Monday, September 27, 2004


By Bill Gertz

Crown Forum, $25.95, 288 pages

The old aphorism that “nations don’t have friends, they have interests” may be true on a grand scale. However, in “Treachery: How America’s Friends and Foes Are Secretly Arming Our Enemies,” Bill Gertz accuses the French and Germans of taking this philosophy to ridiculous lengths to stab America in the back by arming its enemies. He makes a convincing case.

Mr. Gertz uses a variety of unimpeachable sources to indict those two nations for high crimes and misdemeanors in this area. They add up to a damning case against our longtime “allies and friends” in Paris and Berlin. French missiles have shot down U.S. warplanes in Iraq; French technology helped arm the Iraqi air force in clear violation of U.N. sanctions. The Germans stand accused of allowing their companies also to arm Iraq.

Mr. Gertz lays out the evidence in a clear and persuasive manner. Furthermore, he argues that Saddam Hussein personally financed the current French president for years — so much for loyalty or gratitude. Only the Russians and Chinese topped the French in illicitly providing arms to Iraq.

You’d expect that kind of behavior from communists and reformed, lapsed communists such as Vladimir Putin, but not from those who were twice saved from tyranny (as were the French) or those who were rescued from penury (as were the Germans, following World War II). For their part, the Germans went so far as to copy the U.S.-supplied Stinger missile and sell it to America’s enemies.

Both France and Germany are accused of providing “dual use” technology to nations that should not have it, so that they could produce weapons of mass destruction. This reckless disregard of non-proliferation agreements has made the world a much more dangerous place in the post-Cold War world than it was during the bad old days when the belligerents were responsible adults. The French and Germans have acted like parents who go away for the weekend and leave the liquor cabinet open. “You children behave yourselves and don’t have any wild parties” (wink, wink).

According to Mr. Gertz, nations such as North Korea, Iran, Libya and Pakistan have been partying too long due to the negligence of our so-called allies. Libya has supposedly reformed; that remains to be seen. The North Koreans and Iranians are defiant and unrepentant.

But the Germans and French aren’t alone in Mr. Gertz’s indictment: Russia, Pakistan and China take hits as well. All three of these countries are ostensible allies in the global war on terrorism; all three have been notorious proliferators. In this, the Russians get the Hypocrite of the Year Award, since President Putin recently castigated the Bush administration for not properly supporting his own war on terrorism. In life, what goes around often comes around.

If there is a criticism of the book, it is that Mr. Gertz may be too hard on the State Department. Nations have to play “good cop-bad cop” sometimes. In dealing with our rogue allies, the Pentagon usually comes off as the bad cop. The job of the State Department is to ensure that we don’t burn our bridges. This may make Colin Powell and his staff hold their noses occasionally, but they can’t afford the luxury of holding grudges. We must remember that there will be other crises.

Mr. Gertz draws heavily on his own investigative reporting for this book’s sources. He is a longtime military affairs columnist for The Washington Times and has a solid reputation for being one of the better reporters on the beat. When I was on active duty in the Marine Corps, there was a saying that “If Bill Gertz calls you, it is probably not to tell you you’re doing a good job.” I’m glad to say that I never had to talk to him.

At the end of the book, the author offers some solutions. One of them is to support something called the Pillsbury Plan, which is a bold initiative to stop the kind of behavior uncovered here. Readers who don’t know about Mike Pillsbury and his plan, but are interested, need to buy the book; it is too complicated to explain in a brief review.

This brings us back to the French and the Germans. It is one thing to envy a successful younger brother; it is quite another to stab him in the back. In the military we always judged the merit of a man by one measure: Do you want him in the foxhole on your flank? Given the choice, I’ll always take the Brits.

Gary Anderson is a retired Marine Corps officer who teaches a course on the Revolution in Military Affairs at George Washington University.

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