July 01, 2004

The State of Chirac

A rather intriguing little masthead over at Le Monde.

C'est un combat d'arrire-garde qui illustre le dilemme de Jacques Chirac : ne pas s'opposer ˆ la reconstruction d'un Irak "souverain" sans pour autant se renier. C'est aussi une position d'attente qui est censŽe permettre de coopŽrer avec John Kerry, s'il gagne l'Žlection prŽsidentielle, mais n'empchera pas de vivre avec George W. Bush, s'il est rŽŽlu.
Translation: It's a rear-guard action that illustrates Jacques Chirac's dilemma: to not oppose the reconstruction of a sovereign Iraq while not disavowing [his previously held positions on Iraq]. It's also a 'wait and see' position that is meant to allow him to cooperate with John Kerry, if he wins the presidential election, but wouldn't prevent him from living with George W. Bush, if he is re-elected.

Well, no big surprises there.

But there's more from Le Monde.

Per their narrative, the U.S. has wanted two things of late: 1) international legitimacy for the Iraq project and, relatedly 2) more NATO involvement there.

Chirac gave Bush "1" via the recently passed U.N. resolution on Iraq.

But, on "2", he's treading very carefully--giving Bush just enough (likely training Iraqi gendarmes in Paris suburbs or such) to not totally piss Bush off--but not so much as to cut into his street cred with the anti-war crowd in France.

Chirac's current popularity levels are depressingly low (depressingly for him, at least)--so he likely hopes his neo-Gaullist bluster (don't tell me whether I need to let the Turks into the E.U.; no NATO "flag" in Iraq etc) will play well to the crowds.

There is a problem with all this calculus, however.

Chirac is increasingly isolated within NATO (the masthead is, ironically doubtless, entitled "Splendid Isolation").

In fact, the French are looking more isolated than the Americans (don't expect Paul Krugman or MaDo to clue you in re: this, however).

As I argued in a post yesterday, it's crunch-time for serious players to now forge a trans-atlantic rapprochment.

Even Le Monde, if reluctantly, is coming around to this view. And, more important, I suspect, influential political/business elites in France (think Sarkozy, guys at places like Lazard, Paribas, SocGen etc).

I suspect there is not insignificant frustration in these quarters (senior French bankers/lawyers and rightist, Atlanticist-oriented politicians) that Chirac is proving to engage in such thinly veiled obstructionism now well over a year out from the end of major combat in Iraq.

It looks like, to help Chirac from continuing to make such crude miscalculations, we're going to need to push him along a bit more forcefully.


Not by boycotting French wines (contrary to what you hear, they are better than their Aussie and Chilean counterparts...) or taking the French out of Fries.

Rather, U.S. diplomats should now, as much as possible (and whilst holding their noses) curry favor with Schroder so as to peel him away from Chirac.

Let's get German committments for quite substantial training of Iraqi officers in places like the UAE, Turkey and Jordan (dangle a couple carrots to Berlin if need be, fewer bases and such to be relocated to Eastern Europe, for instance).

Then various actors need to go to Chirac and tell him to step up to bat and keep up with the Germans.

After all, the state of the Franco-German union is strong! Shouldn't these two close friends be operating in lock-step? Committing a similar degree of resources in, respectively, Afghanistan and Iraq?

More than any of this, bien sur, Chirac is looking at Bush's poll numbers. If they start to trend up Chirac will likely start playing ball more readily.

He's used to awkward co-habitations--but doesn't want to make another four years with Dubya too awkward!


Posted by Gregory at July 1, 2004 12:57 AM

Chirac is an incurable criminal. While I concur with your suggestion to peal Germany away from France, the CDU, a more natural ally, should be supported to accelerate the inevitable demise of Schroeder.

Posted by: Capt America at July 1, 2004 05:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Although I sympathize with your generally favorable disposition toward Europe (I lived there myself for a few years), I'm beginning to suspect you've gone "native": i.e., that you've listened to Europeans declare their indispensability for so long that you've actually begun to believe them.

Your recommendation that the U.S. ought to adjust its military "footprint," not out of strategic or military necessity, but merely to, gag, woo Gerhard Schroder, strikes me as both provincial and naive.

The ugly elephant in the international room--Europe's increasing impotence and irrelevance even when "wholeheartedly" engaged--is routinely papered over by just such examples of disproportionate deference.

(What, exactly, aside from the EU's inappropriate number of permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council, and its ineffectual NATO contributions, makes Europe any more geostrategically significant, or worthy of more deference, than, say, Middle Eastern, Asian, or South American countries and blocs? For the sake of its welfare-earmarked wealth? For the sake of its once formidable but now faded history? Another relic of the Cold War? I don't get it, myself.)

Why, you might wonder, is inflating Europe's vainglory such a bad idea? Why not just keep on indulging its pompous leaders and self-righteous citizenry for the sake of comity?

Because Europe will remain an Empire with no clothes for just as long as Europeans, and Euro-friendly observers, continue to pretend it isn't actually stark naked.

And I for one think the world desperately needs a well-girded, or at least realistic, Europe. Now more than ever.

As for French wine: I don't know about its "Aussie or Chilean counterparts," but many California wines are certainly equal to any wine in the world.

I recall an entertaining Newsweek article from a few years ago which described a blind-taste test involving eminent French wine tasters who often couldn't even tell the difference between French and Californian varieties.

Love the blog, by the way.

Posted by: dan at July 1, 2004 09:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Leave Chirac alone. He is merely trying to cover for the cowardice of the French military who are afraid to be exposed to the dangers in Iraq.

Posted by: DO'S at July 1, 2004 05:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There has been talk around for a decade of more as to revisting the permanent members of the Security Council.
Perhaps France should be dropped in favor of Japan.

Posted by: J_Crater at July 2, 2004 07:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Many French wines are vastly overrated and over priced. Many Australian wines are superb. And many California wines are so superior to most French wines as to be beyond comparison.

Don't look for French wine sales in america to rebound any time soon.

Posted by: Dar at July 3, 2004 01:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You're not a wine drinker then Dar!

Posted by: DO'S at July 3, 2004 08:54 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

When it comes to beverages I prefer the American varieties myself. That's why I always drink vintage Dr. Pepper (r) with my delicious McDonalds quarter pounder and super size (freedom) fries. And I top it all off with a side serving of all Doritos! And every meal ends with -oh yummy!- roasted marshmellows covered with a bucketload of Hershey's chocolate! On days when I don't have time to go Chez Mickey D's I just down a pound of sugar and a quarter pound of animal fat byproduct . Vive le gastronomy American!

Posted by: King George at July 4, 2004 05:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


You're right. Why should European democracies deserve any more deference than those Middle East dictatorships?

Erm... hang on...

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