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"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The World Enters the Dangerous Era of American Impotence

The World Enters the Dangerous Era of American Impotence
By Renaud Girard
Le Figaro

Wednesday 25 October 2006

Since September 2001, the world has not experienced an Indian summer as politically hot as this one. North Korea effects its first nuclear test. Iran announces that, come what may, it will continue its uranium enrichment program. Iraq sinks into civil war and anti-Western insurrection. The Sudanese military regime allows deadly chaos to take hold in Darfur, and the UN cannot intervene effectively. In Afghanistan, NATO undergoes the bitter challenge of the Taliban and the opium lords' rebirth. In Pakistan, al-Qaeda is treated as the nuclear issue once was: deny, always deny; the reality is that the Country of the Pure is not even fulfilling some minimal responsibility in the fight against bin Laden's networks. In Lebanon, Hezbollah strengthens its grip on society and one does not sense even the least little beginning of a disarmament of the Shiite Islamist militia. In Palestine, the youth becomes ever more radical under the banner of Islamist parties that refuse to acknowledge Israel's right to exist. In Rusia, the Kremlin - without any hang-ups - tramples on the last fifteen years' democratic advances and overtures to the West. In short, the list of destabilization viruses suddenly emerging into view this autumn of 2006 is long.

The "new international order" announced by American president George H. Bush (father of the present one) in the spring of 1991 now seems quite distant. It was a lovely era of illusions when communism was dead; when people talked about "the end of history"; when wars were won without any deaths on the side of the "good guys"; when the UN experienced a rebirth under the uncontested authority of a Security Council that suddenly wasn't paralyzed any more; when the world's problems seemed to be susceptible to settlement by the organization of big international conferences (such as the conference of Madrid for the Palestinian question); when the password of all respectable diplomacy was "multilateralism."

Why does today's world seem to cover itself over so rapidly with the worrying boils of political, ethnic, and religious violence? One of the main reasons is America's loss of its deterrent power. In the absence of a real permanent UN force, the United States is the only permanent Security Council member and power to command a credible modern army capable of being projected to any point on the globe. The problem is that, today, that force no longer really makes anyone afraid.

Unfortunately for the West - and for world peace in general - America, by getting itself bogged down in Iraq, has wrecked its deterrent power and, in the same blow, its political credit. Its advice, its demands, its threats are far less attended to than they were only three years ago.

February 5, 2003, the day of the famous Security Council debate on Iraq that was broadcast on television screens the world over, American deterrent power was at its apogee. The deployment of 50,000 troops to Kuwait had been sufficient in this instance to make the world understand that America was very serious about the matter. Saddam Hussein certainly understood that when he secretly transmitted proposals accepting all American demands via hawk Richard Perle. "Prince of Darkness" Perle did everything to bury these proposals that forestalled the planned conflict, and President Bush's entourage was very poorly advised not to take them into consideration. It was a time when Iran itself proposed to suspend its uranium enrichment activities as proof of its good faith.

The American failure in Iraq has paradoxically given the mullahs' Tehran sanctuary: the mullahs understand that Congress will not, under the present circumstances, allow George W. Bush to attack Iran. American speech in the Security Council against the Iranian nuclear program hardly holds any weight at all because everyone knows it will not be followed by any use of military force. Still worse, by provoking a tripling in the price of oil, the Americans have endowed President Ahmadinejad's regime with the financial margin he dreamed of to feed his hegemonic regional ambitions militarily. Today, in the southern suburbs of Beirut, Hezbollah distributes fistfuls of Iranian oil money.

By launching itself into the invasion and occupation of Iraq March 20, 2003, the Americans unnecessarily exited the deterrent posture that had nonetheless worked very well. Not to have solicited and obtained the UN Security Council's approval aggravated things still further: in the history of nations, individual mistakes have always been more deleterious than collective mistakes.

France could not in any case rejoice in the destruction of American deterrent power. The United States is a difficult ally - sometimes even an arrogant ally - but it is an ally, and the only one we have who can make credible the resolutions we make together inside the Security Council.

As the twenty-first century promises to be a century of dangerous religious, ethnic, political, and economic rivalries, the planet needs a global policeman. As long as the UN has not established its own military force - as it is invited to do in its Charter - the need for this policeman will continue to be felt. And today, whether we like it or not, that policeman is American.


Renaud Girard is a star reporter in Le Figaro's foreign service.


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