Montag, März 12, 2007

Bye Bye Chirac ...

The worst President that France ever had is finally going to disappear from the political scene.

Not a day too soon.

Why do I say the worst?

Because he was.

Most fundamentally, Chirac was responsible for the greatest foreign policy blunder of the Fifth Republic since Suez.

On September 11th, he proclaimed "We are all Americans".

He started off right: he supported UN Resolution 1368 and sent troops to Afghanistan.

But starting on 15 Oct 2001 things started to go downhill. True French solidarity lasted only slightly more than 1 month.

His reluctance to get involved is based on the fear of getting involved in the Third World. In sharp contrast to his predecessor, Mitterand, Chirac's life wasn't heavily impacted by WW2, and it shows.

On 15 Oct 2001 he acknowledged that a clash of civilizations was developing, but saw a completely, radically different solution: engagement and discussion, with the West needing to take on the responsibility for the plight of the developing world, whose production of terrorists was the result of poverty and misery in those countries.

This is, of course, a crass misunderstanding of modern terrorism, which does not have its roots in poverty and misery, but rather comes from the upper levels of Arab society and has its roots in the failure of those societies to achieve anything remotely like the economic development of the West, despite their heritage and money from oil. This failure, because Arab pride does not allow honesty, can only be the result of repression and subjugation of Arabs by the West, hence the West must be eliminated as a source of comparison in order for the failure of Arab culture not to be made so obvious. I know that this is a simplification, but this lies at the core of why modern terrorism is largely an Arab problem, with the use of Islamic fundamentalism not merely a welcome tool for this purpose, but rather one of the driving forces behind it.

The result of Chirac's fundamentally incorrect perception of the world led to the greatest fiasco of French foreign policy, one that will literally take decades to correct.

Almost one year exactly after the attack of 11 Sep, he basically said: "Attempting to change the regime in foreign countries means entering these countries and dealing with foreign cultures," and he felt that this was a very dangerous attitude.

He's right: changing the regimes in foreign countries is a dangerous thing, as things never turn out as you might like. But given the dangers that the failed countries of the Middle East represent, Chirac failed to provide any sort of alternative course besides "let's simply not do it".

This was born the obstructionist policy of France in dealing with the Middle East: France under Chirac actively broke with the US on dealing with the countries of the Middle East, first and foremost with Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

According to Chirac's biographer, both the political and military circles in France vastly underestimated the determination that Chirac had not to allow the US to follow its policies. Chirac decided to block the US at all costs. The threat of the veto at the UN virtually destroyed the UN as the premier place to work out the strategy of the West against the terror threats from the Middle East, as it basically came out of the blue. All observers, including the French, expected France to object and try to modify US behavior - which has been a constant in US-French relations since at least Suez - before then agreeing to US actions.

Instead, the threat of the veto suprised everyone and did the one thing that Chirac didn't really expect (but was more than willing to accept as fallout from his actions): it emboldened Saddam Hussein to resist any political solution, destroying any chance that there even could be a peaceful resolution of UN Resolution 1444. This is, I think, something that can be clearly laid at Chirac's door as the legacy of his short-sighted objections to the US policy towards Iraq in the wake of the post-11 Sep environment.

The attempt during the UN security council debates to build a counter-alliance with Russia, China, Germany and Belgium, as well as countries from Latin America and Africa was also unprecedented and correctly viewed by the US as a massive undermining of their position in trying to resolve the conflict with Iraq. Rather than show solidarity and also take responsibility for their own failures in the past (France was a major supplier to Iraq under Saddam Hussein and were active in the undermining of the sanctions), the French deliberately took the other side, perhaps not of being on the side of Saddam Hussein, but of being a belligerent neutral firmly opposed to whatever actions the US took.

This put France not in its traditional role of independent NATO partner, but put them instead in the camp that was opposed to the US exercise of power, a fundamental break with the long history and tradition of US-French relations.

Bluntly, this has been the greatest failure of any European president since Suez.

But it didn't stop there. Chirac never viewed European unity as a proponent for European unity as an end in itself, but much more as a nationalist politician seeking to create the best possible result for France, even at the cost of other European countries more dedicated to European unity than he. The abject failure of the European constitution in France, voted down by a solid majority, despite the advantages for France in a Europe unified under the draft constitution, underscored the contradictions that the people saw in Chirac: trumpeting European unity while ensuring that France was primes inter pares.

In terms of military affairs, Chirac will probably be remembered best by his call, in January 2006, for the French use of nuclear weapons if France and French interests are attacked. He did transform the French military from a draftee army to a professional, modern army, but he also ordered the testing of new nuclear warhead designs, despite world-wide protests, and elevated the Force de Frappe (the nuclear forces of France) to a much higher status than they had with the collapse of the Soviets.

Domestically, Chirac wouldn't have been President without Le Pen, whose surprisingly strong election results led to Chirac's success. Chirac has significant problems with corruption, dating from his time as the mayor of Paris, and this remains unresolved. Chirac is, fundamentally, extremely judgemental and identifies with a radical nationalist proto-socialism that he learned from his grandfather, rejecting free trade and globalism, but at the same time having no trouble whatsoever of being friendly with despots and dictators whilst showing distain for democratization and liberalization of the Third World. Chirac operates very much within the French elitist tradition and a deeply troubling cultural pessimism that shows at its core uncertainty about the universality of Western values.

The next president of France will have his or her hands full in cleaning up after Chirac. He will be remembered by history as one of the greatest catastrophes in French politics.

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