As the world churns

Posted: Feb 21, 2003 12:00 AM
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The fiasco with Iraq is playing out like a bad soap opera that never ends. And the "write up" could even fit in one of those soap opera digests one sees in a checkout line at the supermarket. Last week, on "As the World Churns": Rekindling their torrid love affair with the inept United Nations, Jacque dispatched Dominique to the Security Council to undermine their nemesis, George. When Dominique insisted that only more inspectors could stop the crazed and dangerous Saddam, Colin was caught off guard. But it bought more time to destroy the evidence of Jacques' romance with Saddam's weapons program. Kofi, however, was secretly delighted by the mischievous maneuver. Off camera, Kofi forced Hans to retreat from his "five minutes to midnight" comment and issue a public condemnation of Colin. Colin was infuriated by this ignominious insult and returned to Washington to secretly plot revenge on his Swedish adversary. Meanwhile, Gerhard further alienated himself by insisting that he would not, under any circumstances, compete for George's affections by participating in a duel with Saddam. Vladimir, fearing financial losses, reiterated his need to recoup his oil investment in Saddam's enterprises. And Tommy, the man who planned to become Sheriff of Baghdad, became the target of an investigation himself. Kim, feverishly jealous of all the attention being given to Saddam, made a desperate bid for George's attention by claiming that size does matter -- especially when it comes to nuclear weapons. Finally, Tony withstood tremendous pressure to abandon George, and in the end decided that true love conquers all. Which brings us to this week's episode of "As the World Churns." In "The Prince," Machiavelli observed that in a conflict, a man's true friend will take up a club and come to his aid, while his enemy will urge neutrality. In France, where neutrality is revered as a profile in courage, Jacques Chirac has elevated appeasement to the level of saintly virtue. Last week, the French President threw a temper tantrum when 10 countries -- mostly Eastern European democracies -- had the audacity to voice support for an American-led campaign to disarm Iraq. "It is not well brought-up behavior. They missed a good opportunity to keep quiet," Chirac hissed, speaking of nations like Poland and the Czech Republic, as if they were illegitimate stepchildren. He then singled out Romania and Bulgaria for special scorn, since their membership in the European Union has been delayed to 2007. "Romania and Bulgaria were particularly irresponsible to sign when their position is really delicate," Chirac remarked. "If they wanted to diminish their chances of joining Europe, they could not have found a better way." Reaction was swift. "We are not joining the E.U. so we can sit and shut up," said Czech foreign minister Cyril Svoboda. "We thought that we were preparing for war with Saddam Hussein and not Jacques Chirac," added Alexandr Vondra, the Czech deputy foreign minister. Protesting Chirac's paternalism, Polish foreign minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz noted, "In the European family there are no mommies, no daddies and no kids -- it is a family of equals." The French, predictably, are unmoved by these responses. Implying that Poland, the Czech Republic and other emerging European democracies are simply after E.U. subsidies, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin offered a sneering response: "Europe is not a cash register." Meanwhile, a new poll in the German newsweekly Der Spiegel shows that 53 percent of Germans think the United States is the greatest threat to world peace, while 27 percent think Iraq is. Public opinion surveys in France and Belgium run about the same. Gratitude being what it is, it's not surprising that the nations we liberated and paid to rebuild twice in the last century are today the most anti-American in Europe. Interestingly, the United States rates most favorably in those countries that were, until recently, the vassal states of the Soviet empire. Whether the French, Germans and Belgians like it or not -- the differences between "old" and "new" Europe could not be more starkly drawn. De Villepin and Chirac have succeeded in reducing French diplomacy to making rhetorical war on the United States and those who courageously resisted communism during the years when Jean-Paul Sartre's followers were rioting in the streets of Paris and reading Mao's "Little Red Book" and Ho Chi Minh. So the French Army won't be with us in the Iraqi desert. So what? The brave Brits will be. The East Europeans will be. The Aussies, reeling from a bloody terrorist attack on a Bali nightclub that killed 200 people, including 88 Australians, will be, too. And it's from "Down Under" -- not the "Left Bank" -- that we hear the most salient question of all. "It's patently clear that Iraq is in further material breach of its obligations," John Dauth, Australia's U.N. ambassador, said last week. "The question today is what is the Security Council ... going to do about it?" Answer: nothing. And viewers of "As the World Churns" are asking similar questions: Why is George Bush waiting? Doesn't he know that as leading man, he doesn't have to follow the script the writers give him, and he can write Saddam out of the show whenever he's ready? Tune in next week to find the answer to that question.