As old Europeans and long-time imperialists, the French have extensive experience in global relations. Assuming an increasingly responsible role as a former great power now in tune with today’s realities, they are saying “Disarm Saddam but don’t attack Iraq” to an attentive world that sees their point -é as more than 10 million people demonstrated last weekend. Calmly and confidently, France has been making its case for reason and restraint on the Iraq crisis, taking into consideration all the consequences of a war and explaining them. Many may appreciate his eloquence and dashing looks, but it was Dominique de Villepin’s logic that provoked unprecedented and spontaneous applause in the Security Council on Feb. 14, star treatment that an American secretary of state could never hope for in the present state of affairs.
For once, people the world over are closely following the multilateral debate. This is the first time since the creation of the United Nations that people who do not usually follow international affairs now understand the concept of the Security Council, the role of the five permanent members, and the veto power accorded to them.
This is also the first time that officials in an American administration, and media sympathetic to its overt agenda, have done their utmost to vilify the use of the veto, coming this time from a country trying to do precisely what its role in the Security Council demands of it, namely safeguarding the security of the world. By warning it may veto a resolution allowing an armed attack on Iraq, France believes it is protecting the globe from a mad rush to unjustified war whilst offering a feasible alternative.
Not so, says America, whose media has gone into a frenzy of name-calling that the less vindictive French media has even had trouble translating. From “weasels” to “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” (courtesy of The Simpsons), every derogative term has been used to portray France as an ungrateful appeaser, spinning its reasonable arguments into simple anti-Americanism and forgetting Le Monde’s highly publicized editorial after Sept. 11, 2001 asserting “We are all Americans.” Few column inches have explained France’s rationale, but many have questioned the validity of its seat on the Security Council and its right to veto.
Meanwhile, a falsely outraged America pretended to explain the importance of the United Nations and that of its resolutions, as Colin Powell beseeched the Security Council to play its intended part and forego opposition to its war.
Powell would probably not want to remind a forgetful world that only two months before, in December 2002, a lone veto was cast to block a Security Council resolution that would have simply condemned (let alone attacked) a country for allowing the killing of unarmed civilians. In that particular case the killer was an Israeli soldier; the victim, armed with a cell phone, was Iain Hook, a British UN employee who bled to death in Jenin as Israeli soldiers refused passage to the ambulance. The vetoer was the United States.
This incident alone should be enough to demonstrate American contempt for the UN and its employees, not to mention its blind support for its Israeli protégé. But this disdain of the United Nations Security Council, and therefore of the international community, did not begin or end with that failed resolution: America’s veto exploitation has been a central part of its foreign policy for over three decades, and Israel has been its main beneficiary. The US has even vetoed resolutions that upheld resolutions already passed by the body. In 1973, for instance, America vetoed two resolutions that basically reiterated Resolution 242. Likewise, it vetoed a January 1982 resolution demanding Israel’s withdrawal from Syria’s Golan Heights, invaded illegally in 1967 and already covered (again) in resolutions 242 and 338.
Such examples are plentiful; America has repeatedly vetoed resolutions reminding Israel to comply with previous resolutions, or to take responsibility for recurring acts of terrorism. In April 1982, the US vetoed a resolution condemning an Israeli soldier’s shooting of 11 Muslim worshipers near Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. In February 1986, when terrorism had apparently not yet been defined by the superpower, the US vetoed a resolution condemning Israel’s hijacking of a Libyan airplane. And, 10 years later, in April 1996, America shamelessly vetoed a resolution condemning Israel for the horrific bombing of a UN camp in Qana, Lebanon, killing over 100 helpless refugees. While Palestinian civilians should by now be accustomed to this support for Israel come what may, bearing alone the brutality of Israeli occupation, even they must have been stunned by the US veto of a resolution in March 2001 backing the deployment of a meager UN observer force.
It is easy to find references to each and every instance of the American veto, even on the websites of pro-Israeli groups which gloatingly list this history of abuse. However, it is difficult to keep track of which number is growing faster: that of resolutions on Israel being vetoed by the United States, or that of resolutions on Israel being flouted by Israel. The latter is currently in breach of some 70 United Nations resolutions, and would have been in breach of a lot more had the US refrained from exploiting its veto. In comparison, Iraq is a mere amateur, managing to breach only a couple of dozen, for which it is about to pay a heavy price.
Critics of the French stance on a United Nations resolution authorizing the use of force on Iraq are well advised to do the math, and to wonder where was all this indignation when the United States was blocking resolutions on other types of inspections, those on suspected massacres of Palestinian civilians.
The French position is one shared by millions around the world, and by the overwhelming popular majority in the countries officially aligned with the American hawks. While the European leaders who signed the declaration of support for the US are ignoring the staggering numbers opposed to war, their electorate will surely not forget. For once, the French people hardly demonstrated, not needing to reproach their government.
As France is being maligned for its “appeasement” and supposedly isolated stance, are its opponents simply jealous of its independent popularity? Perhaps America believes the veto should be its sole prerogative. But should a resolution allowing an attack on Iraq be presented, and should France oppose it, never would a veto have been cast in the Security Council with more support from the world population. And should America decide to ignore the UN’s opposition to war, then future editorials around the world will surely be titled: “We are all French.”
Rime Allaf is a writer and specialist in Middle East affairs. She is also a consultant in international communications and new economy business.