BAD FAITH

Fred Barnes has an exceptionally good piece in The Weekly Standard about the US-France alliance, specifically, whether there is any longer such a thing:

WHAT SHOULD WE EXPECT from an ally who disagrees with us? The question arises because of France’s strong objection to President Bush’s call for disarmament by Iraq–by war if necessary. The French reaction has infuriated many Americans, stirred talk of a boycott of French goods, and generated a spate of biting anti-French jokes. Angry Americans see France as breathtakingly ungrateful.

But this is unfair. Gratitude is not what’s required of an ally. A French retreat on Iraq would no doubt soothe American indignation. And if the French mentioned their gratitude for America’s role in saving France in both world wars, bailing out the French economy with the Marshall Plan, and giving France a seat on the United Nations Security Council with veto power, so much the better. But a grateful heart is a character trait, not a principle governing foreign affairs.

Acting in good faith, however, is required of an ally, especially a fellow democracy. France is a member of NATO (not on the military side) and a partner of the United States in the war on terrorism. And it was France and the United States who last fall jointly drafted U.N. Resolution 1441, which ordered new weapons inspections in Iraq.

Since then, France has acted in bad faith. The sole intent of Resolution 1441 was immediate disarmament, and it gave Iraq a final chance to comply or face “serious consequences,” a phrase widely understood to mean a war to depose Saddam Hussein. Now, France has changed its mind and reinterpreted the document as if it required only containment, not disarmament. French President Jacques Chirac has explained further that disarmament must be achieved peacefully, never by war. (The French ambassador to the United States, Jean-David Levitte, insists France hasn’t totally ruled out the use of force, it just isn’t willing to use it for the foreseeable future.) Thus France would let Saddam off the hook. In refusing to disarm, Saddam would no longer have to worry about serious consequences.

An ally should also respect the national security of a friendly nation, as defined by the friend, unless it clashes with the ally’s own security. Clearly, war with Iraq and the ouster of Saddam would not threaten the security of France. Those outcomes might harm French commercial interests in Iraq in the short term, but that’s a different matter. France could easily protect those interests by simply not challenging the United States and then negotiating to save some or all of its stake in Iraq.

France’s status as an American ally has been dubious at best since Charles de Gaulle pulled out of the NATO integrated command in 1966. There have been notable exceptions since then, notably French cooperation in the 1991 Gulf War, but these have been few and far between. Sovereign states have a right to their disagreements; but when disagreement becomes the norm rather than the exception, “alliance” is no longer the proper description of the relationship.

FILED UNDER: Iraq War
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.