August 21, 2006

Oh Jacques, Say It Ain't So!

Breaking News:

  • "Jacques Chirac and the French Let the World Down!"
  • "Serious Concerns About Whether the United Nations Can Field Enough Well-Trained Troops [much less anything else] Without the French!" [i.e., the same ones who just let the world down].

For more on these earth-shattering events, read the insightful analysis below by the insightful Paper of Record (whose rallying cry is Multilateralism or Die!)

The New York Times Editorial  |  August 21, 2006

Waiting for Jacques

It would be tempting to laugh about France's paltry commitment of 200 additional peacekeepers for Lebanon, if it weren't so dangerous. After insisting for years that they be treated like a superpower, the French are behaving as if they have no responsibility for helping dig out of the Lebanon mess.

When the Security Council agreed earlier this month on a cease-fire resolution, scripted by the French and the Americans, it was with the clear understanding that Paris would head the 15,000-member international force and contribute a large number of troops. Now President Jacques Chirac's generals have cold feet. Such a condition is highly contagious. And there are serious concerns about whether the United Nations can field enough well-trained troops without the French to ensure that Israeli troops withdraw completely and Hezbollah's attacks on Israel do not start again.

At least part of the explanation for Paris's bait and switch is that Mr. Chirac is a politically unpopular lame duck, unable to keep his generals in line. But the French military command has also raised some legitimate concerns about the peacekeeping force's lack of a clear mission. Most notably the resolution (might we note again that the French helped write it?) sidesteps the question of who, if anyone, will disarm Hezbollah.

The French say they are waiting for the Lebanese government, which is even more frightened of Hezbollah, to cut a deal to get the militia to give up its arms or withdraw from southern Lebanon. If so, they will be waiting safely at home for a long time, while the war could start again at any moment.

The unfortunate reality is that the best that may be hoped for in Lebanon is an eventual political marginalization for Hezbollah. For even that to happen, a well-armed peacekeeping force needs to deploy quickly. At a minimum the troops could block Hezbollah's supply lines from Syria. They could also send an important psychological message to the Lebanese people that if they are looking for a new sheriff, Hezbollah is not the only candidate in town.

The United States, which is badly overstretched in Iraq, has made clear it will not send its own troops. And Americans are so unpopular in the region that that is probably a sound decision. President Bush, however, needs to get on the phone with his on-again friend Mr. Chirac and make clear the cost for both Lebanon and France, if France shirks its responsibility. And Mr. Bush needs to be canvassing other leaders, promising that the United States will be very grateful for any help at all. The United States also needs to take front-line responsibility for rebuilding southern Lebanon. Hezbollah draws at least as much influence from its social services programs as it does from its guns.

The French generals are right to be nervous. This is a very dangerous mission. And there are no guarantees that it will succeed, even with a full complement of peacekeepers, massive deliveries of foreign aid and the sustained attention of the international community. But without such an effort it will certainly fail. A second-tier power can sidestep difficult choices. The superpowers cannot.

Original editorial here.


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