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Friday, February 14, 2003

Mark Steyn: "It's Not Really About Saddam"

The inimitable Mark Steyn, a Canadian journalist with long years of service in the EU who now resides in a New Hampshire village from which he reports daily, with a sharp sarcastic edge, on the follies of the world --- especially those lavishly generated daily by EU politically correct types: journalists, intellectuals, politicians, and maneuvering governments like France and the current German one (as well as their equivalents in Canada and the US) --- has a go at the hamfisted self-righteousness of Schroeder's foreign policy, "hotblooded amateurism" carried to extremes according to the Berliner Zeitung . . . and, no less pointedly, how he and the starry-eyed anti-American panderers in his government are being used by the far more experienced, cynically opportunistic French for their own nationalist purposes. As usual, at one and the same time, Steyn's on target and briskly funny.

Keep in mind when you read this that the ONLY EU country --- or for that matter in NATO---to support the new Berlin-Paris axis is tiny Belgium, a country of 10 million racked by almost as many political
scandals the last few years as France itself ("votez l'escroc pas le facho": vote for the crook, not the fascist --- was the slogan that led half the French electorate to choose Chirac over Le Pen in the second round for the French presidency) . . . and come to that, rivaling at times the scandal-ridden German Christian Democrats under Helmut Kohl until 1998. Five EU countries -- the UK, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Denmark --- explicitly endorsed President Bush's policy toward Iraq two weeks ago, with Holland heavily tilted that way too; and in East Europe, the three new democratic members of NATO there, the Poles, the Czechs, and the Hungarians, were soon joined by 10 other East European post-Communist countries in similarly backing the Bush administration. In effect -- though you would be hard-pressed to guess this reading the French press, never mind watching the state-censored TV --- the French, German, and Belgian axis is isolated in NATO and the EU. As for Russia's joining in the axis for the time being, this has to be read --- as we've explained --- as Putin's efforts to straddle both camps and extract the maximum concessions . . . before he sides with Bush's America, the only country that really matters to Russia right now.

"Not Really About Saddam"

Saddam is what Alfred Hitchcock called the MacGuffin. Like the top-secret formula in The 39 Steps or the uranium in Notorious, he's the pretext for the movie, but he's not really what the movie's about. Despite the best efforts of the French and Germans, the old butcher will be gone in a few weeks. The real debate in Washington is about the speed and scale of post-Saddam Middle Eastern reform: There are legitimate differences about that but the "post-Saddam" bit of it is taken for granted. As noted in this space many months ago, he's being taken out first because he's the weak link in the chain of Arab despots. All the other stuff -- the chemical weapons, the ties to Islamist terrorism, the material breaches -- is true but ancillary

Likewise, for M. Chirac, Herr Schroeder and their little Belgian chum, it's not really about Saddam, either. To be sure, they would like him to remain President-for-Life and their joke "plan" to send in blue-helmeted UN troops was designed to achieve just that. This isn't because, as some have argued, they're worried that when the Yanks open up the filing cabinets they're going to find a lot of invoices from France and Germany. As must surely be clear after these last two weeks, Messrs. Chirac and Schroeder don't embarrass easily. The wily Continentals will shrug off whatever turns up in Saddam's basement: It's just business, nothing person ...

...To the French, something very astonishing has happened: "Europe" was supposed to be France writ large, a "union" built in France's image. To that end, they took it for granted that the entire Continent would inevitably come to be as semi-detached from NATO as the French have been since 1966. To M. Chirac, Tony Blair is the odd man out, with his strange Anglo-Saxon hang-ups about the transatlantic alliance. But, as has become obvious, to the Czechs, Poles, Bulgars, Romanians and everybody else, it's Chirac who's the misfit. . .

. . . The German government is currently in the hands of some pretty grubby characters, the generation whose views on America and terrorism were formed in the student riots of 1968. Belgium is not a serious country: Its last performance on the world stage was the weekend before September 11th, when, in its capacity as President of the European Union, it was at Durban grovelling to Mugabe and Co. for the evils of western civilization. Is it worth maintaining the pretense that the Anglo-Americans and these fellows share common goals? My distinguished colleague John O'Sullivan gets very impatient with the surrender-monkey cracks and thinks the Continentals are still worth the effort. I seem to be making a lot of movie comparisons today, so here's one more: The O'Sullivanite tendency sees this as The Road To Baghdad with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby as America and Europe: they snipe and squabble and scheme and pick each other's pockets and fight over the girl, but in the end they're there for each other. I don't think so. The French have an interest in a Europe that's a counterweight to America, but none at all in a Europe that's as pro-American as Blair and the Vilnius Group are. For them, that's what the picture's about -- and Saddam and Turkey and NATO are just MacGuffins.al, c'mon, we're all men of the world here, right? . . .