I was wrong about France.
No, no, this isn't prelude to an apology for being the earliest and biggest popularizer of the Simpsons' nom de French: "cheese-eating surrender monkeys." Rather, what I was wrong about is that the French are even worse than I thought.
I had predicted in September of 2002 that the French would ultimately fall into line with the United States on the Iraq war. My rationale was that French recalcitrance had less to do with principle and more to do with a combinations of interests: a need to protect French oil contracts; a desire to conceal French complicity in the Hussein regime; a desire to enlarge the power of the United Nations, which would in turn amplify French influence in the world; and, of course, a certain cultural joy de vivre in soiling America's Corn Flakes whenever possible.
But once it was clear that America would invade Iraq with or without them, I predicted, the French would fall in line so they could be in on the postwar action.
They never did, obviously. America, Britain and Australia went to war. The French went to the cafes.
Actually, they did worse than that. The French lobbied African nations to vote against America in the U.N. They threatened fledgling Eastern European nations that support for America might mean trouble with the E.U. They threw numerous monkey wrenches into diplomatic machinery so it would be impossible to gain international support.
Indeed, as Thomas Friedman of The New York Times has noted, those shenanigans might have made war more likely because the French didn't want the U.N. to level a serious ultimatum against Saddam.
Now, I don't want to revisit the whole issue of France, a country we liberated and rebuilt, not only NOT supporting us in a time of need but actually actively campaigning against us. Either you're ticked off about that or you're not.
Oh, and spare me the references to the post 9-11 Le Monde headline that declared "We Are All Americans." Not only did the text of that very article, written by Le Monde's publisher, criticize America for its "cynicism" but by December of 2001 - more than a year before the Iraq war - the author was already denouncing America as racist, fundamentalist, death-hungry, etc.
Anyway, since the French didn't get their way in preventing the war - and there was no way they could have kept us from winning it - they are now fairly determined to see us lose the peace.
At first, they denounced the formation of the Iraqi Governing Council, suggesting it was illegitimate. Then the French and their willing sidekick U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan insisted that power be handed over to the council immediately to initiate the "logic of sovereignty" instead of the "logic of occupation."
The French and the U.N. know that to do this would mean the Lebanonization of Iraq. Bosnia's been occupied - by the United Nations! - for seven years. "Does Kofi Annan," asked Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek, "really think that what took seven years in Bosnia can take one year in Iraq, with six times as many people?"
Of course not. And that's the point.
The aim is for America to fail and if that means Iraq becomes a bloody quagmire that destabilizes the region, well, maybe that's worth it. The notion that the French really care about the innocent people of Iraq is flatly absurd.
Yes, this month the French voted in favor of the U.S.-backed resolution establishing a multinational force under U.S. command. And, all of a sudden, there's silence about the French as if they've come around.
But last month, Friedman wrote in The New York Times, "It's time we Americans came to terms with something: France is not just our annoying ally. It is not just our jealous rival. France is becoming our enemy."
Friedman was right then, which means he's still right now. One U.N. vote - which, by the way, was accompanied by a swift French promise that they'd do nothing to help with the reconstruction - hardly signals a fundamental change in France's desire to hamstring America.
What is astounding is how much of a free pass this one-time ally is getting here in America. Because the war was unpopular with many liberals, it's assumed that France's actions are informed by the same principles as, say, Howard Dean's. I think Dean's positions on the war are scandalously dim-witted and ill-advised. But he still wants what is best for America and even Iraq. It is impossible to say the same thing about France.