Just one more thing about France. Considering all the analysis of the country's motives for trying to thwart a U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, one gathers that France is out to prove its "relevance"; that French president Jacques Chirac is "bent on securing his place in history"; that France wants to counterbalance American might by taking its rightful place at the head of a united Europe. In other words, it seems that all of France's histrionics -- what was it foreign minister Dominique de Villepin said, straight-faced, at "this temple of the United Nations" about France always standing "upright in the face of history before mankind"? -- boil down to one big power grab.
But where's the muscle? With Britain, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Poland, Portugal, Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia -"New Europe" -- joining President Bush's "coalition of the willing," you'd think the old cheese stands alone (except for Germany and Belgium). France, however, doesn't share this impression. So, what backs up Chirac's big talk? Robert Kagan, strategist of the new book Of Paradise and Power: America Vs. Europe in the New World Order (Knopf) [buy book] might answer that nothing does. His nifty theory on what really separates the United States and Europe -- that the United States fully expects to exercise power in an anarchic, Hobbesian world, while Europeans believe they have evolved "beyond power" into a "world of laws and rules and transnational negotiation" -- assumes that traditional notions of "power" in Europe are increasingly beside the point.
This notion suggests that what we're witnessing in France is a matter of, well, gall, both insupportable and unsupported. But I'm not so sure. France may have something besides vetoes and resolutions up its sleeve, something that trumps NATO and, if necessary, the EU -- or at least allows the French to think so. That "something" is its deeply layered, binding relationship with the Arab-Muslim world.
It seems that what helps make the French so cavalier about the Atlantic alliance is its place in a bona fide Mediterranean bloc. This goes beyond the lucrative oil concessions and weapons contracts with Iraq we hear about. It involves a complex relationship at every level -- economic, educational, religious, artistic, legal, demographic -- between France and the Arab-Muslim world, a surprisingly overlooked collaboration that now includes the rest of the EU nations in what is officially known as the Euro-Arab Dialogue.
Over roughly 30 years, this Dialogue has led to a change in European, and particularly French, culture of a magnitude at first difficult to grasp. The historian Bat Ye'or -- perhaps as great a prophet as she is a path-breaking historian -- pinpoints the origins of this transformation in a stunning article, "
European Fears of the Gathering Jihad."It all began, she writes, with the terms of a terrible bargain struck between Europe, largely at France's instigation, and the Arab League countries around the time of the Arab oil embargo of 1973: oil and business markets for Europe in exchange for anti-Israel policies for the Arab world.
"The Europeans tried to maintain the Dialogue on a base of economic relations, while the Arab countries tied the oil and business markets to the European alignment on their anti-Israeli policies," she writes. "However, the Dialogue was not restricted to influencing European foreign policy against Israel and detaching Europe from America. It also aimed at establishing ... a massive Arab-Muslim presence (in Europe) by the immigration and settlement of millions of Muslims." The goal? As Ye'or sees it, "to integrate Europe and the Arab-Muslim world into one political and economic bloc, by mixing populations (multiculturalism), weakening the Atlantic solidarity, and isolating America."
This sounds like a Dialogue worth listening to. It helps explain the French vision, as described in The New York Times by former Chirac adviser Pierre Lellouche, of "Europe as a bridge between the developing and developed world." It indicates that continental Europe is not the extent of French designs. And it helps explain why France is such a "stability"-booster in the neighborhood of Iraq and other dictatorships: Any changes war could bring to Arab-Muslim regimes, from retooling to rebirth, could also change the Dialogue -- which is not something France wants to hear.
Such revelations should also clue us in to another reason the ex-communist proto-democracies of New Europe are with the United States. Because the Euro-Arab Dialogue never extended to Eastern Europe, Euro-Arab ties don't exist there. (As members of the Eastern Bloc, these same countries once toed a reflexively anti-U.S., anti-Israel line, but such dogma has gone the way of the U.S.S.R.) Absent this special relationship, there have been none of the major influxes of Muslim immigrants into these countries that have transformed the demographics of Old Europe.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz has mentioned some of these same points in an essay exploring why the upsurge of violent anti-Semitism that swept Western Europe last year largely missed Eastern Europe. Interesting to see what else they tell us.