disbanded itself), and a revulsion with Paul Bremer's---and the Bush Administration's, it must be admitted---autocratic stewardship of the resulting mess (can't think of any objection there).

But his greatest revulsion was reserved for the Western left (and as an official of France's Socialist Party and with a plan for global health care, a member of the left himself), with its mindless anti-globalist knee-jerk anti-American opposition to even the clearest of moral imperatives, because Kouchner is one of those idealists who believes that if you hear a man killing his wife in the next apartment, you have a moral duty to break in and stop it.


He thought about the European peace movement. The mass marches against the war, the placards, the slogans, the chanting crowds--every last aspect of this movement reminded him of the grossest errors of the left-wing past. "In our generation," he told [close friend Daniel] Cohn-Bendit, "antiwar marches used to offer protection to the worst Stalinist regimes, the most frightening massacres, and because of this, I wouldn't let myself take part anymore--nor would you, Danny. God knows how often we heard people shout, 'Down with Bush!' But I didn't hear even the tiniest cry, 'Down with Saddam!' And let's not even mention--or rather, we had better mention--the anti-Semitic incidents...

Kouchner's argument about Iraq mostly focused on a specific reality, and this was the scale of the disaster in Iraq under Saddam's rule. The grimness of the human landscape in Iraq, together with the plea for help that so many Iraqis had been making for so many years, sufficed to justify the invasion, even without reference to worldwide principles. Yet where were the champions of the humanitarian cause, the human-rights militants, who should have responded to these pleas? Kouchner wasn't concerned about the orthodox left--the traditional left that had always been wrong about totalitarian movements, the left that pictured America as the fountain of evil, the left that had never wanted to overthrow Milosevic, the left that, in February 2003, was perfectly content to march in the streets side by side with the supporters of Saddam and the wildest of Islamist totalitarians, as masses of people had done in the giant antiwar demonstrations in Paris and London...

The tenor of Kouchner's comments on the intellectuals and human-rights and humanitarian militants suggested pretty plainly that, in his judgment, a huge number of people had betrayed their own best principles--had done this out of anti-American spite, or out of loathing for Bush, or who knows why, but they had done it. A dismaying situation: America, in its maladroit fashion, had just succeeded in overthrowing the worst tyranny of modern times, and the world's intellectuals were virtually quivering in indignation that such a thing had taken place.


A leftist mugged by reality and repulsed at his own side's obtuseness---a neo-con, if you will, at least by European standards. (Although to be called one might destroy him in the eyes of his enlightened fellows. Shhhhhhhhh.)

Paul Berman's article has many other wonders, few of them complimentary to the Bush Administration, about the man Bernard Kouchner, but he's worth our time to learn of him. A most amazing man:

You'll see, history will say that the Americans liberated the Iraqis, whatever the future may be, even if they did it poorly...The Americans have led a legitimate war on the basis of bad and false reasons, and, unfortunately, without the international community. In the long run, they will win, even so--but badly.



At this moment in time and history, winning badly will have to do, and I believe Bernard Kouchner is just the guy to help us do it.

_______________________________________

1 comment:

David S. Bloch said...

Kouchner's an impressive figure in a lot of ways . . . and it sounds like he's experiencing a Hitchens-style awakening. That would be most welcome. And there's reason for hope in Sarkozy, too. Even Merkel has been surprisingly decent on the world stage. Continental Europe still lacks the military firepower to back up its economic might, and faces terrible demographic problems. But perhaps it still has a role to play in world affairs . . . something I'm not sure I'd have said watching Chirac, de Villepin, and Gerhard Schroeder a few years back.

I do miss Silvio Berlusconi, though. He was great fun to have around, no matter what The Economist said. And whatever his flaws on the domestic scene, I will ALWAYS buy a round for Tony Blair, a true friend of the United States in the finest Anglophone/Anglosphere tradition.