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November 30, 2005

France to U.S.: Don't Pull Out
Posted by Derek Chollet

How’s this for strange bedfellows?  George W. Bush and Dominque de Villepin. 

The French Prime Minister, who became famous worldwide for leading the effort against the U.S.-UK diplomacy in the UN Security Council before the Iraq war, is now sounding warnings about the implications of a hasty American withdrawal.

In an interview with CNN yesterday (the relevant sections are below in full, but other than this Reuters report, hardly noticed by others), de Villepin worried aloud about the implications of the aftermath of a U.S. withdrawal – especially if this means Iraq going down the tubes.  He’s voicing what seems self-evident to me: that Iraq’s future matters as much to Europe as it does to America – in fact, one could argue that given the reality of geography, a stable Iraq matters more to European countries than it does to the U.S.

As far as I can tell, de Villepin is the first major European official from a government that opposed the war to warn against U.S. pullout, and seems to acknowledge that what the U.S. decides to do matters to them.  Most European officials have followed the line recently repeated by the new German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, which is: don’t ask us to get involved.

Up to now, what’s been striking is how the European debate has not reflected the debate here in the U.S. at all – the Europeans have not seemed to be thinking much about how a U.S. pullout would impact their interests (this is especially interesting because the Europeans were well aware – and very vocal – in 2003 about how the U.S. invasion would impact their interests).  But de Villepin’s remark shows that they are starting to pay attention: and that at least some are getting worried about what we decide to do here will mean to them.

To me, this also shows that we have leverage that we are not yet using.  The Europeans know that they have an interest in Iraq, and for those countries who are not involved, we have to call them on it.  De Villepin said that “now we have to face the situation as it is, and it is the responsibility of all the international community to help the process, to make sure that we go forward all together.” [emphasis added] 

Righto.  So we should be going to France and others with a clear message: You’ve seen the debate in the U.S., and you know about the pressures to bring the troops home.  It’s going to start happening, and we need your help to do so in a way that it works for all of us – because a stable Iraq matters for all of us.  So put your money where your mouth is.

Now I don’t think that getting countries like France to actually act on its self-interest in this case – that is, helping us ensure that Iraq becomes stable – will be easy or maybe even possible, but it’s certainly worth a shot.  And it’s not like we have a lot of great options. 

Secretary Rice is heading to Europe next week.  Not a bad time to start.

Here’s the relevant portion of the interview [emphasis added]:

Amanpour: France, and you yourself when you were Foreign Minister, was very vocal about the Iraq war. You obviously did not support it and you raised many of the issues that are currently unfolding there right now. What do you think? Do you feel vindicated when you look at what Iraq is going through right now?

De Villepin: No, I think it is of course a very difficult situation; we have gone a long way to begin to establish democracy in Iraq, but still there is a long way to go. And I think the effort should be important in terms of including all the political forces. After the referendum on the constitution, we are going to have general elections in Iraq on the 15th of December, and I think it is a very important moment in order to try to put together all the political and social forces of the country. We know that there are two risks in Iraq still today. One is the division of Iraq which is of course a nightmare for the region. And the second one is a growing role of terrorism. So I think it is very important for the international community to try to put all these forces together to solve the matter and I think we should support the initiative of the Arab League: try to support a better regroupement, coalition of the different political forces, and also make sure that all the countries of the region work together in order to go forward.

Amanpour: But you can see there is a huge amount of difficulty with that...

De Villepin: We knew since the beginning that it was very easy to go to war, but very difficult to get out of Iraq, because of the fragility of the country, because of the sensitivity of the situation in this region. So now we have to face the situation as it is, and it is the responsibility of all the international community to help the process, to make sure that we go forward all together.

Amanpour: Do you believe the United States should set a timetable for the withdrawal of its troops?

De Villepin: I believe that anything should be done coordinated with the local situation in Iraq and the regional situation. I think that the timetable should be a global timetable. The real timetable is the Iraqi situation. We should avoid at all cost the chaos in Iraq which of course would be disastrous for the whole region.


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There are other, less vainglorious, interpretations of de Villepin’s statements.

Perhaps, France wants a piece of the coming oil trade and UN reconstruction monies in Iraq, or France generally may believe the US will win Iraq.

More likely, the mini-intefada in France may have cracked the improbable, implacable, illogical Gallic façade of multiculturalism.

Can we please stop hoping or wishing that the French are going to help us in Iraq? It's simply irrational. Sorry some had to swallow this notion from Kerry last year but it was a big giant fantasy then too- according to the French. Please, please, please stop.

Lane Brody

This is good news. No one expects any French forces coming to the rescue in Iraq. But the French will certainly be a useful element in helping to manage the diplomacy of a regional framework -- Syria and Iran especially, as they're currently demostrating. Best to have them openly supportive and having a stake in the outcome of stuff like the extension of the UN mandate, etc.

This is not about helping the US in the long run. If it were he could offer to send a Foreign Legion Para regiment to help. This is the realistic view of French national interests. It assumes that a break up of Iraq will lead to more migration to France. While many may be the middle and merchant classes, France is worried it will be more people to integrate into French society. French society has done a poor job with people whom are citizens and dealing with their discontent. What will it mean to France to have more disenfranchised people and competing political philosophies to regain control back home?

This is almost unbelievable. what sort of contributions do you have in mind-- presumably troops or paying part of the US presence? You don't seriously think troops will be forthcoming, or do you? On the finance side, why should Europe help out when the US has tried to fight this on the cheap from the beginning, refusing to put in the resources required to prevail? Let's be clear, failure in Iraq would be bad, very bad, for Europe but it would be catastrophic for the US, not only in the Middle East but it could spell an end to internationalism. It's about time America stepped up to the plate and does what is necessary to avoid this. Stop pretending others will come to the rescue and start telling people as it is: cutting and running is not an option, we're in a mess now, and there are no quick fixes; it will be expensive, such are the choices we made.

Agreed the french aren't going to help us. Instead they're lecturing us. "You broke it, you keep trying until you get it fixed."

And now they need to prepare for what to do with the mess when we do pull out.

Somebody will have to do soething about food distribution. Iraq imports the bulk of their food. Wheat and beans and such. Through Basra. They're having distribution problems that are leading to a high rate of child malnutrition. If the port gets damaged or if US evacuation priorities reduce food imports for awhile, they'll get pinched more. And if lack of pan-iraqi cooperation results in food getting held up in the shia south and not reaching sunnis or kurds, then they'd need food shipped overland. That they might have trouble paying for. That might nto be a french concern, but it's a problem for whoever will be willing to take it on. The USA can't ask to ship through syria, but the french could.

Cutting and running is not an option, but it may be a necessity.

And when we do somebody else will have to clean up behind us.

J Thomas is correct. No one in France considers sending any troop over there or helping the US. It's more a matter of reminding the US that France considers them 100% responsible for what comes out of Iraq.

Derek has an interesting point, although may be an involuntary one.

... a stable Iraq matters more to European countries than it does to the U.S.

Yes, indeed. A stable Iraq but contrary to Bush and Co., the French don't give a f**k about any pretense of democracy. Which is why the US won't get any help from France (not that it would make much difference). Iraq was stable under Saddam Hussein and Europe would be very happy to come back to a similar situation.

I ready to bet that France's approach, and most of Europe's , to Iraqi stability will be to pick a likely winner in Iraq and supply it with money and weapons to take and hold power and put the lid back on the pressure cooker.


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