Letter to the Editor(1)

In heated times, we rely on intelligent commentators to avoid piling on.

In heated times, we rely on intelligent commentators to avoid piling on. Yet, Adam Garfinkle's essay "From the Raspberry Patch: Of Piffle and Petite Grandeur," (November 18, 2002, at http://www.inthenationalinterest.com/Articles/Vo1Issue11/Vol1Issue11Garfinkle.html) unfortunately sounds the same note of sophomoric pique and self-serving chauvinism that has characterized Euro-bashing over the past six months. It assumes that European foreign policy is only motivated by spiteful anti-Americanism, obstruction for obstruction's sake, and some kind of post-grandeur stress disorder. To their credit, leading European statesmen like Chris Patten, Chirac or Schroeder remain aloof from these cartoonish accusations. After all, they have millions of Muslim immigrants to mollify, they have active terrorist cells to combat, and they have a vested interest in checking a rush to war without first thinking through the consequences. What's more, they've been wondering why retaliation against Al-Qaeda and bin Laden, which in the wake of 9/11 they enthusiastically endorsed, has suddenly been overshadowed by the less imminent, but militarily more convenient, threat of Saddam Hussein. They've also been wondering why the Palestinian question has been put on the back burner when this remains the wellspring for much of the anti-Western sentiment in the Middle East. Finally, and here you can charge them with political opportunism, though of a benign kind, most of their constituents are thinking along the same lines. If it turns out that Iraq is stockpiling a dangerous arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and cultivating links with Al-Qaeda, then Europe will stand corrected, if not, chastened. Alternatively, if verified inspections bear little fruit and Al-Qaeda strikes again, "Countdown Iraq" will be one of the most ill advised tempests in a teapot in modern history.

In all of this, the fact that France is held in particularly low regard makes little sense. Their permanent seat on the Security Council may be overblown and outdated, but they are still a major cultural and economic power with a rich diplomatic history and, unfortunately, even richer experience of the ravages of war and terrorism. The French may or may not be gloating over their victory at the UN, but the whole world is breathing a little easier now that the bluster of August has been replaced with prudent caution. At the very least, if we want to challenge their so-called obstructionist motives, we should do a little more homework. Garfinkle writes, "they (France) have done very well lately for a country whose entire foreign policy for over forty years went down in flames when the Soviet Union collapsed and Germany was reunited." Since every Western nation's foreign policy was radically reconfigured by these two events, it's a little odd to single out France. In fact, France's foreign policy "for over forty years" has largely concentrated on managing de-colonization in Africa and Southeast Asia, and creating the European Union.

The incessant mockery of France's position is hard to comprehend. Is our skin that prickly, or did Garfinkle et al have too many undignified encounters with Parisian waiters? The latter would explain their pique and ire, but it doesn't make for sound political commentary.

Stefan Sullivan, a political observer of Germany, has contributed to Newsweek, The Baltimore Sun, Die Sueddeutsche Zeitung, and The World Today. He is also the author of Marx for a Post-Communist Era (Routledge, 2002). He authored " Wag the Dove: German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder Wins on Peace--and Little Else" for the September 25, 2002 issue of In the National Interest (http://www.inthenationalinterest.com/Articles/Vol1Issue3/vol1issue3Sullivan.html).


Adam Garfinkle responds:

Stefan Sullivan is in error on so many counts that I hardly know where to begin in answering his comment on my November 14th column. In the first place, yes, there has been a lot of unfortunate Eurobashing in the United States, but I have not taken part in it nor do I approve of it. I remain pro-NATO and pro-Atlanticist; I just hope NATO finds something worthwhile that it can do in its new constitution. My piece did not bash Europe; Sullivan is building and then burning down a straw man. It simply pointed to the illogic of French policy in Southwest Asia when viewed through the lens of the real French national interest. While he raises a whole host of extrania about Muslim migrants, the French Security Council seat and such, Sullivan dodges completely the main point I raise: What happens to European interests in the Middle East if America is faced down by an Iraq that has gone over the WMD threshold, able to protect its conventional aggression behind the shield of nuclear weapons?

As for the French loving the game, I have yet to meet a seasoned U.S. diplomat who does not share this basic assessment. Indeed, they love it so much, and sometimes play it at such petty levels, that most scholars on the matter (Philip Gourevitch, Gerard Prunier, Michael Chege and others) have implicated French policy in Rwanda as having contributed to the genocide that occurred there. Why did the French government court and arm Hutu extremists? Partly because, experts say, they were determined on an anti-Anglo agenda in Africa long after the end of the colonial era-almost as if Fashoda had happened the day before yesterday.