Token Troops to a Token War
by Eric Margolis by Eric Margolis
PARIS — In one of the more bizarre meetings NATO has ever held, the military alliance decided this week to approve a US plan to build an anti-missile system in Poland and the Czech Republic against a threat that does not exist. Then, in a quid pro quo, the NATO members turned down US demands to admit the Black Sea nations of Ukraine and Georgia to the North Atlantic alliance.
The long-sought US anti-missile system is supposedly designed to shoot down long-ranged Iranian missiles with nuclear warheads. Iran has neither, and no reason whatsoever to fire nuclear weapons at western Europe. But the system had become an obsession with the Bush Administration.
Adding to the general sense of unreality, France’s president Nicholas Sarkozy proclaimed he would send 700 soldiers to Afghanistan to fight Taliban.
But this handful of French troops is merely a gesture that will not change the war, which is going badly against the US and NATO.
There is intense public opposition in France to expanding France’s limited Afghan mission. Sixty-six percent of French strongly oppose sending troops into combat in what is widely seen as a colonial war waged only for America’s benefit.
I have been busy commenting on numerous French national TV and radio programs in recent days. Opinion was dead set against government plans to send troops, except on the ruling right. I also participated in a 45-minute nationally televised debate in France’s parliament over Afghanistan with senior parliamentary politicians (both former defense ministers) dealing with Afghanistan.
Most parliamentarians agreed that France’s military contribution to the little Afghan war was about pleasing Washington rather than "waging war on terrorism." French politicians and public have a much clearer view of Afghanistan thanks to more honest, balanced reporting from their media which is free of the North America media’s ceaseless flag-waving. They understand that oil is a primary reason for the Afghan War.
The best arguments right-wingers could come up with for sending more troops was, "eh bien, it’s symbolic." I reminded them and viewers that the US commander in Afghanistan recently stated he would need 400,000 troops to pacify that nation, not the 80,000 or so troops the US and NATO now deploy. The Soviets couldn’t beat the Pashtun tribes with 160,000 Red Army troops. What will a small French regiment, a few thousand US Marines and 2,500 Canadian troops accomplish, except to make more local enemies?
President Sarkozy, of course, has bigger fish to fry. He is trying to reintegrate France back into NATO after a 42-year absence. The great Charles de Gaulle withdrew his armed forces saying he refused to let Washington order them about and use them like "native colonial troops."
The right wing Sarkozy is trying to ingratiate himself with the Bush Administration. "Sarko" hopes the US will allow France to take command of NATO South. But the US shows little willingness to give up this prized Mediterranean command.
"Sarko" is very much an ideological mate of Bush and other rightist governments in Canada, Holland, Denmark, Israel and, until recently, Australia. I call it the Rightwing International. Many French call Sarkozy a "neoconservative" or "son of Bush."
But Sarkozy is no George Bush. He is Europe-centric and determined to work with his allies. But his relations with France’s most important partner, Germany, are rocky due to a personality clash between its very different leaders.
Sarko’s real objective is to forge what he calls a "Mediterranean Union" of European and Arab states that would, critics claim, create a sort of protectorate and guaranteed source of oil for France and Germany in North Africa. The US would then keep its Mideast Arab oil protectorate, and even Turkey might get a slice if it’s good.
Sarko’s retro grand strategy sounds like a rush back to the 19th century colonial division of African spoils.
At the same time, Sarkozy is trying to build up Europe’s own integrated defense forces, a logical goal for a continent that is more populous and richer than the United States. Washington wants to keep Europeans firmly under the control of NATO, where Washington is boss.
Still, the consensus here in France is that Sarko’s prime objective is to convince the Bush White House he is a loyal ally — even though a record 80% of Americans now reject its foreign policies as a massive failure.