It's always hard to read the French, they are a complex country and a complex people.
In the recent UN negotiations attempted to stop the violence in Lebanon and end the Israeli Hezbollah conflict, the French were not once, but twice leaders in bringing consensus to a fractious group of interests.
First the French helped craft and then strongly support a U.S. plan for a stong peacekeeping force that would actually undertake the fighting to remove armaments from Hezbollah as required by the old U.N. Resolution 1559.
But once in front of the Security Council and facing strong opposition from Iran, Syria and Lebanon itself, the French withdrew their support and crafted a new, much weaker, resolution that took the teeth out of the enforcement and basically settled for a patrolling/monitoring force to separate Israel from the Hezbollah militants.
France did a magnificent job of getting the United States and Israel to support a resolution they both knew was weak and dangerous. But gather the support they did and the French resolution became U.N Resolution 1701.
A major reason France won the reluctant support of both Israel and the United States was their commitment to lead the U.N. force and commit a large number of troops, at least 1,500 and promises of more. France already had 200 troops in the old ineffective UNIFIL force.
But, once it became time to actually commit troops, France was only willing to add 200 more troops. And the new "troops" would be a building and construction crew, at that.
- Question: How many men does it take to defend Paris?
Answer: They do not know. It has never been done before.
Are the French cowards as this worn out joke suggests? Of course not, it's much more complicated than that.
But the turnabout by France left Israel devastated. The United States was shocked.
From the Haaretz News Service story, Israel says France not keeping promise on troop commitment:
- Foreign Ministry sources said Jerusalem expects France to "come to its senses and abide by its word," adding that the UN force should be a robust one which would be authorized to act in order to enforce the terms of the cease-fire.
- President George W. Bush said on Friday he hopes France will send more troops to a UN peacekeeping force for Lebanon after it said it would deploy only 200 soldiers.
"France has said they'd send some troops. We hope they send more. There's been different signals coming out of France. Yesterday they had a statement, today they had a statement," Bush told reporters at the presidential retreat of Camp David.
Curiously, one of France's main reasons in not sending the expected robust force was the toothless U.N Resolution they themselves had crafted. France rightfully feared that under the resolution as written, the U.N force might not even be able to fire weapons in self defense, let alone to disarm the Hezbollah militia.
France so much wanted to be the "honest broker," the "peace maker" in the middle east they lied to virtually everyone about their role and their commitment to the actual peacekeeping mission.
France is a bit of an enigma. The very liberal, often socialist, French intellectuals and illuminati want world peace and individual freedom. They are quick to criticize the naive, young United States government for gunslinger diplomacy and the perceived curtailment of rights, freedoms and liberty.
Yet French business often dictates every French international move. France sells military equipment to virtually every country on earth, regardless of that country's human rights record.
And France itself lacks many of the protections of individual rights and liberties enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Most notable is France's record of holding detainees for years without bringing them to trial. This problem is so severe it even is noted in the Wikipedia.
The recent riots in France focused on France's inherent racism and xenophobia. France has enacted laws demanding immigrants learn and conform to "traditional French behaviors" that would never be tolerated in the United States. The curtailment of religious expression and the prohibition of traditional religious garments in schools is just one example.
Amnesty International reports that "French police are using excessive and sometimes lethal force against suspects of Arab and African origin without fear of serious repercussions. It concludes that there is a pattern of effective impunity with regard to the misconduct of police officers in France."
To be certain there are other issues at work in the French decision. The huge influx of Muslim people into France has affected the electorate. These new immigrants, not withstanding French laws designed to force integration into French society, are solidly behind Hezbollah. And they will vote in the next elections.
"French logic" is only and oxymoron because France is a complex country buffeted by many competing philosophies, business interests and political forces. Still, the United States and the world must learn that they are not a reliable partner.
You would think we would have already learned that.
It just goes to prove that "American intelligence" is another, equally famous, oxymoron.