The French-German Iraq con game.

The French-German Iraq con game.

The French-German Iraq con game.

Politics and policy.
March 7 2003 9:26 PM

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The French-German Iraq con game.

Suppose I have a couple of tickets to a play, but I can't go. I know you and your spouse want to see it, so I call you up and offer the tickets to you for what they cost me. It isn't a convenient evening for you to go, but you tell me that if nobody else wants them, you'll take them off my hands for half price. I don't like that, but I can't find anyone else who's interested. Then I get an idea: Your spouse is at the office and doesn't know I've spoken to you. I call your spouse, explain that I've got a half-price offer, and come away with a bid for the tickets at two-thirds of what I paid. Now I call you with the bad news that somebody else is getting the tickets at two-thirds of face value. You raise your offer to 75 cents on the dollar. And the game goes on, as long as you don't realize you're bidding against yourself.


That's the game that France, Germany, and their allies on the U.N. Security Council are playing against the United States. In Friday's council debate, they made two arguments against a U.S. invasion of Iraq. First, they said it was unnecessary because Iraq has begun to comply with U.N. inspections. Second, they warned that an attack on Iraq without U.N. approval would ruin the credibility of the United Nations, on which the security of every nation, including ours, depends.

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

Are inspections more effective than force? Is the United Nations a better guarantor of U.S. security than American power is? Both questions are fraudulent. Inspections depend on force, and the United Nations depends on the United States. The French and Germans are telling us not to mess with the status quo, when the status quo is us.

In his speech to the council, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin compared the efficacy of war to that of inspections. "Why smash the instruments that have just proven their effectiveness?" he asked. "Why should we wish to proceed by force at any price when we can succeed peacefully?" He continued:

The adoption of Resolution 1441, the assumption of converging positions by the vast majority of the world's nations, diplomatic action by the Organization of African Unity, the League of Arab States, the Organization of the Islamic Conference, and the Non-aligned Movement—all of these common efforts are bearing fruit. The American and British military presence in the region lends support to our collective resolve.


Lends support? Saddam Hussein doesn't care what the United Nations or the League of Arab States says. He has ignored their words for years. The only reason he's crushing his own missiles today is to stave off invasion by the troops poised on his borders.

In a press conference after the debate, de Villepin asked, "When the inspectors are telling us that active cooperation is seen on the ground, how can we at the same time say … that we should prepare [for] war? There is a strong contradiction, and we don't accept this contradiction." But coupling the current inspection regime with preparations for war isn't a contradiction. It's a tautology. Our war preparations are the reason Saddam is cooperating with the inspectors.

In short, the alternative to which de Villepin unfavorably compares our prospective use of force is our current use of force. If that approach is working so well, the way to extend it is to send even more troops and armor to the Persian Gulf. Yet de Villepin neglects to include that element in the French proposal for further inspections. Indeed, he excludes it. "We would not accept a resolution that would lead to war," he declared after the council debate.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer stressed a different point in his remarks to the council. "What is at stake now is the unity of the international community," said Fischer. Unilateral war should be avoided, he argued, because a multilateral solution would encourage further collective security arrangements and "strengthen the relevance of the United Nations."

Should the United States yield to the United Nations? The question makes no sense. The United States practically invented the United Nations. Franklin D. Roosevelt coined its name. The U.N. charter was drafted and debated here. We host the organization's headquarters and fund the lion's share of its budget. Other members are important, but the United Nations needs us a lot more than we need it. Fischer is asking us not to put our national interests ahead of an organization we built to advance our national interests.

Nice try, Joschka and Dominique. We aren't fooled. We're touched by your pleas for relevance. And we're flattered that the only rival you can put up against us is ourselves.