THE MAGINOT LINE OF TODAY
I'm going spontaneous on this one, so cut me some slack if I don't explain every point or I drop a word or two. But if I'm wildly off the mark, tell me why you think so.
The Maginot Line. Remember that? It was supposed to be France's allmighty fortress against the German menace across the Rhine. Post WWI, the French built it up to prevent the Germans from ever coming back over and getting too comfortable; they'd been burned once and this time built a series of lockboxes across their eastern border to ward off the Allemands. It worked pretty well, until the Nazis decided to just go through Belgium.
A similar thing is going on with the UN, the US and the war. Follow me here.
Since the Second World War Two (as Grandpa Simpson calls it), France has built up its defenses in another way: diplomatically. It has worked pretty well; they were assured of protection by the United States throughout the Cold War.
(Meanwhile, they were free to play their two-bit colonial games, even throwing up its hands and letting the US try to fix one that went really, really bad. Their "rogue" development of nuclear missles was even tolerated. But I digress.)
Now the French are facing a much different kind of defeat: instead of being militarily vanquished and overrun by invaders ... their financial and diplomatic interests (in Iraq) are being vanquished by the United States and what is looking more and more like a distinctive New Europe.
And of course, the French have been able to punch above their weight for the last sixty years, precisely because of their political skill; the French (and of course, the Germans) have been instrumental in shaping the European Union, not to mention the United Nations.
Instead of going around the Maginot Line, the United States is going around the United Nations. Once again the French have put up defenses, but once again they've miscalculated. Both times, they expected certain neighbors -- the Belgians last time, perhaps Britain or (depending) the Russians and Chinese this time). And the costs might -- emphasis on might -- be huge.
If nothing else it has to be a terrible ego blow. Losing this battle could convince them to dig their heels in deeper. It won't just be the US -- it could be Poland and Turkey and Britain. Certainly Israel, as if they could be even less friendly to them. Maybe even the new Iraq.
Even if they hop sides at this point, the damage is done. American anti-French sentiment has never been higher in my short quarter-century, and it would take a complete "regime change" for the French government and United States government to patch things up. If the countries of Eastern Europe (again, Poland and Turkey key among them) move markedly closer to the United States, France will feel more isolated and return the cold shoulder to them.
If relations between the New Europe and France remain bitter following the war (and here Germany must also be included), we may well be looking at a major re-alignment in the northern hemisphere. We might anyway. And I think this would be a good thing: it's about time that the shape of alliances conformed to better represent today's political map.)
As the Maginot Line became a metaphor for geopolitical blunders, so might the French dependence on, er, multilateral agreements. Not immediately, not in the first months or next couple of years necessarily, but in the next decade or so. If the French do lose influence among their international partners, this will be the shark they jumped.
Caveat: If the Blix makes a forceful enough case for action this Friday, if Russia and China come around with the perennially fence-sitting French, then all of the above may be moot. But if the Bush's coalition of the willing end up having to do it without the UN's consent, then France is in a whole new world of hurt.
Note to self: I think I'm onto something. All stream-of-consciousness right now. Remains to be fact- and grammar-checked. May contain sentence fragments. But I like the Maginot Line analogy. I think it's illustrative. Maybe I'll do something with this. I guess I'll have a better idea on Friday.
UPDATE -- Reading this, I like the analogy even better.