Friend or Foe? France's History of Self-Interest

Article excerpt

Byline: Curt Weldon, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

French President Jacques Chirac's recent decision to veto the use of special NATO forces to safeguard elections in Afghanistan this fall is the latest example of his desperate attempts to assert France's relevance on the world stage. Despite impassioned pleas from Afghan President Hamid Karzai for additional troops to provide security against continuing violence by Islamist fundamentalists that threatens critical national elections, Mr. Chirac blocked the U.S.-backed plan, claiming such forces "shouldn't be used in any old manner." Mr. Chirac's actions and anti-American rhetoric only serve to underscore the depths to which this once great nation has sunk.

It is simply incomprehensible that Mr. Chirac could treat the democratic liberation of Afghanistan with such cavalier indifference. After decades of Soviet occupation, warlordism and the brutality of the Taliban, Afghans for the first time ever will select their head of state through competitive elections. The ease with which Mr. Chirac can take for granted the freedoms and liberties that democratic elections provide is appalling.

Those freedoms have allowed 1.7 million Afghanistan citizens to register to vote, including more than 500,000 women. The people of Afghanistan can now enjoy the liberty of attending one of the 152 new or more than 400 refurbished schools, or obtaining health-care services from one of 378 new and refurbished health clinics. Afghanistan's new schools have reached more than 16,000 students and trained more than 2,100 teachers. Afghan women are perhaps the biggest beneficiaries of their country's newfound democracy, as they continue to enjoy remarkable gains in human and civil rights. Most notably, Afghanistan's first-ever national constitution guarantees equal rights to all citizens, men and women. It is indeed unfortunate that Mr. Chirac views these momentous accomplishments as "any old manner."

Equally appalling is France's selfishness and rank hypocrisy. France's latest refusal to send troops into Afghanistan stands in stark contradiction to its efforts to drag NATO, historically a defensive alliance, into Yugoslavia - the organization's first-ever offensive action against a non-member. After France's efforts to gain U.N. Security Council approval to remove Slobodan Milosevic by force failed, it pressed the United States to approve NATO military action. …