The spoils of glory

Posted: Feb 17, 2003 12:00 AM
The whole world, it seems, hangs on the future within NATO of the current dispute. The sense of it, in parts of Europe, is that Germany accidentally tripped into its present position. For one, there was -- there is -- the brooding matter of its military-imperialist past, and the sense that binds it, as it does Japan, in those postwar loincloths of innocence that make Machtpolitik something of an impiety, let alone a question of tanks and missiles and bayonets.

There came then the accidental success of marginal candidate Gerhard Shroeder, who brushed the anti-American cream off the top of the electoral vat and scored an upset victory. He and Germany are stuck with it, and will come around on the matter of help to Turkey only if a formula sufficiently emasculating is contrived.

The plight of France is brilliantly examined by the Strategic Forecasting Intelligence unit ( of Texas. The analyst reminds us of the basic problem of modern France, which is that it isn't strong enough to figure dominantly on the international scene by the mere deployment of its geopolitical or commercial resources. This requires a very heavy load on its cultural resources. These are formidable, but how many operas comiques are needed to float out the single French aircraft carrier? The Charles de Gaulle has scarcely left harbor during its accident-prone existence. The British sage Paul Johnson, summarizing France's straitened military, writes that "there is no chance of the French cutting a bella figura in any hostilities, and so the easy way out for her is to oppose them."

The aircraft carrier's eponym intuited the problem in 1966, when as president of France, he dramatically pulled the French out of the NATO administration. He did not pull out of NATO -- France is still a member of that alliance, but the authority to deploy French military remains that of France alone. It is because of that rupture that the NATO administration was relocated to Brussels, where it sits cheek by jowl with the European Union. If every one of the NATO powers were to abide by de Gaulle's maxims -- never divest yourself of your own power, but engage in ad hoc alignments to magnify that power -- a stable alliance would be impossible. And the challenge of Iraq is illustrating an instability we'd have done better to anticipate more skillfully.

What we have now, of course, is the unexpungeable challenge of taming the Iraqi beast, and the need to absorb a NATO alliance with room given for the caprice of the two major nations of -- old Europe.

The parliamentarians are getting great exercise in the libertine theater. There is the sense of independence not only from the power of the superpower, but from the restraints that attach to ordered rhetoric. Belgium wants, no less, to try Gen. Ariel Sharon after he leaves office as a war criminal. That is the kind of thing against which cool heads warned when Gen. Pinochet suddenly found himself a prisoner in London.

Donald Rumsfeld let it fly against Germany that in behaving as it lately has, it is in the same league as Cuba and Libya. That did it to Germany's defense minister, Peter Struck, who, taking a firm grip on his pince nez, fumed that what Rumsfeld said was "beyond impertinent. ... It isn't acceptable. It is out of order. It is even un-American."

"In recent months," writes Paul Johnson in National Review, the anti-American pitch "has surpassed itself in its fury at the notion of 'Texas adolescents' wielding more power than 'European sophisticates.' Mixed in this bouillabaisse of rage are anti-Semitism, a distrust of popular democracy, frustrated socialism, and a smug use of French cultural superiority."

What to do? "When the French elites are in such a mood, they are beyond the reach of argument and are best ignored."