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We have arrived at a pregnant moment in history. The Pirate’s furious lunge for world domination has come undone in the place it was to have begun. Less than six months after George Bush launched his campaign of Shock and Awe against Iraq and, by extension, the planet, he found himself on national television looking shell-shocked and awful, mouthing words that amounted to a plea for help from the international community. “[W]e cannot let past differences interfere with present duties,” said Bush to the world, visibly at war with his own lips. “Members of the United Nations now have an opportunity, and the responsibility, to assume a broader role in assuring that Iraq becomes a free and democratic nation.”

Bush’s September 7 speech was labored and lifeless, as if all his energies were consumed by the struggle not to babble, sputter and bark. His henchpersons do little better as they flail about for language to lend dignity – if not majesty – to their chief’s upcoming speech to the UN. It is an impossible mission, since the breakdown of the Bush men’s imperial venture cannot be fixed on imperial terms. Thus, the door has been opened for – who else? – France.

Americans are unaccustomed to coherent political speech. Their neurons have been conditioned to respond to the bombast of Manifest Destiny and the code words of racism, leaving the bulk of the population incapable of rational thought. This crippling condition – which also compels white Americans to vote against their own interests – afflicts the U.S. information dispensing classes in full measure. Therefore, this pregnant moment in history will pass unnoticed by much of the American public, who have heard hardly a word of serious analysis of the French position on Iraq, as presented for general evaluation by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, September 12, in the Paris newspaper-of-record, Le Monde.

Paris throws down

“Everyone’s responsibility is quite clear,” said Colin Powell’s opposite number. De Villepin goes on to make perfectly clear that the world crisis radiating from Iraq is the product of monumental U.S. failure. “We are now facing the real risk of seeing the continuation of a spiral of failure fueled by the lack of a tangible political way forward.” The diplomat then presents France’s own, “Not-American” plan, a UN-centered proposal that would extract the Americans from Iraq before the U.S. can impose strangulating infrastructure “reconstruction,” privatization, military basing and, above all, oil rights agreements on the battered nation.

Packaged as a mere newspaper “article” so as to avoid the limitations of diplomat-speak, the French position is comprehensible to elites and politically attuned readers everywhere – except the Delusional States of America. Although elegantly crafted, the article all but shouts a challenge to U.S. hegemonic ambitions. France, the “Not-American” imperialist, is seizing the moment for which it has long prepared.

One million white Frenchmen lived in Algeria in 1956 when the U.S. thwarted French-British-Israeli plans to seize the Suez Canal from Egypt. The British soon acclimated themselves to the American shadow, while the French later developed their own nuclear weapons capability and withdrew from the command structure of NATO. Believing themselves peculiarly conversant with Third World perceptions and sensibilities (based largely on the intimate Algerian experience), and determined to preserve French business interests and international stature, successive governments positioned Paris as an “alternative” Great Power. What the blustering, bulldog Americans mistook as French pretension was, in reality, a sophisticated strategy that played against crude, racist American bullying tactics in the Third World. Yes, the French are imperialists, but at least they are not Americans.

"Failure" blamed on U.S.

In the face of the Bush regime’s assault against international order itself, France has chosen the path of interposition, for which it is uniquely suited. However, no one should imagine for a moment that the French business classes, represented by President Jacque Chirac’s conservative government, relish this confrontation with the U.S. (Only American – and a few British – pundits are stupid enough to trivialize the current crisis.) Every elite on the globe is threatened by the 21st Century version of American Manifest Destiny. For this overarching reason, at this moment in history France speaks for world, not just European, opinion.

That may not be enough to counter Washington’s arsenal of threats and bribes, but it will not be for lack of a forceful French posture in the real global debate, the conversation that U.S. corporate media seem incapable of hearing, much less reporting. Foreign Minister de Villepin is engaging everyone but Colin Powell when he unmistakably faults the U.S. for the “tragic cycle of disorder and violence” in Iraq. “Far be it from us to play down the scale of the task and its complexity, or to maintain the illusion that it’s an easy one,” he writes. “But we have one conviction: by continuing on the current path we run the risk of entering a spiral from which there is no exit.”

In the French construction, the way out requires that the Americans move towards the exit under a speedy, UN-supervised process. U.S. domination of Iraqi national affairs is the root cause of the “failure” to secure stability in the country, leading to pervasive insecurity. “France is ready to work within the Security Council with the United States and the other countries on the ground for the benefit of Iraq,” said de Villepin. “But we must put an end to ambiguity, which would lead to a failure for the Iraqi people, with the risk of discrediting the international community.”  The minister is appealing, here, to the United Nations as an institution. Every delegate is aware of the U.S. executive’s disdain for the world body, stark and recent memories that Bush’s speech on Tuesday cannot possibly erase.

De Villepin next addresses European capital, which is far more heavily involved in the Middle East than its American counterparts:

“We all realize that the problem goes beyond Iraq: it’s the stability of the Arab and Muslim world that is at stake. In the Middle East, an exclusively security-oriented approach is only maintaining the cycle of violence and reprisals at the risk of destroying political prospects. This approach – let’s be brave enough to say it – is leading nowhere. Far from promoting stability, it is fanning resentment, incomprehension and frustration.”

Translation: The Americans are defecating in the pool, creating conditions in which no foreigners will be able to do business. Simultaneously, France is presenting itself to Arabs and Muslims as the “not-Americans” – a responsible, trustworthy partner for a sovereign Iraq.

“Iraq is a land of memory. Her attachment to her traditions and her identity have already led her to reject the outside control that some have tried to impose.” The “some” that de Villepin refers to could only be Britain, the former colonial power in Iraq, and/or the U.S., the current boss-occupier. Diplomacy would not permit such language, but the Le Monde platform allows de Villepin to speak more bluntly, and to interpose France between Anglo-American ambitions and Iraqi sovereignty. “Today it is urgent to transfer sovereignty to the Iraqi people themselves, to allow them to fully shoulder their responsibilities.” De Villepin continues, “only the prospect of a sovereign political destiny can nurture hope and allow the society to rebuild itself.”

In the environment de Villepin inhabits, the carefully chosen words “allow the society to rebuild itself” is eant to undercut the U.S. argument that its Halliburton-Bechtel “reconstruction” projects – the envisioned infrastructure of dependence – are cause for continued occupation. This is certainly a message that the Bush Pirates can decipher, although the point is not made for their consumption.

The source of insecurity

The Americans constantly beat the security drum to justify the occupation. France maintains that the occupation fuels insecurity.

“Does that mean the immediate departure of coalition forces? Certainly not. Indeed, there are many who justly stress that such a move would create a vacuum worse than the current situation. These forces could remain under the command of the main troop contributor [the U.S.]. Should more countries participate? The main thing, in our view, is not to increase the number of soldiers on the ground [italics ours], but to give them a specific UN mandate for their job – one that has a time limit and requires submitting regular, detailed reports to the Security Council.”

The language in italics subverts the American contention that maintenance of its motley “coalition of the willing” is the central task in Iraq, and that contribution of troops to the coalition conveys special rights to Iraqi resources (Poland’s expectation and rationale, for example).

The U.S. should relocate to the borders of Iraq, largely vacating the cities where the American presence is the source of instability and insecurity. Such is the clear thrust of the Frenchman’s remarks, although coated with softening language. “In particular, one of the priorities today is to secure the borders and put a stop to infiltrations. A redeployment of coalition forces could be considered, in cooperation with the Iraqis, in order to address this major risk.” The Iraqis would secure the cities and, presumably, the oil fields, themselves:

“That requires calling to some extent upon demobilized Iraqi forces, whose know-how will be indispensable to re-establishing security in a lasting way. The same thing should be done for the police force. In the long run, we could achieve a division of responsibilities more respectful of Iraqi sovereignty and no doubt more effective as well: external security as a priority for UN forces and domestic security for the Iraqi authorities.”

The Americans have no intention of becoming an Iraqi border patrol – although an overstretched and emotionally drained U.S. military may soon find these are the only duties they can handle.

Sovereignty is paramount

The French propose that the U.S.-appointed Governing Council and ministers “would be considered by the UN Security Council as the guardians of Iraqi sovereignty during the transition period. Very soon, perhaps in a month, an interim Iraqi government could be established based on these bodies with executive powers progressively transferred to it, including economic and budgetary activities.”

The key phrase here is “guardians of Iraqi sovereignty.” French intentions could not be clearer, fully justifying Colin Powell’s huge discomfort at last weekend’s meeting of Security Council member ministers, in Geneva. France is most keen to close the legal door to the United States creating further “facts on the ground” designed to entangle the Iraqi nation in an American corporate embrace – forever. The international drama is not about a few French, German or Russian oil contracts here and there, no more than the U.S. invasion was launched for the sole benefit of Halliburton and Bechtel. France is challenging U.S. claims to a super-national right to manipulate or erase the sovereignty of nations – the legal basis for world order and the only way that civilized nations know how to do business. In this, France speaks for the world, no matter how selfish her motives might be.

So critical is the question of Iraqi sovereignty, France is willing to accept the handpicked Governing Council on an interim basis in order to move the prize a square or two away from grasping American hands.

The French “timetable should provide for all the stages of a constitutional process with the aim of presenting a draft text by the end of the year. A general election could be envisioned as soon as possible, by spring 2004.”

France appears to be betting that the Iraqi appointees will find new backbones and the energy to actually work on a constitution, should there emerge a real prospect for, in de Villepin’s words, “placing the Iraqi people at the heart of the reconstruction process.”  If the U.S. interferes, the onus will be on Washington.

The very idea of independent Iraqi action is anathema to the Bush men, who are determined to hold the nation’s sovereignty in limbo until the U.S. can somehow conjure up a collaborationist social base for American rule by proxy – something that Iraqi resisters will not allow to happen. Secretary of State Powell has been reduced to sounding exactly like a 1950s British – or French! – colonial governor: “The worst thing that could happen is for us to push this process too quickly before the capacity for governance is there and the basis for legitimacy is there and see it fail.” (AP, September 14.)

Powell is wrong. Legitimacy-wise, worse things are already happening. The five most prominent appointees in the 25-member Governing Council – including the erstwhile favorites of the Pentagon (Ahmed Chalabi) and the CIA (Ayad Alawi) – this week demanded a quick end to the occupation. The other three members represent the largest Shiite political organization and both Kurdish factions ( Washington Post, September 15). It seems they’ve been talking to the French.

On March 20, the day the American tanks crossed the Kuwaiti border bound for Baghdad, we wrote:

War is the great and terrible engine of history. Bush and his Pirates hope to employ that engine to harness Time and cheat the laws of political economy, to leapfrog over the contradictions of their parasitical existence into a new epoch of their own imagining.

Instead, they have lunged into the abyss, from which no one will extricate them, for they will be hated much more than feared.

In attempting to break humanity's will to resist, the Bush Pirates have reached too far.

Whatever happens at the United Nations next week – even if France blinks – the Bush men have definitively failed in their deluded mission. And they will continue to fail, because they are unfit for civilization as it is evolving.



September 18, 2003
Issue 56

is published every Thursday.

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