Paris, Nov. 13 (Reuters): Was France right about Iraq all along'
US President George W. Bush’s new rush to hand power back to the Iraqis was seen in Paris and other “old Europe” capitals today as proof Washington cannot cope with the aftermath of a war they advised it not to wage. But while Bush’s call for a faster handover of sovereignty goes some way to meeting European demands, he should not expect them to jump in with offers of troops or cash to help the US out of a mess they contend is of its own making.
“France has been right for months,” said Paris-based analyst Francois Heisbourg of its staunch opposition to the US-led war and subsequent demands that Iraqis be put back in charge of their own affairs as soon as possible.
“But to think that ‘old Europe’ is going to jump into the same hole that the Americans are trying to get out of — that’s fantasy land,” said Heisbourg, who heads the French Foundation for Strategic Research policy institute.
Since a US-led coalition toppled Saddam Hussein from power in April, events appear to have gone just how Paris, Berlin and other anti-war nations derided by US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld as “old Europe” predicted they would.
The existence in Iraq of weapons of mass destruction — the threat cited by Washington and London to legitimise the war — is still unproven.
The creation of a US-controlled governing council with no timetable to cede power smacked to Iraqis of US “occupation”. A CIA report has warned that support on the streets for Iraqi insurgents against US rule is growing. With US combat deaths since the official end of major combat now outnumbering those in the initial conflict, Iraq looks like the trap that France always warned it would be. All this as Bush gears up to run for re-election next year.
“The French Were Right”, ran the headline of the influential Washington weekly The National Journal this week.
Far from all European nations opposed the US line on Iraq. Apart from Washington’s leading ally Britain, there was support from Italy, Spain, Poland and some other countries. But whether the European critics are right or wrong, the question is: What are they willing and able to do to help'
“An unstable Iraq is not just an American problem,” warned Irina Zvyagelskaya at Moscow’s Institute of Oriental Studies, referring to the fear that a US failure in Iraq could result in the country becoming a base for international terrorism.
Yet Japan’s move today to rule out any rapid dispatch of forces to Iraq in the wake of fresh violence underlined the reluctance among many countries to send soldiers to help out. Government sources in Berlin stressed Germany wanted Iraqi sovereignty to be restored quickly under a realistic “road map”.
France reaffirmed today it wanted a handover by the end of the year and the appointment of a UN official in Iraq to shadow US administrator Paul Bremer.
French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin skipped a question on whether France could ever offer troops — a move Paris would find near impossible to sell to a French public.