Peter makes four point in his response: 1) we can’t trust the information in the article I referred to; 2) the French did us wrong and we should not forget that, even if we need their help, but should also not forget that it is in their interest to help us catch the bad guys; 3) we have to act even if the consequences are bad; and 4) although we can’t know for sure, a new Iraq is a more likely result of war than effective terrorists. To which I respond:
1) One must always pay attention to the source of one’s information. For the record, then, the article refers three times to unnamed American officials; three times to a named French official; three times to a named German official; and numerous times to unnamed officials whose nationality is not given. The French official referred to is Jean-Louis Bruguière, an investigating judge, not a politician, who has a reputation for intelligence, courage and tenacity in hunting down terrorists. No one, I believe, would consider him Chirac’s poodle.
2) The French did do us wrong, just as we did them wrong, one might argue, by denying them support in their struggles in Indochina and Algeria in the 1950s. (Not only did we not support them, we sold weapons to Algeria’s neighbors who were supporting the FLN in Algeria against France.) The French (the French socialists actually) did us right in the 1980s, when Mitterand traveled to Germany and literally stood by Helmut Kohl to support him when Kohl was under intense pressure to prohibit deployment of intermediate range missiles in Germany. What is the point of this history? Two points actually: First, we have a long history of agreement and disagreement with France that has produced damaging actions by both sides. Talk about cataclysmic ruptures or changes in our relations or of vast nefarious strategies on the part of the French may, therefore, given our common interests, be overblown. Second, nations act on their interests but what they understand to be in their interest often depends on their principles (e.g., anti-colonialism, anti-communism). It is not unreasonable for France to have doubts about the Bush administration’s doctrine of preemptive war or about attacking Iraq now and thus for them to have stood against us. Why? This brings us to points three and four.
3 and 4) Before we decide to act, we should try to calculate whether our action is likely to produce more good than harm. Peter, for example, believes that the war in Iraq is more likely to produce peace and prosperity there (and in the rest of the Middle East?) than lots of new recruits for al Qaeda elsewhere. I am inclined to the opposite view. Far from being a political mathematician who thinks that political problems can be solved in a definitive way, I am, like a good conservative, a historical pessimist. Therefore, I see more effective terrrorists as a more liley outcome of the war than a transformed Middle East. I see nothing in Iraq’s history, what little I know of it, or its circumstances to make me think otherwise. I hope, of course, that Peter will be proven right as usual.