The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
Email This Page

I used to think that Thomas L. Friedman, probably the best-known foreign affairs commentator in the American press, was a reasonably balanced analyst till I read his articles on Iraq. True, he had in the past advocated removing Saddam Hussein by means other than violence, but once George W. Bush attacked Iraq, he took it for granted that it was inevitable and that what was really important was to move carefully after the “war” to “develop” Iraq.

Even this one was read and passed over; very few Americans, it seemed, could have really been able to stand back and see the appalling nature of their country’s unprovoked attack on a much weaker country, the thousands of men, women and children they killed in the process and the terrible destruction that they caused with their laser-guided bombs and cruise missiles. But many in other countries did, and one of the most vocal in their criticism has been France.

France has opposed the attack right from the start and maintained its opposition to it while the butchery went on. Now that counter attacks have started, and American troops are being killed on an almost regular basis, they’re beside themselves with rage and impotent fury, venting their hate on innocent people. Consider this; Indian forces in Kashmir suffer casualties all the time, but they never let this affect their mission — to unearth and eliminate terrorists. If a civilian is killed it is an accident, certainly not a result of blind rage and hysterical firing. In fact, one will find that terrorists have killed more civilians that the security forces.

But not in Iraq, where the Americans have been “victorious” as they tell each other; not in a country they’ve conquered. For one thing it’s not their country, and they don’t give a damn about the local people, and, for another, they are, when faced with a truly dangerous situation, frightened, hysterical and virtually out of control. France is one country that foresaw what would happen; its president, Jacques Chirac, said as much in an interview he gave to The New York Times on September 22. Chirac’s experience as a lieutenant in the French army during Algeria’s war for independence “proved to him how a vast and powerful army could be defeated by a small group of determined adversaries convinced of their right to run their own country.” Chirac was quoted as saying, “We know from experience that imposing a law on people from the outside hasn’t worked for a long time.”

It was this awareness that was clearly what prompted the French president to lay out a two-stage plan for Iraqi self-rule, the first being the symbolic transfer of sovereignty from American hands to the existing 25-member Iraqi governing council, followed by a gradual ceding of real power over a period of six to nine months.

But this is what the redoubtable Pulitzer prize winning analyst, Thomas Friedman, says about a similar formulation proposed by the French foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin. “It’s time we Americans,” says Friedman, “came to terms with something: France is not just our annoying ally. It is not just our jealous rival. France is becoming our enemy.” He offers as evidence three instances of how France “behaved” recently. (Behaved, indeed. Just what does he think that country is, a servant who needs to be disciplined') Then he says, “France wants America to fail in Iraq.”

This has got to be the most fatuous and amusing statement of the season. Why it’s fatuous is obvious, but the reason for its being amusing is that, whatever France may or may not want, America has failed in Iraq. Why else are Colin Powell, Christina Rocca and others scurrying about trying to get other countries to send troops to Iraq, so that American soldiers can withdraw' It has failed to govern a country because it has never been a colonial power. France has, and France’s record as a colonial power is not a very savoury one, But when Jacques Chirac says that he realized in Algeria that even a powerful army could not stand up to a determined group of local fighters who want to run their own country, even a reasonably intelligent person would place great store by it. The French have never liked giving up power; even today they try to intervene when civil strife occurs in one of their former colonies. And if their president says that in such situations it’s wiser to get out, then he’s not saying it to spite the Americans. He’s saying it because he’s learnt it at the cost of French lives.

But neither the American government nor such highly regarded commentators such as Friedman seem to see this. The Bush administration has ruled out any plan to strip the American administrator of Iraq, L. Paul Bremer III, of his power, ostensibly because “a hasty transition (of power) to the Iraqis would be counterproductive and dangerous.” Doesn’t this sound familiar to those of us who’re old enough to remember British colonial attitudes' Didn’t Churchill say that Indians weren’t ready to rule themselves' That if they were given independence they would descend into chaos within ten years'

Friedman also, not surprisingly says just that. “What I have no doubts about is that there is no coherent, legitimate Iraqi authority able to assume power in the near term.” So America must continue its brazenly illegal and immoral rule of that wretched country, because Friedman feels that France “wants America to sink in a quagmire there in the crazy hope that a weakened US will pave the way for France to assume its ‘rightful’ place as America’s equal, if not superior, in shaping world affairs.” How paranoid can one get'

And consider these wild, mindless reactions both by the Bush aministration and analysts like Friedman, against the reasoned stand taken by the French president. Doesn’t anyone in the Bush government and so-called Middle East experts like Friedman think of looking just a little to the west of Iraq and see what’s happening in Israel and Palestine, basically because of religion' If Chirac can, why can’t they'

The fact is the Americans simply can’t stand being told they’re wrong by someone else. If someone says that, then he must be evil and an America-hater. They can be told they’re wrong if an American says so; then they accept it. It was, remember, only after Walter Cronkite went to Vietnam and found out that it wasn’t a great wild west adventure that was going on there, that he said in one of his television reports that it was time the Americans left Vietnam. He said, if I remember correctly, “We need to tell our Vietnamese allies we’ve done the best we could but it’s time for us to go home.” Cronkite was a shrewd and perceptive journalist; not given to the rather wild statements Friedman has started making. His advice was eventually acted on, as unrest grew in the US; Lyndon Johnson is supposed to have said that Cronkite’s remarks cost him his election as president.

Finally what will speak for themselves will be the facts. The fact that American soldiers are dying every day; the fact that the American administration hasn’t succeeded in getting law and order back to Iraq; the fact that no country wants to send troops there unless, as India put it, the Iraqis want it. The alternative is the equivalent of those haunting images Thomas Friedman must have seen — of helicopters evacuating people from the roof of the American embassy in Saigon, with terrified people scrambling to board them even as they took off.

Email This Page