Friday, May 28, 2004

Weapons Manufacturers and Oil Barrons: France's Idealists?

At first blush, there doesn't seem to be anything particularly unusual about this:
The escalation of violence and the horrors of the Middle East are plunging us into stupefaction and indignation. How in the 21st century can we come to this, when globalization summons us to understanding and tolerance, the bases for a peaceful and prosperous world? And, above all, how can our American friends have allowed themselves to be drawn into this mess and hornet's nest, engaging their best troops and hundreds of billions of dollars?

The successive pretexts: weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, eliminating a bloody tyrant, did not convince us, we, who are so keen on cartesian logic, that most French of singularities.

The mercantile motives suggested here and there do not stand up either and it would be an insult to this great people to suggest that they could be stirred to action on this account.

Some then spoke of promoting democracy and, consequently, of peace, in the Middle East, an entirely respectable aim, but which arises out of a messianic ideal and which submerges us in incomprehension before the scale and risks of such a crusade, especially if extended to the rest of the world.

Alone the trauma of September 11 may serve to explain and justify American conduct in this matter, especially if one thinks of the culture in this great nation, "melting pot" of the pioneers. One has only to recall that, in this country, they think nothing of the fact that the majority of citizens are armed and the American law trumps international law.
I'll spare you any more of this. I didn't pay it much mind myself when I first saw except for the fact that, even by Le Monde's standards, it struck me as a particularly boring piece of boilerplate. Even for people who opposed the war, could this essay possibly contain anything new?

Then I scrolled to the bottom to see who'd written it: Henri Martre, is a high-flying 76 year-old French aerospace industry magnate, president of GIFAS (Groupement des Industries Françaises Aéronautiques et Spatiales, an industry collective) and member of the board of directors of Renault. But — most significantly — I nearly doubled over laughing when I read that he is "honorary president" of... aérospatiale, an enormous French defense contractor that sold a great many weapons to Saddam.

In 1992 Aérospatiale merged with another French defense contractor Matra (which stands for Mechanique Aviation et TRAction) to form AéroMatra. Then in 2000, Aérospatiale-Matra merged with Daimler Chrysler Aerospance AG and Spanish contractor CASA to form the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS). Aérospatiale's most famous project was Ariane Espace, a commercial aerospace project for putting satellites into orbit. France's answer to NASA, (named for Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos and Pasiphaë, who gave Theseus the thread which lead him out of the labyrinth of the Minotaur when the former had been imprisoned on Crete).

You may remember that Aérospatiale once manufactured the Roland missile, found last autumn in Iraq by Polish troops who mistook the model number for the year and thought they'd found French weapons in Iraq dating from 2003 (it turns out Aérospatiale ceased production of the Roland-2 missiles in 1988 and of the Roland-3 in 1990.) The Roland turned out to be particularly handy for Saddam when the Russians ceased weapons deliveries during the war with Iran.

Get this: there is an uncanny similarity, right down to choice of words, between Martre's remarks and those of Jacques de Boisseson, director of foreign relations for oil company Total, who told a breakfast gathering on March 20 of last year that "one does not impose democracy and the American vision of the Middle East is terrible because it is founded on messianism." We are all well aware of what was at stake in Iraq for Total, of course. But note that de Boisseson was answering the question, "How do you view the democratization of the Middle East?"

Guess who put that question to him... the president of GIFAS? But he's the same one who...

No... it couldn't be.


Anonymous said...

Your blogs are getting better all the time.

Anonymous said...

Read "The French Betrayal of American". It supplies a lot of interesting information on the French's wheelings and dealings with Saddam Hussein in the early 90s. It even mention's Chirak safe above the toilet seat in his lavatory. If only safes could speak!

Douglas said...

Thank you, anonymous #1.

As for you, anonymous #2, I should say that I've decided against reading Ken Tillerman's "French Betrayal of America." He's so angry I can't trust him to stay honest. (Though I'm more than curious about the safe over Chirac's shitter! Tell me more!)

A very good book on that subject is this one: Notre allié Saddam is a book-length investigative history of French-Iraqi relations written by the husband-and-wife team of Claude Angléli and Stéphanie Mesnier. I've blogged on it here, here and here, and perhaps elsewhere, too.

Check Tillerman's bibliography, acknowledgements, index and/or introduction. He had damn well better have mentioned this book.