Sunday, September 14, 2003

A Stiff-Necked People

From the Daily Telegraph we learn the following:

France accused as UN summit on Iraq stalls
By David Wastell, Diplomatic Correspondent
(Filed: 14/09/2003)

Foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council failed to overcome differences on a timetable for handing over power in Iraq yesterday as France came under fire for making "unrealistic" demands.

Colin Powell, the United States secretary of state, said he was "encouraged" by talks in Geneva aimed at agreeing the framework for a UN resolution to set up a multinational force in Iraq. Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, said consensus was both "essential and achievable".

There was no sign, however, that France was backing down from its insistence that the coalition must hand over all powers to the interim Iraqi authority within a month - a deadline Britain and America regard as impossible.

Mr Powell sharply rebuffed French demands for power to be transferred to the interim Iraqi authority next month.

"Nobody wants to turn sovereignty back to the Iraqis as fast as the United States does, President Bush does and I do," he told French television before the meeting. But the handover deadline proposed by Dominique de Villepin, France's foreign minister, in a newspaper article last week was "totally unrealistic".

Mr Powell added: "It would be delightful if one could do that, but one can't do that. I cannot anticipate us agreeing to any language that would buy into what Minister de Villepin has been saying."

Diplomats said that Mr de Villepin did not explicitly repeat his call during the talks, but said the handover should be completed "by the autumn".

[............]

French demands for almost immediate restoration of Iraqi sovereignty were echoed yesterday by Adnan Pachachi, a member of the US-appointed governing council in Baghdad. He said he and his 24 colleagues wanted the fastest possible transfer of authority.

France also wants a new constitution for Iraq to be settled by next spring, and a commitment to May elections. During yesterday's meeting, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, pointed out that London and Washington had already said they hoped to see a new constitution in place by next summer, with elections to follow soon after.

He said later: "What we've agreed that we all want to see is the transfer of power to the Iraqi people as quickly as possible, but we must do so in a way that ensures security and good government."

Why do the French always insist on being the skunk at the garden party? First it was the money-grubbing holdup of the lifting of UN sanctions on Libya, then we have this ridiculous set of demands. No one can claim that France is simply asking for a measure of authority commensurate with the responsibilities it is being asked to undertake here, as for one thing, France has yet to make any concrete offers of either men or money, and in light of its' present difficulties with meeting the terms of the Stability Pact, is probably in no condition to bring much to the table, even if it wants to - which it almost certainly does not.

No, this has nothing to do with "reason", and everything to do with being as much of a pain in the neck to the Americans as possible. How else can one interprete demands to hand over all power to the interim Iraqi authority within a month? France, of all countries, being a former colonial power, should realize the magnitude of the tasks that must be completed before such a step can be undertaken, and that to simply dump all responsibility in the interim authority's lap would be to guarantee chaos down the line.

The institutions of government take time to build, constitutions need careful deliberation, vetting and approval, election districts must be negotiated, voters registered - the list of things to do, and which the Iraqis are manifestly unqualified of doing, given their lack of any experience with constitutional government, is simply overwhelming. Having everything up and running within 3 years would be an astonishingly swift accomplishment; demanding that it all happen in the span of 9 months, as France is doing, is a sign of madness. One has to wonder what point there was in bringing this whole business to the UN to begin with, given the opportunity France's veto power in the Security Council gives it to engage in mischief. Neither it nor Germany are in a position to really offer anything in return for the outsized demands they are making, other than a mostly symbolic seal of approval.