Saturday, October 09, 2004

Histoire de la France (III) — A Man Incapable of Hiding His Disdain for American Policies

John J. Miller & Mark Molesky:
… on the day Osama bin Laden's henchmen brought unimaginable terror to the United States, [Jacques] Chirac seemed genuinely moved. In a display of goodwill and solidarity, he rushed to the side of President George W. Bush. His government supported American military action in Afghanistan and sent peacekeepers to assist the post-Taliban government. Yet September 11 did nothing to alter France's fundamental approach to global affairs. Chirac made it clear that he was skeptical of extending the war on terrorism beyond the borders of Afghanistan. When Bush spoke of an "axis of evil" that included Saddam Hussein's Iraq in early 2002, Paris snickered: "The rhetoric of good and evil is not suitable for the reality of today's world," said a Chirac confidant. One top French official, Charles Josselin, told a Saudi newspaper that the Bush administration suffered from "Texas-style diplomacy" — a phrase meant as an insult in European circles. Former foreign minister Hubert Védrine was even more outspoken: "Today we are threatened by a simplicity that reduces all the problems of the world to the struggle against terrorism that is not properly thought through," he said.

Franco-American relations deteriorated at the popular level as well. In France, ugly conspiracy theories about September 11 became disturbingly prevalent. One of the most sinister was cooked up by Thierry Meyssan, a self-styled investigative journalist who claimed in his book L'Effroyable Imposture — "The Big Lie" — that the common understanding of what happened was based on "nothing more than a cover-up" and "lies put forward by officials." According to Meyssan, "the attacks of September 11 were masterminded from inside the American state apparatus" — i.e., George W. Bush — as a justification for reckless warfare. By the summer of 2002 — long before Michael Moore became a household name — L'Effroyable Imposture had sold more than 200,000 copies in France.

As the first anniversary of September 11 approached, Chirac tried to minimize his profound differences with the United States by relying on that old standby in the French politician's playbook: the enduring myth of Franco-American friendship. "When the chips are down," he declared, "the French and Americans have always stood together and have never failed to be there for one another." At the same time, he proved incapable of hiding his disdain for what he took to be America's hamfisted approach to international problems. "I am totally against unilateralism [i.e. American foreign policy] in the modern world," he said. The emerging American doctrine of pre-emptive action to thwart national-security threats, he added, was "extraordinarily dangerous." But after the carnage of 9-11, the United States was not interested in waiting for its enemies to strike. It would move against them before they could mount an effective attack.

(Shookhran beaucoup, Gregory Schreiber)

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