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Kyle Eller: What's so enlightened about France and Germany?

There's something weird about our fascination with the United Nations and our allies in Europe, particularly now that some of the important ones aren't backing our government's plans in Iraq.

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There's something weird about our fascination with the United Nations and our allies in Europe, particularly now that some of the important ones aren't backing our government's plans in Iraq.

Don't get me wrong -- all things being equal, having allies on board is a good thing. Considering what other countries think is, to a point, strategically necessary, and it's a nice thing to do.

I'll even go this far -- our allies may be right about Iraq, if for the wrong reasons. (I don't believe more inspections are going to accomplish anything worthwhile.)

I even understand that, to some degree, maybe people in the anti-war movement at home are simply taking allies where they find them -- in short, they don't put as much stock in what France thinks as they appear to, but it looks and sounds good.

But I don't think that's it. There's a pervasive sense of idolization some Americans have for France, Germany and the United Nations Security Council. I can understand France thinking that it is presumptively more enlightened than the United States -- arrogance is not an unfamiliar concept -- but I can't understand Americans buying into it.

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Put it in perspective, starting with the U.N. Even if you favor the concept of a United Nations as a representative world government to arbitrate disputes between nations and work to promote human rights and so on, the United Nations as it currently exists is not that organization. It's a grotesque parody of that ideal.

Sitting alongside the freedom-loving democracies Britain, the United States and France as permanent members with veto power are China, the world's biggest, baddest communist dictatorship, and Russia, which is still a fledgling democracy that's not too sure about freedom of the press yet.

China's representatives do not represent the will of the Chinese people; they represent the government that oppresses China's 1 billion people.

Countries like Syria sit on the Security Council alongside Germany and Spain. And that's before you even talk about things too true to be funny, like brutal dictators heading commissions on human rights and disarmament.

The U.N. may represent the calculus of world power, but it doesn't carry moral weight in 2003.

Europe fares much better, of course. Surely many states have a considerable history of freedom and enlightenment. But calling it superior to ours is a stretch. The American union was free, if decidedly imperfect, when France was still ousting its monarch. When America was in its second century of perfecting its union, Germany was exterminating Jews, Poles and homosexuals and aggressively warring for world domination.

I know: France helped all the way along. I'm glad Germany has come around. I recognize Europe's long intellectual and cultural tradition and recognize that many of the ideals America's founders employed came out of that tradition.

But our country isn't exactly a slouch in these matters. America stood down Stalin and Hitler both, dedicating vast resources and many lives to freedom and liberating both France and Germany. We were the first country to turn theory into the practice of self-government and freedom.

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I don't think we should be as arrogant as France is toward us -- or for that matter toward Eastern Europe. Our allies may very well have something important to contribute. But given our standing as the world leader in spreading freedom and human rights, a concept we practically defined for the world, I don't think we need a raging self-esteem problem, either.

And consider, pacifist Germany was one of the largest contributors -- after the Gulf War -- to Iraq's arsenal, including supplying dual-use technology that could detonate nuclear weapons. France has huge economic stakes in the status quo with Iraq. Both are also playing out a political gambit within the European Union, as I understand it.

These are not the motives and actions of enlightenment.

When the Vatican comes into Washington, as it did this week, it carries a moral authority worth treating as such. When the U.N., France and Germany come along, they bring some common ideals and friendship, but also politics, power and money as motivators.

While we should consider their input, we should not leave our most important security decisions to them.

Kyle Eller is features editor of the Budgeteer News. He may be reached by telephone at 723-1207 or by e-mail at kyle.eller@duluth.com .

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