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Yell loud enough

You see these occasional speculations as to why France might have opposed a US-led war on Iraq. I personally think the answer is pretty obvious; France does not want the US to have a free hand to do whatever it wants in the world. “Aha,” cries my hypothetical right wing strawman. “So you think France is in the right?” No, I just think it’s a perfectly natural reaction to have when confronted with a hyperpower. It doesn’t mean they’re acting in the best interests of the United States, and it doesn’t mean they’re really allies after all. It just means that I don’t think they’re malevolent, evil, or otherwise deserving of censure.

However, there are plenty of people who simply don’t get that. The train of thought appears to go something like this: the US has noble motivations, and if you sympathize with the desired ends who cares if the US is running the show? Nobody; thus, anyone who objects to US actions must not sympathize with the desired ends.

Yeah, well. I like having a clean living room, but if Cheney broke into my apartment while I was at work and neatened everything up, I’d still be pissed off.

Anyhow, one of the common speculations is that France has a financial motive to oppose the war. This speculation contains within it the implicit assumption that if France participated in the war on Iraq, the US would still screw it out of redevelopment contracts; otherwise, why wouldn’t France just help out? Well, some say, France has been arming Iraq and violating sanctions. William Safire said so.

OK. So the next time someone makes that claim, here’s your takedown.


  1. I posted a counter to this argument, basically using the words of french business and political leaders who have stated that they have, and want, a continuing financial stake in Iraq. I’m not wholly unsympathetic to the concern of the French, but they used the wrong tactics to combat what you suggest they feared. In fact, they got exactly what they feared: a U.S. that no longer feels fettered by the bonds of international consensus.

  2. Nice post — the AP article is interesting reading. I poked around a little and it seems that quite a few of the French and Russian contracts were signed relatively recently, which does in fact make one wonder a little more about a quid pro quo relationship. I’m afraid I can’t really believe that $705 million was relevant in the big picture for France — that’s minor cash — but a serious stake in the oil fields would be meaningful for TotalFinaElf.

    One still has to tackle the question of why France wouldn’t go in with the US, but I suspect the answer is simply that they wanted a larger share of the pot than they were likely to get in that instance. Good guess on their part given how many British companies have gotten post-war contracts so far.

    Oddly, I still don’t think it’s about the oil for the US policy makers. It’s not necessary to assume a conspiracy when all the actions make sense without one — Cheney, Perle, and Rumsfeld may have a pure desire to advance their geopolitical policy, and various corporate entities in the United States back it because of the obvious financial opportunities it presents.

    Which leads us back to France, and the question of whether or not we could make the same distinction between the French government and TotalFinaElf. Um… damn. The government used to be a very large shareholder, but in the early 90s sold most of its shares. Which doesn’t mean that Chirac isn’t interested in TotalFinaElf’s financial health, of course.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. Mark Mark

    I don’t see the French as evil as much as I see them vastly overestimate the importance of the U.N. (or the European Union) as the final arbiter of “legitimacy” in some kind of international conflict.

  4. The difficulty with your theory is that it mischaracterizes the principal objections to the behavior of the French, here. Very few people have argued that the French should not act in their self-interest, whatever they perceive it to be. The outrage comes from two other corners.

    One — obstructing the Great Satan in the overthrow of a vicious tyrant who tortures, rapes, and murders his own people and demonstrably possesses prohibited weapons seems a mighty peculiar diplomatic hill to die on, the Gallic propensity for playing kissy-face with dictators notwithstanding. The price of French obstinance is an emboldened Saddam Hussein — rather a more grave geopolitical concern than your analogized neatnik burglar. It is certainly the perogative of the French to practice bruised-ego diplomacy, and oppose any act by a United States that isn’t sufficiently deferential to Gallic sensibilities; but that posture is not without a price of its own, in the form of American censure.

    Two — most offensive about the French position is its bouquet of sanctimony. I’m willing to be hectored about the illegitimacy of a unilateral war in Iraq unsanctioned by the United Nations… just as soon as Monsieur Chirac would care to explain just what the hell his government is doing in the Ivory Coast, and square his complaint with his government’s (at least tacit) support of U.S. intervention in the Balkans. I’m prepared to deal with accusations of U.S. imperialism… once M. Chirac accounts for his own country’s colonial and Euro-hegemonic aspirations. I’m happy to accept complaints that this is a war over the oil wealth beneath Iraq… just as soon as the French reveal the extent to which oil industry protectionism motivates their reluctance to depose Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist torture state. I’m glad to be labelled a simpilisme cowboy American… right after Dominique du Villepin explains why it is nuanced and sophisticated to continue to engage in increasingly pointless inspections regimes after twelve years of demonstrable and admitted failure. And I’m fine to be taken to task for American arrogance… right after M. Chirac explains his threat-laden tantrum toward the various Eastern European countries who happen to support the United States.

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