February 11, 2003 --

 The great 19th-century British statesman Lord Palmerston once said that "there are no permanent alliances - only permanent interests."

Two hundred-some years ago, France was America's greatest ally; the United States repaid French support for the American Revolution by rescuing France in World War I ("Lafayette, we have returned," said Gen. John J. Pershing).

And again in World War II.  (Even if Vichy French troops did kill hundreds of American soldiers and sailors on North African beaches in November 1942.)

But today France is virtually an enemy of the United States.

Europe - which once seemed on the verge of becoming a French-led federation - seems now to be splitting into pro-American and anti-American halves.

All of this is the result of French machinations that are cynical even beyond the craven standards of that nation's traditional foreign policy.

France, Belgium and Germany have blocked NATO proposals to strengthen Turkey's defenses if it becomes involved in an American-led war against Saddam Hussein.

Yesterday, France and Germany issued a joint declaration (with Russia) calling for intensified weapons inspections as an alternative to war in Iraq, and at the same time revealed their own plan to deal with Saddam, "Project Mirage."

The plan (involving U.N. peacekeepers and inspectors) is clearly designed to keep Saddam in power.

Be that as it may, America and Britain will do the right thing.

Unlike the French.

Look at the way Paris is now sucking up to the bloody-handed tyrant of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe.

Or the way France is intervening in civil-war-torn Ivory Coast - without the benefit of any U.N. resolutions, even while sternly lecturing America and Britain on the need for resolutions on Iraq.

Or the way France intervened in Rwanda - to protect the Francophone perpetrators of the genocide there.

Or the bombing of the Greenpeace vessel "Rainbow Warrior" in New Zealand.

France began to fade at Waterloo.  It lost what remained of its national will on the Western Front in 1915-16.  It was rolled up by Nazi tanks in three weeks in 1940 - and then, at a critical point in the Cold War, France turned its back on NATO.

(In 1966, when French President Charles de Gaulle demanded of U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk that all U.S. military personnel be removed from French soil, Rusk responded: "Does that include the dead Americans in military cemeteries, too?")

Now, French foreign policy is about two things only:

* Servicing French greed - as when, simply for money, it built the Osirak nuclear reactor for Saddam Hussein.  (Happily, the Israelis destroyed the plant in 1981.)

* A desperate, equally amoral, reaching for influence beyond its diminished station.

Thus, when France threatens to veto a second U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing force against Saddam Hussein, it is using the cover of "international law" and "multilaterism" to preserve its interests in deals French companies have made with the Iraqi dictator - and to boost a national ego crippled by unceasing defeat and humiliation.

Perhaps all this is done in service of permanent French interests.

But there will be a price to pay - when the United States finally ceases to treat France as a permanent ally.

So be it. 

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