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It Takes a Shrink To Unwrap French Diplomacy

Author: Max Boot, Jeane J. Kirkpatrick Senior Fellow for National Security Studies
February 4, 2003
The Times (London)


When Tony Blair meets Jacques Chirac today for Le Summit, he will bring his foreign policy team. He would do better to ask a world-class shrink. It would take a psychoanalyst of Freud's eminence fully to deconstruct the farrago of delusions, resentments and neuroses that guide French policy on Iraq.

French duplicity is truly stunning. In November, with the rest of the UN Security Council, France approved a resolution giving Iraq "a final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations". Hans Blix has made it clear that President Saddam Hussein hasn't complied. France's reaction to this brazen defiance? It wants to give Saddam another final chance - and another. The Foreign Minister, Dominique de Villepin, claims that "Iraq's weapons of mass destruction are being largely blocked, even frozen", thereby acknowledging that Iraq has these weapons (which Saddam denies), and that it doesn't matter. "War is always...the worst of all solutions," says M Chirac. No doubt Edouard Daladier said something similar at Munich. One would think that such sloganeering would have been discredited by history, which clearly shows that there are things worse than war - like bowing supinely to the demands of homicidal dictators. But the French apparently have a soft spot for ruthless strongmen, as witness their willingness to roll out the red carpet for Robert Mugabe.

They especially like dictators with lots of loot. French companies do Euro 1.5 billion a year in business with Saddam. They also have Euro 6 billion in outstanding debts with Iraq, mostly for arms sales. That's a lot of reasons to prefer the regime in Baghdad to a more humane alternative.

There's more to French policy than amoral profiteering, however. There is also the search for lost glory. France has been in decline since, oh, about 1815, and it isn't happy about it. What particularly galls the Gauls is that their rightful place in the world has been usurped by the gauche americains, with their hamburgers and blue jeans. Jean-Paul Sartre pithily summed up the French attitude in 1953: "America has rabies. Let us sever all our links with her, or else we shall get bitten and become rabid."

France hasn't severed all links, but it is desperately trying to make Paris an alternative power centre to Washington. Lacking the tools of a Great Power (powerful Armed Forces and a vibrant economy), France is taking full advantage of its leadership positions in the EU and the Security Council.

This has already paid dividends for M Chirac. Normally no one in his right mind would look to France for anything more weighty than a good souffle recipe. But by dangling his Security Council veto, M Chirac has moved closer to the centre of the geopolitical universe, at least for a few minutes.

There is no reason for Mr Blair to feed French megalomania any further. M Chirac will no doubt pressure the Prime Minister to back the French line in the name of "European unity", but most of Europe is closer to Washington on Iraq than to Paris. There are deep wellsprings of anti-Americanism across Europe. But many Europeans no doubt remember what happened when they entrusted their security to France (1914, 1939) rather than to the United States (1945, 1989).

This isn't just ancient history. France hasn't shown itself any more capable of handling international crises in the intervening decades. Recently M Chirac sent 2,500 soldiers to Ivory Coast. They've done such a skilful job that crowds in Abidjan marched with signs that read "Bush Help. Chirac is a criminal" and "America welcome in Ivory Coast. France bye-bye". Until Paris can manage Ivory Coast, maybe it should leave off telling Britain and America how to handle Iraq.

The author is Olin Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

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