- The Washington Times - Monday, March 24, 2003

Now that President Bush has quite rightly decided to bypass the United Nations and lead a separate military coalition into war to disarm Iraq, antiwar governments in France and Germany are being forced to confront some uncomfortable new realities about their diminished roles on the international stage.
Their opposition to military action to force Saddam Hussein to comply with a succession of Security Council resolutions requiring Iraqi disarmament has seriously damaged their own credibility and that of the United Nations. As the allied coalition continues making progress on the battlefield and Saddam's regime collapses (despite the best efforts of President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to prevent this from happening), Paris and Berlin find themselves marginalized and estranged from the world's lone remaining superpower, the United States.
Ever since President Bush's ultimatum to Saddam one week ago tonight, it's clear that France and Germany have been torn between continuing to criticize Mr. Bush for taking action on the one hand and attempting to repair their damaged relations with Washington on the other. For example, France said on Tuesday that, were Iraq to use chemical or biological weapons, it would consider helping allied forces. The prominent French news magazine Le Point questioned whether Mr. Chirac's government has gone too far in picking fights with Washington and London on Saddam's behalf. The French leader is offering to aid in the international reconstruction of Iraq.
On the other hand, the French government's obstructionist side continues to manifest itself. Speaking at a European Union summit last week, Mr. Chirac warned that he will not accept any U.N. resolution allowing the U.S. and Britain to administer Iraq after the current war ends. "That would justify the war after the event," Mr. Chirac huffed. He asserted that Washington and London had placed themselves outside international legality over Iraq, and sought to remove a paragraph from an EU declaration stating that the organization's objective remains Iraq's "full and effective" disarmament.
For his part, Mr. Schroeder (who won re-election last September by running as an America-basher) has come under fire from the hard left for allowing the U.S. to use NATO bases in Germany during the war in Iraq. Mr. Schroeder addressed the German people on Tuesday, just hours after Mr. Bush's ultimatum speech. "My question was and remains: Does the size of the threat posed by the Iraqi dictator justify a decision to wage a war that will surely lead to the deaths of thousands of innocent children, women and men? My answer to this question was and remains: No," Mr. Schroeder said.
But the German leader has subsequently said that because of Germany's obligations to NATO, it would permit the use of its airspace to support allied forces in Iraq. One German party, the opposition Free Democrats, has hinted at taking legal action to overturn another decision of Mr. Schroeder's: to deploy German crew members on AWACS planes that would fly over Turkey, a fellow NATO member. The Free Democrats object to the policy on grounds that the planes could provide information to U.S.-led forces fighting to oust Saddam Hussein.
Mr. Schroeder's main political headache right now comes from the Green Party, the junior partner in his very tenuous governing coalition. Some Green Party activists are threatening to take Mr. Schroeder to court over his decision to permit the allies to use German NATO bases in the Iraq campaign, on the absurd grounds that this would violate the country's constitutional prohibition against taking part in a "war of aggression."
It would hardly be out of character for the Greens to threaten to bring down the government over anything that smacks of supporting the U.S. against rogue nations and terrorists. In November 2001, they forced the chancellor to call for a vote of confidence to support the deployment of German soldiers in the U.S.-led war on terrorism. Only a last-minute deal averted the toppling of Mr. Schroeder's government.
There is one positive factor at work in German politics that is lacking in France. The major German opposition parties the Christian Democratic Union and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union support Mr. Bush's approach to dealing with Saddam Hussein. Unfortunately, in France, there is no serious political alternative right now to Mr. Chirac's perverse brand of Gaullism. But, the tide could begin to turn in the coming weeks and months, as Iraq is liberated and survivors describe the suffering they've endured under Saddam Hussein's rule.
Beyond Mr. Chirac's and Mr. Schroeder's potential domestic political problems, it is being noted by more astute European analysts that both France and Germany are badly mispositioned internationally. Germany has permitted itself, through the diplomacy of the last few months, to be supporting France's vision of establishing Europe as a bipolarity to the United States. But, Germany has no interest in such opposition. Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer last week went out of his way to endorse the centrality of a North American-European identity of fundamental interests "for the 21st century." We should expect to see in the coming months a discrete, but steady, German demarche away from the French vision.
For France, discrete movement will not be so easy. Mr. Chirac's more-Gaullist-than-DeGaulle assertion of a French-led counterweight to the United States must fail for lack of French economic, diplomatic, military and cultural magnitude. France simply does not have the horses to pull that heavy cart. The inevitably public revelation of such French impotence will constitute Paris's greatest embarrassment since the Suez Crisis of 1956.

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