Time to defend America

George Will

3/7/2003 12:00:00 AM - George Will

``We no longer live in a world where only the actual firing of weapons represents a sufficient challenge to a nation's security.''

                                           --President Kennedy, during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis

WASHINGTON--Wars do not always begin with an abrupt, cymbal-crash rupture of conditions properly characterized as peace. There can be almost seamlessly incremental transitions.

The war against Iraq has begun--much as America's war against Nazi Germany really began months before Pearl Harbor and Hitler's Dec. 11 declaration of war on America. It began when President Roosevelt ordered aggressive patrolling by the U.S. Navy against German submarines in the North Atlantic. On--note the day--Sept. 11, 1941, he said:

``Do not let us split hairs. Let us not say, `We will only defend ourselves if the torpedo succeeds in getting home, or if the crew and the passengers are drowned.' This is the time for prevention of attack.''

The Second Gulf War was under way weeks ago, with special operations forces in Iraq and U.S. and U.K. aircraft expanding their target lists in the name of enforcing the no-fly zones. Soon the bow wave created by the movement of the great ship America into full-scale war will wash away Lilliputian nuisances, such as French diplomacy.

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, on ABC's ``This Week'' last Sunday, said: ``Do you want me to tell you, really, what France is worried about? How many boys, American boys, are going to die in Iraq.'' The effrontery of his expectation that gullible Americans will believe that French policy flows from compassion for American ``boys'' is exceeded by that of his innuendo that France has more concern for those ``boys'' than does their commander in chief.

Such smarminess is the least offensive of current French stances, some of which, if successful, would increase the threats to American troops. No longer in any meaningful sense an ally, France does not disguise its aim to be a counterweight to the United States. It seemed uninterested in the fact that the deployment of defensive missiles to protect Turkey from Iraqi attacks, a deployment France opposed, also would protect U.S. forces at Incirlik air base in Turkey.

Many in the Bush administration believe that France is comprehensively complicating NATO actions for no better reason than that the United States favors the actions. For example, because the buildup around Iraq requires increased shipping through the Strait of Gibraltar, the United States has favored increased NATO maritime patrols there. Although France in the end acquiesced, it did so only after NATO was forced into diplomatic and institutional contortions to counter French bloody-mindedness.

Asked about anti-French feelings in the United States, Villepin said, ``We've known that in the past. I've known that in the past. I was in the French embassy (in Washington) in `86 when happened the crisis of Libya.'' Thank you, Mr. Minister, for reminding us that in 1986 France, true to form, tried to encumber one of the most effective blows ever struck against terrorism--the bombing raid President Reagan ordered in response to Libyan involvement in a terrorist bombing targeting Americans in Berlin. France denied U.S. planes fly-over rights.

On ``This Week,'' Villepin was asked: Given that Saddam Hussein has said that his mistake was invading Kuwait before he acquired nuclear weapons, do you now believe that Israel was right to bomb the reactor outside Baghdad and that France was wrong to help build it? French diplomacy has sunk to this Villepin gaseousness:

``I think you cannot remake history. You can take lessons, you can imagine different scenarios. I don't think it's possible, today, definite answers. I think that the idea of pre-emptive strike might be a possibility. Have it as a doctrine, as a theory. I don't think it is really useful. Sometimes by using force pre-emptively we might create more violence and we have to be always thinking to what are the consequences.''

It is not a ``scenario,'' it is a virtual certainly that absent Israel's 1981 pre-emptive attack, Iraq would have had nuclear weapons in 1991, and today, as Gerard Baker of the Financial Times writes, Kuwait would be the 19th province of Iraq--and Saudi Arabia would be the 20th. France's goal--less violence--would have been achieved because the First Gulf War could not have been fought.

Fortunately for the United States, which has serious things to think about, the French foreign minister continues to demonstrate the absurdity of his country's demand to be taken seriously.