France's friendship with Iraq sours

Diana West

9/6/2004 12:00:00 AM - Diana West

What with all of the bold and brave speechifying in New York City this week to re-nominate President George W. Bush, it's not surprising that the real news of the day -- at least for Ye Olde Europeans -- has escaped notice. Sacre bleu: Franco-Iraqi relations are at an all-time low.

At about the same time John McCain was standing before the Republican convention to dub our mission in Iraq "necessary, achievable and noble"; and Rudy Giuliani was thanking God for Bush's wartime leadership; and Ah-nuld was praising the president for understanding "you don't reason with terrorists, you defeat them," new Iraq and old France were trading targeted barbs and cold sniffs. I won't say which was doing which.

It all started when Iraqi interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi said, "I told you so," sort of, after two French journalists were kidnapped in Iraq by a Muslim terrorist group that has threatened them with death if France doesn't rescind its state-school ban on Muslim headscarves. Neutrality on Iraq is not possible, Allawi declared, pointing to the kidnapping of the putatively neutral Frenchmen. "We have always said that in the war in Iraq the forces of evil confront the Iraqi people and civilized nations," Allawi told Le Monde. "It's a primitive war. You can't get away with half-measures. France will not be spared."

Of course, a French hostage crisis in Iraq was never supposed to happen -- or so thought the French. Wasn't France, as head, if not headscarf, of the emerging Eurabian bloc, the Arab-Muslim world's best friend? From dictators, including Saddam Hussein, to terror kingpins, France has long been the good ol' European to count on. Not that dictators and -- even more revealingly -- terror kingpins haven't come through for France in this, her darkish hour. From Hezbollah's Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, to the Palestinian Authority's Yasser Arafat, to henchmen of Najaf renegade Moqtada al-Sadr, a roster of what passes for character witnesses in the best terrorist circles has signed on to attest to the bona fides of France and its kidnapped journalists.

Maybe the Muslim Brotherhood, probably the world's largest sharia-advocacy group, put it best: The group demanded freedom for the Frenchmen, and particularly because "they were participating in exposing the occupation (in Iraq) and its practices." In other words, these were good (anti-American) French eggs. The killers of Islamic Jihad praised France as a whole for having "distinguished itself, compared to other European nations, in its position on the American occupation of Iraq." The killers of Hamas lauded France's opposition to "the totally partial American support of the Zionist entity," adding that the release of the hostages would "increase the isolation of hostile American and Israeli attitudes toward the Arab and Muslim nations, and would boost French support for our aspirations."

This outpouring of solidarity for a Western democracy from the black heart of Terror Central should tell us something: namely, the extent to which the policies of France placate the implacable foes of peace and freedom. Not even the kidnappings (and murders) of Arab nationals from Egypt and Lebanon in Iraq -- and certainly not similar crimes against Americans, Italians, South Koreans, Nepalese and others -- have inspired such concern. Then again, with friends like these, who needs security risks?

As Allawi indicated to Le Monde, none of the democracies -- and that includes France -- should fail to aid new Iraq. "The Americans, the British and other nations that are fighting in Iraq are not only fighting to protect Iraqis, they are fighting to protect their own countries," he said. While tens of people die in Iraq every day, he explained, "they are not dying because we are going through a major national crisis, but because we have decided to combat evil. That's why the entire international community must assist us, as rapidly as possible, to improve the security of our country."

Not too surprisingly, the French government rejected Allawi's comments as being, as Reuters put it, "unacceptable." But what flops with ministers in France would probably have gone over big with GOP delegates in New York. In fact, Allawi's comments reminded me of a passage in Rudy Giuliani's convention speech. When Giuliani spoke of Bush's refusal to allow countries that have "failed for over 30 years to stand up to terrorists ... to stop us from doing what is necessary in defense of our country," he was, of course, talking about France. "Remember, just a few months ago, John Kerry leaked out that claim that certain foreign leaders who opposed our removal of Saddam Hussein prefer him," Giuliani added. "Well, to me, that raises the risk that he might well accommodate his position to their viewpoint."

Clearly not a pretty sight.