A Half-Hearted Cheer for the Americans from Le Figaro

It has been one hundred days since George W. Bush flew onto that aircraft carrier off of California to stand beneath a giant banner reading “Mission Accomplished” and declare that major combat operations in Iraq had come to an end. Nonetheless, events since then – such as the deaths there of 119 further American soldiers, and the continued survival of Saddam Hussein – have shown that the American engagement in Iraq is far from done. The Bush administration marked this 100-day anniversary both by releasing to the public a 24-page report entitled “Results in Iraq: 100 Days Toward Security and Freedom,” and by plucking the President himself out of vacation-mode at his Crawford ranch to speak reporters for 18 minutes (this according to an account in the Washington Post). “We’ve made a lot of progress in a hundred days, and I am pleased with the progress we’ve made, but fully recognize we’ve got a lot more work to do,” was his pronouncement.

Point – Counter-Point: Writing in Le Figaro, Georges Suffert gives an appraisal from the French point-of-view of what the Americans have accomplished in Iraq, and in that part of the world in general, in an editorial entitled Bush dans les sables du Proche-Orient, or “Bush in the sands of the Mid-East.”

En verité, Suffert writes, les Etats-Unis pataugent quelque peu: In truth, the US is floundering a bit. Even as top administration officials vow to stay the course in the Mid-East, it’s clear from the continuing violence in Iraq as well as the Palestinian occupied territories and Afghanistan that the “grand American plan to reorganize the Mid-East” is still a work-in-progress. Pas très brillant pour la première puissance mondiale: Not too brilliant for the first world-power, is his verdict.

Then again, he admits, at least the Americans are the only ones even trying to correct the situation in this chaotic part of the world. And things are indeed changing there under American pressure, even though that pressure is “often maladroit.”

“Should one reproach the Americans for their incredible naïveté?” Suffert asks. (Aw, come on now, Georges, go easy on us!) He finds the idea laughable that Western-style democracy is transferrable to this part of the world, where individual states are by and large artificial constructions resulting out of deals made by the ex-colonial powers at the end of World War I (barring Israel’s occasional border-shifting since then); behind their “walls of cardboard” different groups, religions, and ethnic tribes share an uneasy co-existence, in some places temporarily united by the riches to be gained by the exploitation of local petroleum reserves.

In the final analysis, though, this fallacy about inculcating democracy here – the “democratic dream” – is probably the best solution available. So give the Americans credit that they are willing to pursue it, with only two provisos: 1) They grossly underestimate how long the effort is likely to last – “it will take at least ten years to reconstitute a pacified Mid-East ” – and 2) They are very wrong if they think they can accomplish this alone. They will have to involve other countries help them. Suffert calls for rallying the world’s “great democracies” (including France, presumably, and yes, of course France is one such) to work together at this long-term, complicated project. Naturally, that means UN involvement, and the friendly glances the Bush administration is currently throwing in the UN’s direction shows that they have recognized this necessity.

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