The sooner the détente with France, the better

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It may seem odd in the midst of war to be pondering how the US, when the conflict is over, should treat France - the principal offender - as well as Germany, Russia, Turkey, the UN, and others who've been less than supportive of US goals in Iraq. But the problem must be faced sooner or later, and it should be sooner.

When his father was president, George W. Bush was renowned for his intolerance of anybody who offered less than 100 percent loyalty to Bush the elder. Now that he's president himself, he demands the same. This administration's relations with France, and others on Bush's blacklist for noncooperation in Iraq, are surely going to be chilly after the war.

The humorists and cartoonists have had a field day with all this. The Detroit News produced a cartoon of a store in Baghdad offering a sale on German bunkers, Russian jamming equipment, and French munitions - a reference to the services those countries are said to have provided Iraq.

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But the US has a record of being magnanimous in victory. In Germany and Japan, after World War II, it hunted down war criminals - as it should in Iraq - but was generous to the populations of those countries. As it expresses generosity to the liberated people of Iraq when war is done, so should there be some forbearance toward old allies who have been maddeningly unhelpful.

Governments and leaders change. French leaders haven't always been so unsupportive of forceful international action. Bemoaning the collapse of the League of Nations, Joseph Paul-Boncour, a former premier and foreign minister complained: "The chimera was toimagine that a country could protect itself against war by withdrawing within itself and paying regard only to its own frontiers."

Jealous of US economic and military ascendancy, French President Jacques Chirac has sought to rally a countervailing coalition of European powers. But if the US is successful in toppling Saddam Hussein and placing Iraq on the road to democracy, doubting nations will rally to the US side and France will be less politically relevant in the new world alignment. It needn't be irrelevant in other ways.

Having expended its treasure and spilled its soldiers' blood in Iraq, the US should have a decisive say in the kind of regime that succeeds Hussein. The view of Britain, in light of its sturdy military contribution, should also be weighed. The US must be the principal stabilizing military force for some time. But it should not bear alone the full economic brunt of nation-building. This is where countries like France and Germany, which did not support the US, and Japan, which did, can make significant contributions.

As a force for peacemaking and peacekeeping, the UN Security Council is now dismissed by the Bush administration as ineffective. But the UN remains relevant as an umbrella organization for bringing international aid to Iraq. The US should draw on these resources as it strives to fulfill a broader Bush vision for movement toward democracy in the Arab Islamic world. Iraq is not the endgame, but the potential catalyst for reform in nearby lands. A New York Times dispatch suggests success in Iraq could foment reform even in hard-line Syria. Youthful reformists in Iran are watching the outcome in Baghdad. So are intellectuals in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

A critical factor in the fulfillment of this vision is resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which inflames the Muslim world. If this hate-filled division, which has defied solution for decades, is to be healed, Mr. Bush must halt bloodshed on both sides and establish an independent Palestinian state. No mean task, but essential to lessen Islamic anti-American fervor.

The US challenge in Iraq is to extinguish Hussein's regime and install a freedom-respecting government that will not menace the rest of the world.

Allies - even those who've disappointed the US - shouldn't be dismissed in this nation-building project. Bush has assured the world that the US is not intent on building an empire. Such a post-war coalition would help allay suspicions to the contrary.

John Hughes, editor of the Deseret News, is a former editor of the Monitor.

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