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CalPundit thinks that "the French are acting strangely" in proposing their new plan for handling Iraq. On the surface of it, it does seem strange. The French proposal is for increased inspections backed by a deployment of UN soldiers. Like most people, I can't imagine how the plan would work (for starters, why would Saddam allow UN soldiers to occupy his country?), and so it's providing fodder for the people who like to describe every French action as "not serious."

But I think the French plan makes sense taken in context of French motivations and the corner they've painted themselves into. French leaders (who are the ones I mean when I say "the French" here) oppose the war for three reasons: oil, votes, and power. They have oil interests in Iraq that they fear they'd lose if the US took over (a fear that becomes more and more justified the worse Franco-American relations get). The French public is anti-war for a variety of reasons, so their elected officials can't go gung-ho for a war without risking their jobs. And France doesn't like the idea of US hegemony, so they fancy themselves (alone or as part of a French-German-led EU) as a counterbalancing power now that the Soviet Union is gone.

Nevertheless, opposition to war is becoming more costly. The US has made it quite clear that we don't need France, but France still needs us if it wants to remain relevant in the world. And the evidence of Saddam Hussein's weapons programs has entered the gray area I talked about before. They can no longer credibly claim that Iraq is clean, and the subtle argument that he's bad, but not bad enough to go to war over, is tough to make in a political mileu that rewards clear, unambiguous statements. And there's the possibility that they may have genuinely been convinced by Colin Powell's arguments at the UN.

So the French need to do something about Iraq, but they can't simply sign on to the American invasion. They'd lose credibility in the eyes of a dovish electorate, and acquiesce to American power. So they've come up with this new plan to steer between the poles of peace and American war. It's couched in the language of police-style enforcement, so it's less likely to scare off people who don't want war. Yet it's tough enough to satisfy anyone worried about giving Saddam a free pass. Most importantly, it puts the UN and the French in the driver's seat.


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