French President Jacques Chirac’s recent decision to veto the use of special NATO forces to safeguard elections in Afghanistan this fall is the latest example of his desperate attempts to assert France’s relevance on the world stage. Despite impassioned pleas from Afghan President Hamid Karzai for additional troops to provide security against continuing violence by Islamist fundamentalists that threatens critical national elections, Mr. Chirac blocked the U.S.-backed plan, claiming such forces “shouldn’t be used in any old manner.” Mr. Chirac’s actions and anti-American rhetoric only serve to underscore the depths to which this once great nation has sunk.
It is simply incomprehensible that Mr. Chirac could treat the democraticliberationof Afghanistan with such cavalier indifference. After decades of Soviet occupation, warlordism and the brutality of the Taliban, Afghans for the first time ever will select their head of state through competitive elections. The ease with which Mr. Chirac can take for granted the freedoms and liberties that democratic elections provide is appalling.
Those freedoms have allowed 1.7 million Afghanistan citizens to register to vote, including more than 500,000 women. The people of Afghanistan can now enjoy the liberty of attending one of the 152 new or more than 400 refurbished schools, or obtaining health-care services from one of 378 new and refurbishedhealthclinics. Afghanistan’s new schools have reached more than 16,000 students and trained more than 2,100 teachers. Afghan women are perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of their country’s newfound democracy, as they continue to enjoy remarkable gains in human and civil rights. Most notably, Afghanistan’s first-ever national constitution guarantees equal rights to all citizens, men and women. It is indeed unfortunate that Mr. Chirac views these momentous accomplishments as “any old manner.”
Equally appalling is France’s selfishness and rank hypocrisy. France’s latest refusal to send troops into Afghanistan stands in stark contradiction to its efforts to drag NATO, historically a defensive alliance, into Yugoslavia — the organization’s first-ever offensive action against a non-member. After France’s efforts to gain U.N. Security Council approval to remove Slobodan Milosevic by force failed, it pressed the United States to approve NATO military action. When the dictator Milosevic threatened Europe’s back door, France was content to commit America’s sons and daughters to battle. Mr. Chirac no doubt slept soundly as U.S. bombs fell on Kosovo, and France’s self-interest was protected.
Interestingly, when Euros are at stake, Mr. Chirac and the French government are all too willing to extend a helping hand. France’s profitable financial support of Saddam Hussein is well documented, and prior to the liberation of the Iraqi people, it continued to prop up the Oil for Food program that will go down as one of the most corrupt international aid programs in history. Most recently, just hours after the Coalition Provisional Authority transferred sovereignty to the Iraqi interim government, the French Finance Ministry announced it would immediately restore full economic ties with Iraq. Sadly, profit and self-interest have replaced France’s guiding moral compass.
The time has come to end France’s continued economic gain paid for with the blood of U.S. and coalition soldiers. America cannot continue its efforts to improve relations with France, if France is only willing to reciprocate when it is convenient for her to do so. It is telling that the countries of New Europe — countries that have the nightmare of oppression seared into their memory — are willing to make heroic commitments to protect freedom and democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan. France values its democratic allies when her freedoms are in jeopardy. In contrast, France has a striking disregard when the freedoms of others less fortunate are at risk. Mr. Chirac’s misguided refusal to allow NATO troops to provide vital security for Afghan elections or train Iraqi security forces may forever undermine the peaceful objectives that will be the foundation of stability in these long-suffering countries for generations.
On June 6, the world remembered the ultimate sacrifice of more than 30,000 Allied troops — and 9,000 American soldiers — made 60 years ago during the Normandy campaign to liberate and restore democracy to France. During his speech, Mr. Chirac recognized that sacrifice and the “unparalleled debt” France owes America, calling us his country’s “eternal ally.” On June 29, Mr. Chirac went out of his way to oppose U.S. efforts to bring democracytoIraqand Afghanistan. For Mr. Chirac, eternity lasted 23 days.
Rep. Curt Weldon is a Pennsylvania Republican.
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