Commentary Magazine


Topic: Jacques Chirac

Le Pen’s National Front and the Anti-Zionist Party

Marine Le Pen took over the party leadership of the xenophobic, far-right National Front Party this week. The Wall Street Journal noted that “Ms. Le Pen on Sunday became the party’s second leader since it was formed 38 years ago by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, and immediately promised to oppose immigration and globalization, as well as seize back powers from the European Union.”

The National Front has been, without question, a political force to be reckoned with during election cycles in France. In 2002, it defeated the French Socialists and forced a run-off election with former president Jacques Chirac. French analysts chalked up the dramatic National Front election results to a kind of infantile protest vote against the mainstream parties. In short, a post-adolescent French outburst of political disaffection but not a real flirting with French Vichy-style neo- fascism. Chirac went on to soundly prevail over the National Front.

According to a recent French poll, however, the National Front has secured 12 percent of the electorate’s support. Jean-Marie Le Pen is notorious for his statements that contain elements of Holocaust denial and crudely playing down the severity of the Holocaust, terming it a mere “detail” of history.

One “detail” that the mainstream media did not report on this week is the alliance between the National Front and those Frenchmen and Frenchwomen who loathe Israel and want to abolish the Jewish state. During the 2009 European Union parliamentary elections, the French entertainer and comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala formed the Anti-Zionist Party. He was deadly serious about his party’s aims and  has over the years been engulfed in anti-Semitic scandals.

Dieudonne’s political bedfellow at the time was the National Front. (Le Pen is purportedly the godfather of Dieudonne ‘s daughter.) What unifies Le Pen and Dieudonne, himself the son an immigrant from Cameroon, and figures from the left, such as ex-Communist Alain Soral and former Green Party member Ginette Skandrani, is hatred of Israel. It should also be noted that Yahia Gouasmi, head of the Zahra Center in Paris, which is affiliated with Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran, was a candidate on the Anti-Zionist party.

(Not unrelated: Hezbollah enjoys wide organizational latitude in France. Germany also recognizes Hezbollah as a legal political entity, and there are 900 active members in the Federal Republic.)

In 2009, the Anti-Zionist Party platform called for an end to “Zionist interference in the nation’s public affairs,” as well as a rebuke of “politicians who apologize for Zionism.” The radical anti-Israeli party demands that France “free our state, our government, our institutions from the possession and pressure of Zionist organizations; eradicate all forms of Zionism in the nation” and “prevent enterprises and institutions from contributing to the war efforts of a foreign nation, which does not respect International Law.”

With French President Nicholas Sarkozy faltering in the polls and his Socialist opposition still seen as floundering, a repeat of the National Front’s coup of making it to the second round of the next presidential election is not out of the question. This formal alliance with the Anti-Zionist Party makes such a development even more ominous.

Marine Le Pen took over the party leadership of the xenophobic, far-right National Front Party this week. The Wall Street Journal noted that “Ms. Le Pen on Sunday became the party’s second leader since it was formed 38 years ago by her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, and immediately promised to oppose immigration and globalization, as well as seize back powers from the European Union.”

The National Front has been, without question, a political force to be reckoned with during election cycles in France. In 2002, it defeated the French Socialists and forced a run-off election with former president Jacques Chirac. French analysts chalked up the dramatic National Front election results to a kind of infantile protest vote against the mainstream parties. In short, a post-adolescent French outburst of political disaffection but not a real flirting with French Vichy-style neo- fascism. Chirac went on to soundly prevail over the National Front.

According to a recent French poll, however, the National Front has secured 12 percent of the electorate’s support. Jean-Marie Le Pen is notorious for his statements that contain elements of Holocaust denial and crudely playing down the severity of the Holocaust, terming it a mere “detail” of history.

One “detail” that the mainstream media did not report on this week is the alliance between the National Front and those Frenchmen and Frenchwomen who loathe Israel and want to abolish the Jewish state. During the 2009 European Union parliamentary elections, the French entertainer and comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala formed the Anti-Zionist Party. He was deadly serious about his party’s aims and  has over the years been engulfed in anti-Semitic scandals.

Dieudonne’s political bedfellow at the time was the National Front. (Le Pen is purportedly the godfather of Dieudonne ‘s daughter.) What unifies Le Pen and Dieudonne, himself the son an immigrant from Cameroon, and figures from the left, such as ex-Communist Alain Soral and former Green Party member Ginette Skandrani, is hatred of Israel. It should also be noted that Yahia Gouasmi, head of the Zahra Center in Paris, which is affiliated with Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran, was a candidate on the Anti-Zionist party.

(Not unrelated: Hezbollah enjoys wide organizational latitude in France. Germany also recognizes Hezbollah as a legal political entity, and there are 900 active members in the Federal Republic.)

In 2009, the Anti-Zionist Party platform called for an end to “Zionist interference in the nation’s public affairs,” as well as a rebuke of “politicians who apologize for Zionism.” The radical anti-Israeli party demands that France “free our state, our government, our institutions from the possession and pressure of Zionist organizations; eradicate all forms of Zionism in the nation” and “prevent enterprises and institutions from contributing to the war efforts of a foreign nation, which does not respect International Law.”

With French President Nicholas Sarkozy faltering in the polls and his Socialist opposition still seen as floundering, a repeat of the National Front’s coup of making it to the second round of the next presidential election is not out of the question. This formal alliance with the Anti-Zionist Party makes such a development even more ominous.

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The Times They Are a-Changin’

The Financial Times published a piece, “Don’t Be So Sure Invading Iraq Was Immoral,” written by Professor Nigel Biggar of Oxford, a leading theologian and moral philosopher. According to Professor Biggar:

The decisive issue in evaluating the Iraq invasion is not whether it was morally flawed or disproportionate or illegal, but whether it was really necessary to stop or prevent a sufficiently great evil.

No one disputes that Saddam Hussein’s regime was grossly atrocious. In 1988 it used chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians in what, according to Human Rights Watch, amounted to genocide; and from 1988 to 2003 it murdered at least 400,000 of its own people. Critics of the invasion would presumably not tolerate such a regime in their own backyard; and an effective international policing authority would have changed it. Is the coalition to be condemned for filling the vacuum? Yes, there have been similar vacuums that it (and others) have failed to fill – Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Darfur. But is it not better to be inconsistently responsible than

consistently irresponsible?

Now add the concern about weapons of mass destruction. This was sufficiently grave to rouse the UN to litter the period 1991-2003 with 17 resolutions calling on Saddam to disarm permanently. Given the shocking discovery in the mid-1990s of Iraq’s success in enriching uranium and coming within 24 months of nuclear armament, and given the regime’s persistent flouting of the UN’s will, there was good reason to withhold benefit of doubt and to suppose that it was developing WMDs. It was not just Messrs Bush and Blair who supposed this. So did Jacques Chirac, then French president, and Hans Blix, the UN’s chief weapons inspector.

We now know this reasonable supposition was mistaken and that the problem was less urgent than it appeared. But it was still urgent. Saddam was intent on acquiring nuclear weapons and support for containment was dissolving. David Kelly, Britain ’s chief expert on Iraqi WMDs, famous for being driven to commit suicide, is less famous for being convinced that the problem’s only lasting solution was regime-change.

Maybe critics of the war view with equanimity what might have happened without the 2003 invasion, trusting that the secular rationality of Realpolitik would have prevented the rivalry between Iraq’s atrocious Saddam and Iran’s millenarian Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad from turning catastrophically nuclear. In this age of suicide bombers, however, such faith is hard to credit.

Well said. And that it was said is further evidence, I think, that we are seeing a climate change when it comes to the debate about the Iraq war.

The Financial Times published a piece, “Don’t Be So Sure Invading Iraq Was Immoral,” written by Professor Nigel Biggar of Oxford, a leading theologian and moral philosopher. According to Professor Biggar:

The decisive issue in evaluating the Iraq invasion is not whether it was morally flawed or disproportionate or illegal, but whether it was really necessary to stop or prevent a sufficiently great evil.

No one disputes that Saddam Hussein’s regime was grossly atrocious. In 1988 it used chemical weapons against Kurdish civilians in what, according to Human Rights Watch, amounted to genocide; and from 1988 to 2003 it murdered at least 400,000 of its own people. Critics of the invasion would presumably not tolerate such a regime in their own backyard; and an effective international policing authority would have changed it. Is the coalition to be condemned for filling the vacuum? Yes, there have been similar vacuums that it (and others) have failed to fill – Rwanda, Zimbabwe, Darfur. But is it not better to be inconsistently responsible than

consistently irresponsible?

Now add the concern about weapons of mass destruction. This was sufficiently grave to rouse the UN to litter the period 1991-2003 with 17 resolutions calling on Saddam to disarm permanently. Given the shocking discovery in the mid-1990s of Iraq’s success in enriching uranium and coming within 24 months of nuclear armament, and given the regime’s persistent flouting of the UN’s will, there was good reason to withhold benefit of doubt and to suppose that it was developing WMDs. It was not just Messrs Bush and Blair who supposed this. So did Jacques Chirac, then French president, and Hans Blix, the UN’s chief weapons inspector.

We now know this reasonable supposition was mistaken and that the problem was less urgent than it appeared. But it was still urgent. Saddam was intent on acquiring nuclear weapons and support for containment was dissolving. David Kelly, Britain ’s chief expert on Iraqi WMDs, famous for being driven to commit suicide, is less famous for being convinced that the problem’s only lasting solution was regime-change.

Maybe critics of the war view with equanimity what might have happened without the 2003 invasion, trusting that the secular rationality of Realpolitik would have prevented the rivalry between Iraq’s atrocious Saddam and Iran’s millenarian Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad from turning catastrophically nuclear. In this age of suicide bombers, however, such faith is hard to credit.

Well said. And that it was said is further evidence, I think, that we are seeing a climate change when it comes to the debate about the Iraq war.

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Assad Returns as the Strong Horse

As Jonathan noted yesterday, Lebanese Prime Minster Saad Hariri just spent two days with Syrian strongman Bashar Assad in Damascus, and you’d think from reading the wire reports that Lebanon and Syria had re-established normal relations after a rough patch. That’s how it’s being reported, but it’s nonsense. Hariri went to Damascus with Hezbollah’s bayonet in his back.

Assad’s regime assassinated Saad Hariri’s father, Rafik, in 2005 for just gingerly opposing Syria’s occupation of Lebanon. There is no alternate universe where Saad Hariri is OK with this or where his generically “positive” statements at a press conference were anything other than forced.

I was invited to dinner at Hariri’s house earlier this year and had a long and frank discussion about politics with him and some colleagues. I can’t quote him because the meeting was off the record, but trust me: the man is no friend of the Syrian government or Hezbollah, and it’s not just because someone in that crowd killed his father. His political party, the Future Movement, champions liberalism and capitalism, the very antithesis of what is imposed in Syria by Assad’s Arab Socialist Baath party regime and the totalitarian Velayat-e Faqih ideology enforced by the Khomeinists in Iran and in the Hezbollah-occupied regions of Lebanon.

Hezbollah and its sponsors in Tehran and Damascus have forced Hariri to do a number of things lately — to give it veto power in his government’s cabinet and to surrender to its continuing existence as a warmongering militia that threatens to blow up the country again by picking fights with the Israelis. Read More

As Jonathan noted yesterday, Lebanese Prime Minster Saad Hariri just spent two days with Syrian strongman Bashar Assad in Damascus, and you’d think from reading the wire reports that Lebanon and Syria had re-established normal relations after a rough patch. That’s how it’s being reported, but it’s nonsense. Hariri went to Damascus with Hezbollah’s bayonet in his back.

Assad’s regime assassinated Saad Hariri’s father, Rafik, in 2005 for just gingerly opposing Syria’s occupation of Lebanon. There is no alternate universe where Saad Hariri is OK with this or where his generically “positive” statements at a press conference were anything other than forced.

I was invited to dinner at Hariri’s house earlier this year and had a long and frank discussion about politics with him and some colleagues. I can’t quote him because the meeting was off the record, but trust me: the man is no friend of the Syrian government or Hezbollah, and it’s not just because someone in that crowd killed his father. His political party, the Future Movement, champions liberalism and capitalism, the very antithesis of what is imposed in Syria by Assad’s Arab Socialist Baath party regime and the totalitarian Velayat-e Faqih ideology enforced by the Khomeinists in Iran and in the Hezbollah-occupied regions of Lebanon.

Hezbollah and its sponsors in Tehran and Damascus have forced Hariri to do a number of things lately — to give it veto power in his government’s cabinet and to surrender to its continuing existence as a warmongering militia that threatens to blow up the country again by picking fights with the Israelis.

Hariri and his allies in parliament resisted an extraordinary amount of pressure on these points for months before caving in, but cave in they did. They didn’t have much choice. The national army isn’t strong enough to disarm Hezbollah, and unlike Iran’s tyrant Ali Khamenei, Hariri doesn’t have his own private army. Hezbollah militiamen surrounded his house last year and firebombed his TV station when the government shut down its illegal surveillance system at the airport. At the end of the day, Hariri has to do what Hezbollah and its friends say unless someone with a bigger stick covers his back when push comes to shove.

No one has Hariri’s or Lebanon’s back, not anymore. He and his allies in the “March 14″ coalition have sensed this for some time, which is why Druze leader Walid Jumblatt has grudgingly softened his opposition to Assad and Hezbollah lately. When Hariri went to Damascus, everyone in the country, aside from useless newswire reporters, understood it meant Syria has re-emerged as the strong horse in Lebanon.

Walid Jumblatt is another member of what David Schenker calls the Murdered Fathers Club. Assad’s ruthless late father, Hafez Assad, put Jumblatt through a similarly gruesome experience back in the 70s during the civil war. First Assad murdered Walid’s father, Kamal, then summoned the surviving Jumblatt to Damascus and forced him to shake hands and pledge his allegiance. Who can even imagine what that must have felt like? Hariri knows now, and Jumblatt still tells everyone he meets all about it.

Hariri generally doesn’t like having long conversations with journalists on the record because he doesn’t want to calculate how everything he says will be simultaneously interpreted in Lebanon, Syria, Iran, Israel, the United States, France, and Saudi Arabia. I can’t say I blame him. He lives under virtual house arrest as it is, with barely more freedom of movement than Hassan Nasrallah. Here is something he said, though, back when it was safer for him to do so: “Action must be taken against Syria, like isolation, to make the Syrians understand that killing members of [Lebanon's] parliament will have consequences.”

The U.S. and France did effectively isolate Assad with Saudi assistance when George W. Bush and Jacques Chirac were in charge, but presidents Barack Obama and Nicolas Sarkozy think they can save the Middle East by “engaging” its most toxic leaders. Syria, therefore, is no longer isolated. Lebanon’s little anti-Syrian government doesn’t stand a chance under these circumstances, especially not when Hezbollah is the dominant military power in the country.

“It’s a dangerous game these people are playing,” Lebanese activist and political analyst Eli Khoury said last time I spoke with him in Beirut, “but I think it’s only a matter of time until the newcomers burn their fingers with the same realities that we’ve seen over and over again. I’ve seen every strategy: Kissinger’s step-by-step approach, full engagement — which means sleeping with the enemy, basically — and the solid stand as with the Bush Administration. I’ve seen them all. The only one that works so far in my opinion, aside from some real stupid and dumb mistakes, is the severing of relationships. It made the Syrians behave.”

It did make the Syrians behave a bit for a while, but now the U.S., France, and Saudi Arabia are bringing Assad in from the cold and giving him cocoa. His influence, naturally, is rising again, in Lebanon and everywhere else. That’s good news for Hezbollah, of course, which means it’s also good news for Iran. It’s bad news for the Lebanese, the Americans, the French, the Saudis, and the Israelis. None of this was inevitable, but — in Lebanon, at least — it was predictable.

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Damascus Reverts to Form

Well, that didn’t last long. Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad announced he would resume peace negotiations with Israel without preconditions, but now he suddenly says it’s impossible. “What we lack is an Israeli partner,” he said, “who is ready to go forward and ready to come to a result.”

As an absolute dictator and a state sponsor of terrorism, Assad is in no position to boohoo about how the region’s only mature liberal democracy supposedly isn’t a peace partner — but he wouldn’t do this if he didn’t think he could get away with it. If even the United States, of all countries, is behaving as though Israel were the problem, why shouldn’t he play along?

In a different historical context, it might be amusing, as Baghdad Bob’s alternate-universe pronouncements were, to listen to the tyrannical Assad talk as though he’s the Syrian equivalent of Israel’s dovish Shimon Peres, while the elected Israeli prime minister is a Jewish Yasir Arafat. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, though, is acting as though the first part were true.

Sarkozy is working hard to boost France’s influence in the Middle East by carving out a role for himself as a mediator between Israelis and Arabs. When Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that they would hold talks, they did it through him. And this weekend Sarkozy offered to host Assad, Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a summit in Paris. He can’t host any such thing, however, if the belligerents on the Arab side are shut out. So Assad has to be brought in from the cold, whether he’s earned it or not.

He hasn’t. And now that his reputation is getting an undeserved scrubbing, brace yourself for the worst sort of passive-aggressive Orwellian grandstanding. Read More

Well, that didn’t last long. Last week, Syrian President Bashar Assad announced he would resume peace negotiations with Israel without preconditions, but now he suddenly says it’s impossible. “What we lack is an Israeli partner,” he said, “who is ready to go forward and ready to come to a result.”

As an absolute dictator and a state sponsor of terrorism, Assad is in no position to boohoo about how the region’s only mature liberal democracy supposedly isn’t a peace partner — but he wouldn’t do this if he didn’t think he could get away with it. If even the United States, of all countries, is behaving as though Israel were the problem, why shouldn’t he play along?

In a different historical context, it might be amusing, as Baghdad Bob’s alternate-universe pronouncements were, to listen to the tyrannical Assad talk as though he’s the Syrian equivalent of Israel’s dovish Shimon Peres, while the elected Israeli prime minister is a Jewish Yasir Arafat. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, though, is acting as though the first part were true.

Sarkozy is working hard to boost France’s influence in the Middle East by carving out a role for himself as a mediator between Israelis and Arabs. When Assad and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that they would hold talks, they did it through him. And this weekend Sarkozy offered to host Assad, Netanyahu, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a summit in Paris. He can’t host any such thing, however, if the belligerents on the Arab side are shut out. So Assad has to be brought in from the cold, whether he’s earned it or not.

He hasn’t. And now that his reputation is getting an undeserved scrubbing, brace yourself for the worst sort of passive-aggressive Orwellian grandstanding.

“What Obama said about peace was a good thing,” he said. “We agree with him on the principles, but as I said, what’s the action plan? The sponsor has to draw up an action plan.”

Notice what he’s done here? He’s portraying himself as though not only Netanyahu but also Barack Obama were less interested in peace than he is. It should be obvious, though, that Assad isn’t serious. He supports terrorist organizations that kill Americans, Israelis, Iraqis, and Lebanese — not exactly the sort of behavior one associates with leaders who agree with Barack Obama “on the principles.” Yet he’s blaming the United States for his own roguish behavior, because the U.S. does not have an “action plan.”

“Assad said that while relations with the United States had improved,” Reuters reports, “issues such as continued U.S. sanctions against Syria were hindering any joint work towards peace in the Middle East.” Got that? If the United States doesn’t drop sanctions against Syria, Assad will continue burning the Middle East with terrorist proxies.

“The Syrian regime is temperamentally incapable of issuing a statement that doesn’t sound like a threat,” Lee Smith noted last week in the Weekly Standard. Assad sure knows how to say it, though. It’s rather extraordinary that he can actually threaten to murder people in so many countries while sounding as if he were asking why we all can’t just get along. At least Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s bigoted and hysterical fulminations are honestly hostile. We best get used to Assad’s act, though, unless and until Obama and Sarkozy realize there’s nothing to be gained from politely “engaging” this man.

Assad backs terrorists and thugs who have killed Lebanon’s former prime minister, members of Lebanon’s parliament, American soldiers, and civilians as well as soldiers in Iraq and in Israel – all acts of war. Say what you will about former French President Jacques Chirac. Unlike with the generally improved Sarkozy, Chirac’s relationship with Syria’s fascist and terrorist government was appropriately terrible.

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Putin’s Poodle

Just when you thought that the behavior of Jacques Chirac–the former French president widely suspected of corruption who has never met a Third World despot he didn’t like–couldn’t get any more loathsome, now comes this bit of news. Chirac has been singing the praises of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, whose prime achievement as president was to destroy the vestiges of democracy bequeathed to him by Boris Yeltsin. From the New York Times:

On Friday, Mr. Putin smiled benignly as Mr. Chirac expressed his “very deep friendship” for him and said, “My esteem comes from the remarkable manner in which you governed Russia.”

He grouped the time Mr. Putin was prime minister under Boris Yeltsin with his two presidential terms, saying, “These 10 years have been, unquestionably, great years for Russia.”

One wonders if this is a job application. The Putin machine has already hired one out-of-office European leader-former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Perhaps Chirac would like to get on the gravy train too, assuming he isn’t already (which, for all I know, he may be).

Just when you thought that the behavior of Jacques Chirac–the former French president widely suspected of corruption who has never met a Third World despot he didn’t like–couldn’t get any more loathsome, now comes this bit of news. Chirac has been singing the praises of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, whose prime achievement as president was to destroy the vestiges of democracy bequeathed to him by Boris Yeltsin. From the New York Times:

On Friday, Mr. Putin smiled benignly as Mr. Chirac expressed his “very deep friendship” for him and said, “My esteem comes from the remarkable manner in which you governed Russia.”

He grouped the time Mr. Putin was prime minister under Boris Yeltsin with his two presidential terms, saying, “These 10 years have been, unquestionably, great years for Russia.”

One wonders if this is a job application. The Putin machine has already hired one out-of-office European leader-former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. Perhaps Chirac would like to get on the gravy train too, assuming he isn’t already (which, for all I know, he may be).

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Nicolas Sarkozy, Judeophile

Have you heard what the French President has been saying lately?

On Wednesday, he declared that “I won’t shake hands with people who refuse to recognize Israel,” a snub directed at Muslim leaders. On the same day he warned that France may join the U.S. and Canada in boycotting the UN’s anti-Israel hatefest (known officially as an “anti-racism conference”) in Durban, South Africa: “France will not allow a repetition of the excesses and abuses of 2001.”

He has pledged to attend Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations in May, and after the recent suicide bombing in Dimona, sent a condolence letter to Shimon Peres in which he went out of his way to declare that he will always stand with Israel against terrorism.

His rhetoric on Iran of late has surpassed President Bush’s in its spirit of determination: “Proliferation is a grave threat to international security. We cannot sit by and do nothing while Iran develops technologies which are in violation of international law.”

Sarkozy made some of the above comments at the annual dinner of the CRIF, the umbrella organization of the French Jewish community — it was the first time a French president had ever attended.

And there’s more. The opening paragraph of a New York Times story today reads:

President Nicolas Sarkozy dropped an intellectual bombshell this week, surprising the nation and touching off waves of protest with his revision of the school curriculum: beginning next fall, he said, every fifth grader will have to learn the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

All of this is the opposite of his predecessor’s approach, which involved a meticulous attention to detail when it came to denigrating and insulting the Jewish state. It was only a couple of years ago, two days into Israel’s war with Hezbollah, that Jacques Chirac sat in a garden in Paris and announced to the press that Israel’s opening salvos were “completely disproportionate” and added that “One could ask if today there is not a sort of will to destroy Lebanon.” Three days later he sent Dominique de Villepin on a solidarity mission to Beirut.

Chirac, though, was simply following tradition — French leaders have always held Israel in public contempt, such acts being viewed as necessary to earning an advantageous relationship with the Arab world (relations, it’s worth adding, that never worked out very well for France — what did Chirac and his predecessors ever get from their courtships of Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat, and Ayatollah Khomeini?).

There was only one period in history when France treated Israel with anything approaching Sarkozy’s benevolence, and that was during the ambassadorship of Pierre-Etienne Gilbert from 1953 to 1959. Gilbert was the first French diplomat who actually admired the Jewish state. During his time in Israel, he learned Hebrew and lobbied vigorously for a collaborative relationship between the two countries. After the 1956 Suez War, Gilbert helped push through the nuclear deal that supplied Israel with its reactor in Dimona. This brief window of good relations was slammed shut when De Gaulle returned from retirement in 1958 and quickly put French diplomacy back on its historic track, an official policy of obsequience to the Arab states.

In the run-up to the Six Day War, France embargoed arms sales to Israel, and during the war, counting on an Israeli defeat, De Gaulle told British Prime Minister Harold Wilson that eventually the West would thank him, as from then on France would “be the only Western power to have any influence with the Arab governments” — a remark that perfectly captures the central ambition of 200 years of French Middle East policy.

Until Sarkozy, that is.

Have you heard what the French President has been saying lately?

On Wednesday, he declared that “I won’t shake hands with people who refuse to recognize Israel,” a snub directed at Muslim leaders. On the same day he warned that France may join the U.S. and Canada in boycotting the UN’s anti-Israel hatefest (known officially as an “anti-racism conference”) in Durban, South Africa: “France will not allow a repetition of the excesses and abuses of 2001.”

He has pledged to attend Israel’s 60th anniversary celebrations in May, and after the recent suicide bombing in Dimona, sent a condolence letter to Shimon Peres in which he went out of his way to declare that he will always stand with Israel against terrorism.

His rhetoric on Iran of late has surpassed President Bush’s in its spirit of determination: “Proliferation is a grave threat to international security. We cannot sit by and do nothing while Iran develops technologies which are in violation of international law.”

Sarkozy made some of the above comments at the annual dinner of the CRIF, the umbrella organization of the French Jewish community — it was the first time a French president had ever attended.

And there’s more. The opening paragraph of a New York Times story today reads:

President Nicolas Sarkozy dropped an intellectual bombshell this week, surprising the nation and touching off waves of protest with his revision of the school curriculum: beginning next fall, he said, every fifth grader will have to learn the life story of one of the 11,000 French children killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

All of this is the opposite of his predecessor’s approach, which involved a meticulous attention to detail when it came to denigrating and insulting the Jewish state. It was only a couple of years ago, two days into Israel’s war with Hezbollah, that Jacques Chirac sat in a garden in Paris and announced to the press that Israel’s opening salvos were “completely disproportionate” and added that “One could ask if today there is not a sort of will to destroy Lebanon.” Three days later he sent Dominique de Villepin on a solidarity mission to Beirut.

Chirac, though, was simply following tradition — French leaders have always held Israel in public contempt, such acts being viewed as necessary to earning an advantageous relationship with the Arab world (relations, it’s worth adding, that never worked out very well for France — what did Chirac and his predecessors ever get from their courtships of Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat, and Ayatollah Khomeini?).

There was only one period in history when France treated Israel with anything approaching Sarkozy’s benevolence, and that was during the ambassadorship of Pierre-Etienne Gilbert from 1953 to 1959. Gilbert was the first French diplomat who actually admired the Jewish state. During his time in Israel, he learned Hebrew and lobbied vigorously for a collaborative relationship between the two countries. After the 1956 Suez War, Gilbert helped push through the nuclear deal that supplied Israel with its reactor in Dimona. This brief window of good relations was slammed shut when De Gaulle returned from retirement in 1958 and quickly put French diplomacy back on its historic track, an official policy of obsequience to the Arab states.

In the run-up to the Six Day War, France embargoed arms sales to Israel, and during the war, counting on an Israeli defeat, De Gaulle told British Prime Minister Harold Wilson that eventually the West would thank him, as from then on France would “be the only Western power to have any influence with the Arab governments” — a remark that perfectly captures the central ambition of 200 years of French Middle East policy.

Until Sarkozy, that is.

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Sarkozy Shows Us Up

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is showing up the United States, and not just because he has a far better looking girlfriend than any Commander-in-Chief of recent memory. In stark contrast to the uncharacteristically silent Bush administration, Jacques Chirac’s successor has demonstrated impressive toughness in addressing the deepening Lebanese presidential crisis, in which the Hezbollah-led opposition has blocked the parliamentary majority from electing a new president since pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud’s term officially ended in November.

While visiting Egypt earlier this week, Sarkozy announced that France would suspend contacts with Syria as punishment for Syria’s political interference in Lebanon. Sarkozy compounded this blow by prompting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to declare his support for Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora; Mubarak said that Egypt “supports the election of a president for Lebanon as soon as possible”—an implicit dig against the Assad regime. On Wednesday, Syria responded with a far-less-convincing suspension of contact with France, oddly conceding, “Syria can’t dispense with France’s role in Europe.”

The Bush administration has long seen itself as having few good options vis-à-vis Syria. Though Washington views Syria as a key player in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, it has been hesitant to normalize relations with Damascus while the U.N. probe into Rafik Hariri’s assassination—in which the Assad regime has been implicated—is ongoing. In short, the administration has correctly refused to exchange the pipedream of Arab-Israeli peace for Lebanese stability, to which the completion of the Hariri investigation is essential. But Sarkozy’s breaking of ties with Syria provides the Bush administration with a key opening through which it can promote another essential regional interest: prying Syria from Iran.

As Iranian state television reported on Wednesday, in the aftermath of soured Syrian-French relations, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem declared, “The pressures exerted by certain countries will never undermine the strong relations between Tehran and Damascus.” Au contraire! Only three days earlier, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly told U.S. Senator Arlen Specter that he was ready for peace talks with Israel, a move that would dampen Iranian-Syrian cooperation for years to come. With Sarkozy’s brilliant strike against Damascus, the Bush administration is now able to offer Assad a stark choice: normalization with western states that are broadly united on Lebanon and Arab-Israeli peace, or an isolated alliance with Iran. The former offers the political, strategic, and economic benefits of relations with the west and possible peace with Israel in accordance with Assad’s stated desires; the latter offers Syria’s continued confinement as a rogue state—a prospect made more costly by Sarkozy’s announcement. Most importantly, Lebanese stability—which has severe consequences for Arab democratization, Iranian ascendancy, Arab-Israeli peace—would no longer be on the table thanks to the leverage provided by Sarkozy’s move.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is showing up the United States, and not just because he has a far better looking girlfriend than any Commander-in-Chief of recent memory. In stark contrast to the uncharacteristically silent Bush administration, Jacques Chirac’s successor has demonstrated impressive toughness in addressing the deepening Lebanese presidential crisis, in which the Hezbollah-led opposition has blocked the parliamentary majority from electing a new president since pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud’s term officially ended in November.

While visiting Egypt earlier this week, Sarkozy announced that France would suspend contacts with Syria as punishment for Syria’s political interference in Lebanon. Sarkozy compounded this blow by prompting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to declare his support for Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora; Mubarak said that Egypt “supports the election of a president for Lebanon as soon as possible”—an implicit dig against the Assad regime. On Wednesday, Syria responded with a far-less-convincing suspension of contact with France, oddly conceding, “Syria can’t dispense with France’s role in Europe.”

The Bush administration has long seen itself as having few good options vis-à-vis Syria. Though Washington views Syria as a key player in resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict, it has been hesitant to normalize relations with Damascus while the U.N. probe into Rafik Hariri’s assassination—in which the Assad regime has been implicated—is ongoing. In short, the administration has correctly refused to exchange the pipedream of Arab-Israeli peace for Lebanese stability, to which the completion of the Hariri investigation is essential. But Sarkozy’s breaking of ties with Syria provides the Bush administration with a key opening through which it can promote another essential regional interest: prying Syria from Iran.

As Iranian state television reported on Wednesday, in the aftermath of soured Syrian-French relations, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem declared, “The pressures exerted by certain countries will never undermine the strong relations between Tehran and Damascus.” Au contraire! Only three days earlier, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly told U.S. Senator Arlen Specter that he was ready for peace talks with Israel, a move that would dampen Iranian-Syrian cooperation for years to come. With Sarkozy’s brilliant strike against Damascus, the Bush administration is now able to offer Assad a stark choice: normalization with western states that are broadly united on Lebanon and Arab-Israeli peace, or an isolated alliance with Iran. The former offers the political, strategic, and economic benefits of relations with the west and possible peace with Israel in accordance with Assad’s stated desires; the latter offers Syria’s continued confinement as a rogue state—a prospect made more costly by Sarkozy’s announcement. Most importantly, Lebanese stability—which has severe consequences for Arab democratization, Iranian ascendancy, Arab-Israeli peace—would no longer be on the table thanks to the leverage provided by Sarkozy’s move.

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Sarkozy & Syria

Syria’s role in the Middle East is far from constructive, to say the least. Jihadis en route to Iraq transit through Damascus international airport; Iranian weapons shipments to Hizballah go through Syria; Syria hosts Hamas and other radical Palestinian organizations; it co-sponsors Hizballah and has been busy destabilizing Lebanon since it had to precipitously leave the Land of the Cedars in 2005. Regardless, European foreign policy makers have been loath of cutting the Syrians off for a variety of reasons. Many EU capitals believe that Syria’s alliance with Iran is tactical and that Damascus can be persuaded to change course, provided the right incentives are on the table.

In recent months, however, it seemed that Nicolas Sarkozy was willing to reconsider the position that Jacques Chirac had taken on Syria. Sarkozy has now made it clear where France stands: he gave Assad plenty of time to show, through deeds, that Syria can play a positive role. Syria spoke peace aplenty but declined to match its words with deeds. And in consequence Syria now has France as a determined opponent, at the very least until Syria stops obstructing the election of a new Lebanese president.

Given this realization, it strikes me as odd that, at the very same time that Sarkozy told the Syrians off, a bipartisan congressional delegation emerged from a two-day visit to Damascus exuding optimism about peace and calling on “George W. Bush to be forthcoming in his dealings with Syria.” Republican Senator Arlen Specter and Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy spent only two days talking with Syrian oficials. France has spent a little longer monitoring their deeds. After so many years of wrongdoing, perhaps it’s time itinerant U.S. officials stop giving a free pass to one of the most radical state sponsors of terrorism in the region, whose role in every crisis in the area runs contrary to the interests and the values of the U.S.

Syria’s role in the Middle East is far from constructive, to say the least. Jihadis en route to Iraq transit through Damascus international airport; Iranian weapons shipments to Hizballah go through Syria; Syria hosts Hamas and other radical Palestinian organizations; it co-sponsors Hizballah and has been busy destabilizing Lebanon since it had to precipitously leave the Land of the Cedars in 2005. Regardless, European foreign policy makers have been loath of cutting the Syrians off for a variety of reasons. Many EU capitals believe that Syria’s alliance with Iran is tactical and that Damascus can be persuaded to change course, provided the right incentives are on the table.

In recent months, however, it seemed that Nicolas Sarkozy was willing to reconsider the position that Jacques Chirac had taken on Syria. Sarkozy has now made it clear where France stands: he gave Assad plenty of time to show, through deeds, that Syria can play a positive role. Syria spoke peace aplenty but declined to match its words with deeds. And in consequence Syria now has France as a determined opponent, at the very least until Syria stops obstructing the election of a new Lebanese president.

Given this realization, it strikes me as odd that, at the very same time that Sarkozy told the Syrians off, a bipartisan congressional delegation emerged from a two-day visit to Damascus exuding optimism about peace and calling on “George W. Bush to be forthcoming in his dealings with Syria.” Republican Senator Arlen Specter and Democratic Congressman Patrick Kennedy spent only two days talking with Syrian oficials. France has spent a little longer monitoring their deeds. After so many years of wrongdoing, perhaps it’s time itinerant U.S. officials stop giving a free pass to one of the most radical state sponsors of terrorism in the region, whose role in every crisis in the area runs contrary to the interests and the values of the U.S.

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Effete Europeans in Beijing

Today, European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson delivered a stinging rebuke to Beijing. “During the summer some Chinese officials pointed out that less than 1 percent of China’s exports to Europe had alleged health risks,” Mandelson noted in a speech in the Chinese capital. “But Europe imports half a billion euros worth of goods from China every day—so even 1 percent is not acceptable.” The trade commissioner then told Beijing that “consumer safety is a zero-compromise issue.” Vice Premier Wu Yi, China’s so-called Iron Lady, was angry as she spoke to reporters afterwards. “I am extremely dissatisfied,” she said.

Her boss, President Hu Jintao, was also reported to be a bit peeved today. He got rough treatment from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who lectured the autocrat to his face in public. Sarkozy covered, among other things, the value of China’s currency, intellectual property, and human rights. The Chinese undoubtedly are bewildered by today’s events—they have not seen Euros act like this since Tiananmen.

Mandelson’s address and Sarkozy’s criticism come on the eve of the 10th China-European Union summit. Despite the fact that Beijing just placed large orders with Airbus and France’s Areva, observers say that the discussions this week in the Chinese capital will be tense. “For Europe, the ‘China honeymoon’ is over,” writes David Shambaugh of George Washington University.

We may think that Europeans are effete and spineless, but when was the last time someone from the Bush administration publicly told the Chinese off in their own capital? American officials like to speak about working cooperatively with China to solve “concerns,” while the Europeans are venting frustrations after years of useless dialogue. The welcomed departures of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder mark a change of mood in the heart of the EU. Perhaps President Bush should now take his cue from the new version of Old Europe.

Today, European Union Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson delivered a stinging rebuke to Beijing. “During the summer some Chinese officials pointed out that less than 1 percent of China’s exports to Europe had alleged health risks,” Mandelson noted in a speech in the Chinese capital. “But Europe imports half a billion euros worth of goods from China every day—so even 1 percent is not acceptable.” The trade commissioner then told Beijing that “consumer safety is a zero-compromise issue.” Vice Premier Wu Yi, China’s so-called Iron Lady, was angry as she spoke to reporters afterwards. “I am extremely dissatisfied,” she said.

Her boss, President Hu Jintao, was also reported to be a bit peeved today. He got rough treatment from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who lectured the autocrat to his face in public. Sarkozy covered, among other things, the value of China’s currency, intellectual property, and human rights. The Chinese undoubtedly are bewildered by today’s events—they have not seen Euros act like this since Tiananmen.

Mandelson’s address and Sarkozy’s criticism come on the eve of the 10th China-European Union summit. Despite the fact that Beijing just placed large orders with Airbus and France’s Areva, observers say that the discussions this week in the Chinese capital will be tense. “For Europe, the ‘China honeymoon’ is over,” writes David Shambaugh of George Washington University.

We may think that Europeans are effete and spineless, but when was the last time someone from the Bush administration publicly told the Chinese off in their own capital? American officials like to speak about working cooperatively with China to solve “concerns,” while the Europeans are venting frustrations after years of useless dialogue. The welcomed departures of Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder mark a change of mood in the heart of the EU. Perhaps President Bush should now take his cue from the new version of Old Europe.

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Walt and Mearsheimer’s “Realism”

In the voluminous debate surrounding the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel Lobby book, there has been little engagement with the authors’ arguments purely from the perspective of foreign policy strategy. The authors believe that America would be wise to abandon the security architecture that has defined its policy in the Middle East for roughly the past forty years—that is, a dissolution of the alliance with Israel in exchange for policies tilted more favorably to the Arab states. They write, for example, that “Pro-Israel forces surely believe that they are promoting policies that serve the American as well as the Israel national interest. We disagree. Most of the policies they advocate are not in America’s or Israel’s interests and both countries would be better off if the United States adopted a different approach.”

This idea is presented as a novel one, but actually, it resembles the contours of American policy in the pre-1967 and -1973 war era. This was an era in which American indifference to Israel’s security, instead of producing harmony and goodwill in the region, encouraged war—not the kind of small skirmishes we see today between Israel and terrorist groups, but full-scale state vs. state conflicts. In the absence of a powerful foreign patron who guaranteed Israeli security, the Arab states were convinced that they could destroy the Jewish state, or at least that there wouldn’t be serious drawbacks in attempting to do so. Thus there were major wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973, and the latter sparked one of the most problematic Middle East-related crises America has ever confronted, in the form of the Arab oil embargo.

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In the voluminous debate surrounding the Walt-Mearsheimer Israel Lobby book, there has been little engagement with the authors’ arguments purely from the perspective of foreign policy strategy. The authors believe that America would be wise to abandon the security architecture that has defined its policy in the Middle East for roughly the past forty years—that is, a dissolution of the alliance with Israel in exchange for policies tilted more favorably to the Arab states. They write, for example, that “Pro-Israel forces surely believe that they are promoting policies that serve the American as well as the Israel national interest. We disagree. Most of the policies they advocate are not in America’s or Israel’s interests and both countries would be better off if the United States adopted a different approach.”

This idea is presented as a novel one, but actually, it resembles the contours of American policy in the pre-1967 and -1973 war era. This was an era in which American indifference to Israel’s security, instead of producing harmony and goodwill in the region, encouraged war—not the kind of small skirmishes we see today between Israel and terrorist groups, but full-scale state vs. state conflicts. In the absence of a powerful foreign patron who guaranteed Israeli security, the Arab states were convinced that they could destroy the Jewish state, or at least that there wouldn’t be serious drawbacks in attempting to do so. Thus there were major wars in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973, and the latter sparked one of the most problematic Middle East-related crises America has ever confronted, in the form of the Arab oil embargo.

Since the solidification of America’s alliance with Israel in the 1970′s, there has not been a single war between Israel and an Arab state—only “sub-conventional” conflicts with terror groups, such as the one we saw last summer in Lebanon, which have been far less destabilizing to the region. American military and diplomatic support have sent an unmistakable message to the Arab states: Stop launching wars to destroy Israel—they won’t work.

Fine, a skeptic might say—the U.S.-Israel alliance has promoted a certain kind of stability. But wouldn’t the U.S. derive other important benefits from a pro-Arab stance? Walt and Mearsheimer clearly believe this, but I don’t think there’s any evidence for the idea. Many western countries, France being the most prominent among them, have adopted, as central pillars of their foreign policies, favoritism toward the Arabs at the expense of Israel. These relationships, however, have been marked above all not just by their utter fruitlessness for the western states, but by the Arab betrayal of those states.

In pursuit of advantageous relationships with the Arab-Muslim world, France befriended (among others) three of the Middle East’s most consequential figures: Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khomeini, and Yasir Arafat. Along with arms sales and the provision of nuclear reactors, Jacques Chirac and other French leaders made a point of maintaining an extravagant friendship with the Iraqi dictator; Khomeini, after his expulsion from Iran in 1977, was provided a compound in suburban Paris from which to foment the Iranian revolution (and was flown to Tehran to assume power in 1979 in an Air France jet); and in ways large and small France promoted Arafat and the PLO (and even Black September) against Israel for decades.

It is no exaggeration to say that France’s Middle East politics are exemplary of the kind of foreign policy Walt and Mearsheimer claim will best serve American interests. But what, after all, did France gain for all its legendary favoritism toward the Arab world? Absolutely nothing—except, I suppose, revenue from arms sales during the Iran-Iraq war (overtly to Saddam Hussein and covertly to Khomeini). France, as with so many Western countries, has found it difficult to convince Middle East thugs to return its affections.

The same goes for the United States: after helping the mujahideen drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan, the U.S. gained the strange benefit of becoming its erstwhile allies’ next target. And the American-Saudi alliance, while providing the benefit of a certain level of oil security, carries with it immense costs in the form of Saudi Arabia’s project to export Islamic radicalism.

At its core, The Israel Lobby relies on a bizarre rendering of realist foreign policy, one that promotes an ahistoric theory of how stability is achieved in the Levant, and an equally ahistoric prediction of American benefits derived from alignment with the Middle East’s catalogue of gangsters, dictators, and Islamists. Walt and Mearsheimer advertise themselves above all as foreign policy scholars—but that, too, remains in serious doubt.

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Will the Real Sarkozy Please Stand Up

In his victory speech on election night this past May, Nicolas Sarkozy declared that under his reign, “the pride and the duty of France” will be on the side of “all those who are persecuted by tyranny and dictatorship.” Sarkozy appealed to “all those in the world who believe in the values of tolerance and democracy” to join him. Specifically, Sarkozy pledged, “France will be on the side of the locked-up nurses in Libya.” Whereas his predecessor Jacques Chirac acted out of delusions of grandeur, Sarkozy’s goal is to restore identity to a nation imbued with failure and doubt.

This week Sarkozy produced a “success,” bringing home the nurses. But aiding the persecuted should not entail paying off their persecutors. Sarkozy’s pledge became farce when Madame Sarkozy, followed by le président de la République himself, sat in Colonel Qaddafi’s tent, after which the Madame said that she and the Libyan dictator had built “a real relationship of trust.”

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In his victory speech on election night this past May, Nicolas Sarkozy declared that under his reign, “the pride and the duty of France” will be on the side of “all those who are persecuted by tyranny and dictatorship.” Sarkozy appealed to “all those in the world who believe in the values of tolerance and democracy” to join him. Specifically, Sarkozy pledged, “France will be on the side of the locked-up nurses in Libya.” Whereas his predecessor Jacques Chirac acted out of delusions of grandeur, Sarkozy’s goal is to restore identity to a nation imbued with failure and doubt.

This week Sarkozy produced a “success,” bringing home the nurses. But aiding the persecuted should not entail paying off their persecutors. Sarkozy’s pledge became farce when Madame Sarkozy, followed by le président de la République himself, sat in Colonel Qaddafi’s tent, after which the Madame said that she and the Libyan dictator had built “a real relationship of trust.”

But it was more than “trust” that convinced the Libyan to free his hostages. Qaddafi’s blackmail went something like this: in exchange for freeing the nurses, European countries would forgive $400 million of Libya’s foreign debt and allow Libya (Libya!) to host the next UN conference on racism. The parties also agreed to deepen Franco-Libyan relations to include a possible military-industrial partnership and, not least, contracts for French oil companies. (Compare this haggle to Natan Sharansky’s defiant crossing of the Glienicke Bridge into West Berlin.)

The cost, when viewed in the proper context, is very high: others (North Korea, but especially Iran) are surely watching. Even the impression of relenting to blackmail and terrorism is self-defeating. To be sure, this is a very bizarre affair with a long and twisted history, and Qaddafi, though truly a crackpot, did surrender his weapons of mass destruction to the United States. But even a little goodwill in the face of brutality can be perilous.

Sarkozy remains a mystery. He showed independence when he called Hizballah a “terrorist” organization, which of course it is, even though it is not classified as such by the European Union. And whereas Chirac blocked action on Darfur, Sarkozy is eager to stop genocide—in cooperation with the United States. Still, this week’s events suggest that Sarkozy is shirking his generation’s tasks: curbing nuclear proliferation abroad and, at home, overcoming the entrenched enarchs and ending their long collaboration with Islamism and terrorism.

Far from shaking up French foreign policy, Sarkozy’s actions this week were eerily reminiscent of Monsieur Chirac’s: Sarkozy cheered on Arab nuclear power while seeking conciliation and contracts from Arab regimes. (When asked to describe Chirac, the great British historian Paul Johnson responded: “Why are the French so notorious for shiftiness? Because there are plenty of Chiracs there.”) Yes, the world looks different from the Elysée than it did from the victory stage, but, by collaborating with tyrants and dictators, Sarkozy further degrades “the pride and the duty of France.”

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The Clearstream Affair

Dominique de Villepin, the former French prime minister, had some unusual visitors this week. Judges and police searched his Parisian apartment as part of their investigation into what is proving to be the biggest of the many political scandals of the Chirac era: the Clearstream affair.

According to Charles Bremner, writing today in the London Times, the investigating magistrates are close to bringing criminal charges against de Villepin. He is accused of conspiring with former President Jacques Chirac to smear Nicolas Sarkozy (then minister of the interior), thereby dashing the latter’s presidential hopes and clearing the way for de Villepin to succeed his patron, Jacques Chirac. Evidence has come to light of forged bank records purporting to prove that Sarkozy had accepted bribes in order to facilitate the sale of warships to Taiwan.

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Dominique de Villepin, the former French prime minister, had some unusual visitors this week. Judges and police searched his Parisian apartment as part of their investigation into what is proving to be the biggest of the many political scandals of the Chirac era: the Clearstream affair.

According to Charles Bremner, writing today in the London Times, the investigating magistrates are close to bringing criminal charges against de Villepin. He is accused of conspiring with former President Jacques Chirac to smear Nicolas Sarkozy (then minister of the interior), thereby dashing the latter’s presidential hopes and clearing the way for de Villepin to succeed his patron, Jacques Chirac. Evidence has come to light of forged bank records purporting to prove that Sarkozy had accepted bribes in order to facilitate the sale of warships to Taiwan.

The trail leads back via the computer files of a senior intelligence officer, General Philippe Rondot, to two conversations in May 2004 between de Villepin and a defense contractor, Jean-Louis Gregorin, who has already been charged with conspiracy. Apparently Gregorin told the general that he had “received instructions from Dominique de Villepin.” On another occasion, de Villepin “was apparently jubilant but also concerned not to have his name appear in the affair.” These notes look very much like the smoking gun that police were looking for.

They may yet catch an even bigger fish. Two weeks ago Chirac rejected a judicial summons to be interrogated about the Clearstream affair, on the grounds that he enjoys presidential immunity. But that defense may not be enough to protect him if it becomes clear that he, too, knew of and approved the plot to destroy Sarkozy’s reputation. There is no recent example of a French head of state being involved in such a serious criminal conspiracy—we have to go back to Marshal Pétain.

The leader of the Vichy regime was tried and convicted for his collaboration with the Nazis, though his death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by his successor, Charles de Gaulle. It is a piquant thought that President Sarkozy, the intended victim of the Clearstream affair, might one day find himself in a similar position of having to decide whether to show mercy toward his disgraced predecessor and rival. “Sarko” is unlikely to do anything to impede the inquiry, though: he simply needs to let justice take its course.

Besides the justice dispensed by the courts, there is also poetic justice in this belated comeuppance. The Chirac-Villepin duo did more damage to France’s standing in the world than even François Mitterrand and Valery Giscard d’Estaing, by offering political and financial aid to dictators and terrorists. So it is only right that the wheels of justice (having ground exceedingly slowly while they were in power) should now have overtaken them: it looks very much as if the nemesis of Chirac and de Villepin, who did so much to undermine the rule of law, will take a legal form. They truly have been hoist by their own petard.

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Tutoiement Partout

Tu or vous? Du or Sie? In English, the second person singular has long since ceased to be a source of political controversy—though in the days when Quakers insisted on calling their social superiors “Thee” and “Thou,” it mattered very much. In French and German, it still matters.

Newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy raised eyebrows in Berlin last week on his first official visit by presuming to tutoie Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor: “Chère Angela . . . J’ai confiance en toi.” (Dear Angela . . . I have confidence in you.) Frau Merkel, who addressed him as “Lieber Nicolas” (Dear Nicolas), responded with the formal Sie, at least in public. The French press noted the disparity and gently mocked Mr. Sarkozy—though not nearly as harshly as they did Tony Blair. Blair once dared to tutoie Jacques Chirac, who liked to stand on his dignity as a head of state, deserving deference from mere heads of government. The British prime minister was firmly put in his place. What sounded to British ears like Mr. Chirac’s pomposity was, however, approved of by the French. His Socialist predecessor François Mitterrand was once asked if he would mind if he were addressed as tu: “Si vous voulez” was his reply.

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Tu or vous? Du or Sie? In English, the second person singular has long since ceased to be a source of political controversy—though in the days when Quakers insisted on calling their social superiors “Thee” and “Thou,” it mattered very much. In French and German, it still matters.

Newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy raised eyebrows in Berlin last week on his first official visit by presuming to tutoie Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor: “Chère Angela . . . J’ai confiance en toi.” (Dear Angela . . . I have confidence in you.) Frau Merkel, who addressed him as “Lieber Nicolas” (Dear Nicolas), responded with the formal Sie, at least in public. The French press noted the disparity and gently mocked Mr. Sarkozy—though not nearly as harshly as they did Tony Blair. Blair once dared to tutoie Jacques Chirac, who liked to stand on his dignity as a head of state, deserving deference from mere heads of government. The British prime minister was firmly put in his place. What sounded to British ears like Mr. Chirac’s pomposity was, however, approved of by the French. His Socialist predecessor François Mitterrand was once asked if he would mind if he were addressed as tu: “Si vous voulez” was his reply.

But the proper use of tu and vous is complex. After the French Revolution, the distinction was abolished in the interests of egalité et fraternité. In 1793, the Directory even banned vous altogether. It did not take long, however, for the formal mode of address to make a comeback. In the sixth edition of the great dictionary of the Académie Française, published in 1835, the article on tu is quite explicit: “One does not normally use these pronouns . . . except when speaking to very inferior persons, or to those with whom one is on terms of very great familiarity.” The lexicographer notes various exceptions, including the poetic use of tu when addressing kings, princes, and even God. Foreigners, “particularly Orientals,” were sometimes made to use tu in literary texts “in order to preserve their alien character.” In all other contexts, vous is mandatory.

Now Mr. Sarkozy has decreed that French schools must insist on students saying vous to their teachers. Les profs are strongly advised to pay their older pupils the same compliment. This order represents a minor cultural counter-revolution, in line with the new president’s promise to “liquidate the legacy of May 1968, with its abandonment of moral codes.” But according to an excellent report by Charles Bremner in the London Times, the conservative French newspaper Le Figaro sees the “rampant tutoiement” as “spreading from the business world imitating the Anglo-Saxons and now invading private life.”

This is a bit rich: how often do you hear Americans or Britons say “thee” or “thou” to one another—unless they are performing Shakespeare? The truth is that the informal second person singular in English went out with the Victorians, except in poetry (and was considered old-fashioned even then). Blame for the triumph of tutoiement simply cannot be assigned to the Anglosphere. But you can’t keep the French from blaming everything they don’t like about themselves on “les Anglo-Saxons.”

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Nicolas Sarkozy

Next Sunday, France will hold its first round of balloting for a new president. This is the first of three posts on the leading candidates by the French editor and journalist Michel Gurfinkiel. A longer and more in-depth look by Gurfinkiel at the condition of present-day France will be coming out in the May issue of COMMENTARY.

Nicolas Sarkozy is the candidate for the presidency of France best known in America—and the most popular, since he is as pro-American and as knowledgeable in all things American as a French political leader can be. A short, thin man with an angular face, ribbed eyebrows, and big dark eyes, he looks a bit like a character in an El Greco painting. French cartoonists, however, tend to portray him as a turbulent, devilish little figure. In spite of being born and raised in the affluent West End of Paris, he speaks with a hoarse, almost working-class, accent. But his command of the French language and his talent as a debater are truly astounding: he was trained as a lawyer and graduated at the Paris Institute for Political Science. No less astounding is his meteoric political career: mayor of Neuilly, a posh suburb of Paris and one of the wealthiest townships of France, at twenty-eight; member of the National Assembly at thirty-three; budget minister at thirty-eight. Before the age of forty, he had achieved membership in the charmed circle of French political leaders thought to have un destin national—a real shot at the presidency, in American English.

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Next Sunday, France will hold its first round of balloting for a new president. This is the first of three posts on the leading candidates by the French editor and journalist Michel Gurfinkiel. A longer and more in-depth look by Gurfinkiel at the condition of present-day France will be coming out in the May issue of COMMENTARY.

Nicolas Sarkozy is the candidate for the presidency of France best known in America—and the most popular, since he is as pro-American and as knowledgeable in all things American as a French political leader can be. A short, thin man with an angular face, ribbed eyebrows, and big dark eyes, he looks a bit like a character in an El Greco painting. French cartoonists, however, tend to portray him as a turbulent, devilish little figure. In spite of being born and raised in the affluent West End of Paris, he speaks with a hoarse, almost working-class, accent. But his command of the French language and his talent as a debater are truly astounding: he was trained as a lawyer and graduated at the Paris Institute for Political Science. No less astounding is his meteoric political career: mayor of Neuilly, a posh suburb of Paris and one of the wealthiest townships of France, at twenty-eight; member of the National Assembly at thirty-three; budget minister at thirty-eight. Before the age of forty, he had achieved membership in the charmed circle of French political leaders thought to have un destin national—a real shot at the presidency, in American English.

But the closer he came to the inner core of French politics, the stranger he appeared. Sarkozy is best described, perhaps, as a neo-Frenchman: he is the son and the grandson of immigrants. His father, Pàl Sàrközy de Nagybocsa, was for years depicted as a Hungarian grandee, the “scion,” according to a Wikipedia profile probably written under his own supervision, “of an aristocratic family who owned lands and a castle in Alattyàn and a domain with 200 peasants.” In reality, he seems to have been a poor relation of the Alattyàn lords who somehow, after a number of unexplained vicissitudes, ended up after World War II in the French Foreign Legion. Honorably discharged in 1948, he soon married Andrée Mallah, a French girl of Salonikan-Jewish descent. Nicolas, born in 1955, was “baptized and confirmed as a Catholic.”

This is a rather convoluted pedigree, a far cry from what was until very recently the unwritten, unspoken, and yet inescapable prerequisite of a bid for the presidency: being connected from time immemorial with a French Christian family, or, at the very least, being the heir of some long-settled Christian or Jewish immigrant dynasty. As a matter of fact, Sarkozy’s swift ascent among French conservatives in the 1980’s and the 1990’s—he became the Gaullist party’s top boss in 1999—elicited many xenophobic and anti-Semitic reactions.

Then, in 2002, after Jacques Chirac’s reelection, the landscape suddenly changed. The Right’s dissatisfaction with Chirac—who was busy recasting himself, after his duel with Le Pen, as a left-of-center liberal—burgeoned explosively. Chirac loyalists countered by forming the UMP, the Union for a Progressive Majority. But their would-be champion, Alain Juppé, was indicted for minor financial crimes committed as Chirac’s former deputy in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, and barred from politics for three years. In the ensuing vaccum Sarkozy took Juppé’s putative place as the UMP’s favorite politician (having meanwhile secured for himself the long-coveted ministry of the interior). He became immensely popular, and immensely controversial, for his abandonment of politically correct rhetoric and for his handling of the riots in the Paris suburbs in 2005.

Although Sarkozy is seen in France as a rightist, his politics are—by American standards—only mildly conservative, with occasional liberal outbursts: somewhere between Britain’s Tony Blair and California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. He stands for law and order, an important concern in a crime-ridden country. He intends to curb illegal emigration and defend France’s “national identity” while at the same time favoring affirmative action for ethnic or racial minorities and providing French Muslims adequate mosques and other facilities. These are not just words: as minister of the interior, he promoted Muslim prefects (state commissioners) and organized a National Council of the Muslim Religion (since taken over by radical groups). Sarkozy also stands for lower taxes and a dismantling of the welfare state’s most rigid and costly provisions, although he dares not advocate, at least in public, outright elimination of the 35-hour work week. In international affairs, he opposes Turkey’s accession to the EU but would grant it the status of a “special partner.” To the dismay of many of his advisers, he quite openly supports the United States and Israel, his only concession being to state that Chirac was right to oppose the Iraq war.

For the past three years, Chirac loyalists have done their utmost to block Sarkozy’s rise. In 2005, they nearly succeeded: A new prime minister, Dominique de Villepin, suddenly overtook Sarkozy in approval ratings. In 2006, however, Villepin disintegrated almost overnight, because of an ill-conceived reform bill on juvenile employment and the “Clearstream affair,” an attempt to bring Sarkozy down through the publication of forged documents purporting to incriminate him in shady financial dealings (the matter is still awaiting judicial determination). All to no avail: on January 14 of this year, the UMP unanimously endorsed Sarkozy for president. The entire conservative camp had suddenly realized that it had to unite against a major threat: the socialist Ségolène Royal.

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Confusion at the Quai Branly

When the Quai Branly Museum in Paris opened last June, it was greeted with both acclaim and outrage. For the New York Times, it was nothing less than “an act of dissent that forces us to feel the world again.” Not since Herbert Muschamp called the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao “a shimmering, Looney tunes, post-industrial, post-everything burst of American optimism wrapped in titanium” has the Times been so effusive in its praise. For others, however, the Quai Branly was offensively patronizing, presenting its ethnographic collection as a kind of fictitious Dark Continent hidden within a “mock jungle.” Recently I was able to inspect it for myself.

The Quai Branly originated in 1995, when it was decided to consolidate several anthropological and ethnographic collections in Paris, including that of the recently-defunct Museum of African and Oceanic Arts. These collections had become controversial and were perceived as the spoils and trophies of colonialism. The project was given to the architect Jean Nouvel and endorsed by President Jacques Chirac, who, like so many French rulers, sought to leave his mark on Paris.

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When the Quai Branly Museum in Paris opened last June, it was greeted with both acclaim and outrage. For the New York Times, it was nothing less than “an act of dissent that forces us to feel the world again.” Not since Herbert Muschamp called the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao “a shimmering, Looney tunes, post-industrial, post-everything burst of American optimism wrapped in titanium” has the Times been so effusive in its praise. For others, however, the Quai Branly was offensively patronizing, presenting its ethnographic collection as a kind of fictitious Dark Continent hidden within a “mock jungle.” Recently I was able to inspect it for myself.

The Quai Branly originated in 1995, when it was decided to consolidate several anthropological and ethnographic collections in Paris, including that of the recently-defunct Museum of African and Oceanic Arts. These collections had become controversial and were perceived as the spoils and trophies of colonialism. The project was given to the architect Jean Nouvel and endorsed by President Jacques Chirac, who, like so many French rulers, sought to leave his mark on Paris.


Recognizing the non-Western origin of its collections, Nouvel set about designing a non-Western building. He quickly seized on the idea of the building as “a simple façade-less shelter in the middle of a wood:”

In a place inhabited by symbols of forests and rivers, by obsessions of death and oblivion, it is an asylum for censored and cast off works from Australia and the Americas. It is a loaded place haunted with dialogues between the ancestral spirits of men, who, in discovering their human condition, invented gods and beliefs. It is a place that is unique and strange, poetic and unsettling.

His museum is indeed unsettling. What strikes the viewer is its peculiar formlessness, which refuses to present a comprehensible shape or object to the eye. No facade and no surface are similar, and there is no place where one might stand and grasp it as totality. Borne aloft on a series of randomly-placed piers (which could be taken “for trees or totems,” Nouvel tells us), it forms a kind of wobbly trough, as if the spiral of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim had been laboriously uncoiled and pinned to a giant board. The experience inside is equally bewildering, free of all right angles and offering sumptuous free-form contours, clad in brown leather and squirming off into the dimly lit distance.

In the end, the problem with Nouvel’s building is not its anti-form ideology, which is hardly revolutionary at this late date (after all, the Pompidou Centre was built over thirty years ago). It is that he sought to make a non-Western museum for non-Western objects without fully recognizing that there is not one non-Western art, but many. (All that they have in common is the prefix non-.) And to be sure, he has made an ostentatious show of negation (no parallel lines, no palpable shapes, no uniform materials) without offering an affirmation of any sort.

This formal incoherence is of a piece with its museology. The great museum displays of the past were indeed condescending in their neat divisions between civilized and barbaric peoples, which produced, respectively, objects of aesthetic or of merely ethnographic interest. But they did produce systems of order, categorizing objects by their workmanship or function. The Quai Branly offers no such comprehensive taxonomy. Objects are sprinkled in loose clusters, with minimal explanatory material. The display is exquisite in the soft lighting and the aesthetic isolation of each object (no cumbersome taxonomy of axe-heads here), but instead of treating the object as an anthropological artifact it is now treated as a showpiece in a Tiffany’s window. It is not clear which is the more condescending.

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Val Goes Free

Contrary to popular belief, the French are not really respecters of persons. They like to scoff, and they are better at it than most people. Philippe Val is a good example. In his mid-fifties, he is an ex-singer, a film buff, and a self-professed anarcho-kook. Since 1992 he has been editing a weekly satirical magazine called Charlie Hebdo, which has a circulation of 100,000. A collection of his writings has been published under a title that tells its own story, and may be translated as Good Screwings with bin Laden.

Jyllands Posten, a Danish publication, was hardly more in the public eye than Charlie Hebdo when in 2005 it commissioned a dozen cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, and ran them. A Danish imam, an Islamist, saw his chance and raced around the Muslim Brotherhood cells in several Arab countries. Soon they had arranged demonstrations, the burning of the Danish embassy in Beirut, and the boycott of Danish exports like cheese and Legos. To its lasting disgrace, Carrefour, the French supermarket chain, made a point of advertising that it did not sell Danish products.

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Contrary to popular belief, the French are not really respecters of persons. They like to scoff, and they are better at it than most people. Philippe Val is a good example. In his mid-fifties, he is an ex-singer, a film buff, and a self-professed anarcho-kook. Since 1992 he has been editing a weekly satirical magazine called Charlie Hebdo, which has a circulation of 100,000. A collection of his writings has been published under a title that tells its own story, and may be translated as Good Screwings with bin Laden.

Jyllands Posten, a Danish publication, was hardly more in the public eye than Charlie Hebdo when in 2005 it commissioned a dozen cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, and ran them. A Danish imam, an Islamist, saw his chance and raced around the Muslim Brotherhood cells in several Arab countries. Soon they had arranged demonstrations, the burning of the Danish embassy in Beirut, and the boycott of Danish exports like cheese and Legos. To its lasting disgrace, Carrefour, the French supermarket chain, made a point of advertising that it did not sell Danish products.

Quite a number of public personalities who should have known better sided with the Islamists, and argued that the cartoons should have been banned. One particularly creepy apologist of censorship was the British foreign secretary, Jack Straw—and he in the chair of Canning and Palmerston. The French press, on the other hand, was rather robust. L’Express, the magazine once graced by Raymond Aron and Jean-Francois Revel, published all twelve cartoons. Val published only three, including the one showing the prophet’s turban as a fizzing bomb, and the one which has the prophet exclaiming, “It’s hard to be loved by idiots,” though the word used for idiot in French is rather rude. Special print runs followed, more than doubling Charlie Hebdo‘s circulation.

It is not clear why Charlie Hebdo and Val were prosecuted for “publicly abusing a group of people because of their religion” and L’Express was not. President Jacques Chirac wanted a trial, and seems to have pressured the Grand Mosque of Paris to bring a charge. The Grand Mosque comes under the umbrella of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF), which is itself under the thumb of the Muslim Brotherhood. Val claims that Dalil Boubakeur, the imam of the Grand Mosque (an Algerian originally and by all accounts a decent man) told him that he did not want to prosecute, but the authorities were eager to do so. Val thinks that Chirac is out to appease the Arabs, or maybe is just chasing commerce. At any rate, Chirac offered the UOIF the services of his personal lawyer, Francis Szpiner, who in court spouted a lot of nonsense about racism. A second lawyer for the prosecution had a name—Christophe Bigot—that a satirical magazine might have invented.

The three judges of the Paris tribunal were having none of it. Throwing the case out, they rendered a judgement that Le Monde approvingly called “a model of clarity.” The three cartoons were all fair comment. Gratuitous offence to Muslims would be objectionable, but there was none. The UOIF says that the verdict is “unsatisfactory,” and it will appeal. But in the city where Voltaire was once thrashed by a nobleman and then locked up, free speech is still safe.

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France’s “Grandeur”

In announcing that he would not seek a third term as France’s president, Jacques Chirac averred that he had devoted himself to “justice, progress, peace, and the grandeur of France.” The last of these desiderata sounds to foreign ears like a confession, but it was intended as a boast, and so apparently was it taken by his countrymen. The foreign policy of no other Western state is driven by such narcissism. Others might pursue their security or prosperity or their values, but only the French still feel their heart quicken at the thought of their own grandeur.

Many other national goals can be achieved at no one’s expense. The peace, prosperity, or liberty of one nation is ordinarily a boon to the peace, prosperity, or liberty of others. But grandeur is inherently comparative or invidious. It is a zero-sum game. And the quest for it tends to make French foreign policy mischievous and unprincipled.

Chirac’s model, Charles De Gaulle, withdrew France partially from NATO and declared that France’s nuclear weapons would be directed at “all azimuths.” This “third camp” stance served the French notion of grandeur, but it put a heavier burden on the other members of the Atlantic alliance to provide for collective security without France’s full cooperation (even though France continued to benefit fully from NATO’s protection).

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In announcing that he would not seek a third term as France’s president, Jacques Chirac averred that he had devoted himself to “justice, progress, peace, and the grandeur of France.” The last of these desiderata sounds to foreign ears like a confession, but it was intended as a boast, and so apparently was it taken by his countrymen. The foreign policy of no other Western state is driven by such narcissism. Others might pursue their security or prosperity or their values, but only the French still feel their heart quicken at the thought of their own grandeur.

Many other national goals can be achieved at no one’s expense. The peace, prosperity, or liberty of one nation is ordinarily a boon to the peace, prosperity, or liberty of others. But grandeur is inherently comparative or invidious. It is a zero-sum game. And the quest for it tends to make French foreign policy mischievous and unprincipled.

Chirac’s model, Charles De Gaulle, withdrew France partially from NATO and declared that France’s nuclear weapons would be directed at “all azimuths.” This “third camp” stance served the French notion of grandeur, but it put a heavier burden on the other members of the Atlantic alliance to provide for collective security without France’s full cooperation (even though France continued to benefit fully from NATO’s protection).

Chirac’s predecessor, François Mitterrand, made a dramatic flight into Sarajevo in 1992 while it was under siege and bombardment by Serbian ethnic cleansers. But this was just theater. France’s main goal in the Bosnian crisis was not to stop the killing but to keep NATO out, so that the American role in Europe might be reduced—in the interests of French grandeur. However many Bosnians might be sacrificed on this altar was of secondary concern.

Chirac has had a better record than his predecessors, cooperating with the U.S. on Kosovo, Lebanon, and recently on Iran. But his approach to Iraq, the Israel-Arab conflict, China, and other issues has been based on the pursuit of French grandeur rather than justice, prosperity, or peace.

France’s overweening amour-propre is especially troubling because of the nation’s seat on the UN Security Council. The theory behind the UN, as explained by Secretary of State Cordell Hull when it was being founded, was that “the four major powers will . . . consider themselves morally bound not to go to war . . . and to cooperate with each other . . . in maintaining the peace.” (The four powers were the U.S., the UK, the USSR, and China. France was subsequently added as a permanent member of the Security Council at the behest of Winston Churchill, in what amounted to the UN’s first act of affirmative action.)

The key phrase in Hull’s statement is “morally bound,” suggesting action based on something other than naked self-interest. Every state will put its own security first. But some interpret this in an enlightened way, leavened by a concern for the international commonweal. The U.S and the UK do so, but two other veto-wielding members of the Security Council, Russia and China, pursue national aggrandizement, pure and simple, constrained only by prudence. And France pursues its obsession with grandeur. This is the principal reason why the world body is such a hopeless failure.

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Lucie Aubrac’s Fictions

Lucie Aubrac has died at the age of 94. She certainly lived an adventure in World War II, but what sort of an adventure even now nobody can say with certainty. Perhaps she was a heroine who took part in armed struggle against the occupying Germans. That was her view of herself, as expressed in her 1993 autobiography Outwitting the Gestapo, and as shown in Claude Berri’s film Lucie Aubrac in 1997. President Jacques Chirac uttered what might be called the official eulogy for her, saying, “A light of the French resistance has been put out tonight. Lucie Aubrac embodied the commitment of women in the resistance.” The obituary in the Times of London took the story of her heroism at face value, with no mention at all that an alternative version ever existed.

Lucie and her husband Raymond Aubrac, both Communists, joined the resistance group known as Libération-sud in Lyons after the fall of France in 1940. In June 1943, leaders of the resistance met in a house in Caluire, a suburb of Lyons, in order to receive orders from Jean Moulin, parachuted in from London as the representative of General de Gaulle.

The Lyons Gestapo was headed at the time by Klaus Barbie, a hardline Nazi and a sadist who personally tortured his victims. He and a Gestapo detachment burst into the house at Caluire, arresting Jean Moulin and eight others, among them Raymond Aubrac. According to Lucie’s story, she then visited Barbie in his headquarters and persuaded him to let her see her husband. During a visit, she and Raymond planned his escape, which took place that October when Lucie led an ambush on the prison van escorting her husband and others to a different prison. Moulin died under Barbie’s torture without giving away any secrets.

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Lucie Aubrac has died at the age of 94. She certainly lived an adventure in World War II, but what sort of an adventure even now nobody can say with certainty. Perhaps she was a heroine who took part in armed struggle against the occupying Germans. That was her view of herself, as expressed in her 1993 autobiography Outwitting the Gestapo, and as shown in Claude Berri’s film Lucie Aubrac in 1997. President Jacques Chirac uttered what might be called the official eulogy for her, saying, “A light of the French resistance has been put out tonight. Lucie Aubrac embodied the commitment of women in the resistance.” The obituary in the Times of London took the story of her heroism at face value, with no mention at all that an alternative version ever existed.

Lucie and her husband Raymond Aubrac, both Communists, joined the resistance group known as Libération-sud in Lyons after the fall of France in 1940. In June 1943, leaders of the resistance met in a house in Caluire, a suburb of Lyons, in order to receive orders from Jean Moulin, parachuted in from London as the representative of General de Gaulle.

The Lyons Gestapo was headed at the time by Klaus Barbie, a hardline Nazi and a sadist who personally tortured his victims. He and a Gestapo detachment burst into the house at Caluire, arresting Jean Moulin and eight others, among them Raymond Aubrac. According to Lucie’s story, she then visited Barbie in his headquarters and persuaded him to let her see her husband. During a visit, she and Raymond planned his escape, which took place that October when Lucie led an ambush on the prison van escorting her husband and others to a different prison. Moulin died under Barbie’s torture without giving away any secrets.

How did the Gestapo know that Jean Moulin and the others were in that house in Caluire? That someone tipped them off has always been evident. Suspicion fell on the Aubracs, but in preliminary investigations they were cleared. They were also unpopular because of the zeal and frequency with which they had accused people, after the war, of collaboration with the Nazis.

And then Klaus Barbie was captured in Bolivia, and brought to trial in France. He declared that Lucie Aubrac had, in fact, tipped him off. Prisoners did not escape the Gestapo, he emphasized with authority, unless the Gestapo wanted them to escape.

The Aubracs then submitted the issue to a group of French historians led by Moulin’s former secretary and biographer, Daniel Cordier, a keeper of the flame of the resistance. This panel rejected the accusation of outright collaboration, but pointed out numerous inconsistencies and peculiarities in the Aubracs’ version of events. Cordier expressed “profound disappointment” and dismissed Lucie’s book as fiction. The British writer Patrick Marnham, in his book Jean Moulin, examines the evidence very thoroughly. The book’s brilliant ending reconstructs that moment in Caluire and the underlying motives for the betrayal. Marnham does not say so in so many words, but lets it be clearly understood that he too suspects the Aubracs.

How difficult and dangerous were those times! Equivocal behavior was indeed forced on many in the French resistance. The truth of what happened that day in Caluire will surely never be known, and certainly not from listening to Chirac or reading the Times.

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Why Chirac Won’t Need a Pardon

I see that commentators I respect, such as Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol, are calling for President Bush to pardon Scooter Libby. They make a very persuasive case, but I would be surprised if a presidential pardon is forthcoming—not, at any rate, until the legal process has run its full course. In an Anglo-Saxon democracy under the rule of law, it is always potentially damaging for a head of state to grant pardons, especially to friends, associates, or those who have served under him. Not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done.

In practice, this means that pardons are high-risk politics. The pardoning of Richard Nixon, however justifiable, severely damaged Gerald Ford politically. If Tony Blair were to be indicted for the “cash for honors” affair, he would have to resign; if he were convicted, he could expect no pardon. Even if the Queen were minded to grant him one, it would be political suicide for Blair’s successor to ask her for it.

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I see that commentators I respect, such as Charles Krauthammer and Bill Kristol, are calling for President Bush to pardon Scooter Libby. They make a very persuasive case, but I would be surprised if a presidential pardon is forthcoming—not, at any rate, until the legal process has run its full course. In an Anglo-Saxon democracy under the rule of law, it is always potentially damaging for a head of state to grant pardons, especially to friends, associates, or those who have served under him. Not only must justice be done, it must also be seen to be done.

In practice, this means that pardons are high-risk politics. The pardoning of Richard Nixon, however justifiable, severely damaged Gerald Ford politically. If Tony Blair were to be indicted for the “cash for honors” affair, he would have to resign; if he were convicted, he could expect no pardon. Even if the Queen were minded to grant him one, it would be political suicide for Blair’s successor to ask her for it.

In France, however, they do things differently. Compare the Libby case to that of Jacques Chirac. While in office, Mr. Chirac enjoys full presidential immunity. By announcing on Sunday that he would not seek re-election for a third term, the French president has, in theory, laid himself open to prosecution after he steps down in May. There may then be a brief window of opportunity during which the authorities could bring a case against the former president for any one of the dozens of corruption scandals that have tarnished his career ever since he was mayor of Paris in the 1980′s and 1990′s.

Chirac’s former prime minister, Alain Juppé, is only the most senior of several aides to have been convicted on serious charges. Last month Michel Roussin, Chirac’s chief of staff while he was mayor, had his appeal against a four-year suspended prison sentence quashed. Roussin, whom Chirac later promoted to minister, was convicted of running a six-year scam whereby politicians received kickbacks from public-school service contracts. The corruption that flourished under Chirac’s nose was on a huge scale, ranging from vote-rigging to putting hundreds of party cronies on the public payroll. There is plenty of evidence that Chirac enriched himself and his family, too, though he has always insisted that he was entitled to help himself to various slush funds.

None of these city-hall scandals, despite being public knowledge throughout his presidency, has deterred Chirac from provoking fresh accusations, notably over his connections with the regime of Saddam Hussein. And only last year he was implicated in the Clearstream affair, an attempt to smear his rival Nicolas Sarkozy.

It is true, however, that Mr. Chirac’s corruption scandals pale in comparison to those of his two immediate predecessors. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing notoriously accepted gifts of diamonds from the Central African Republic’s military dictator Jean-Bédel Bokassa, while François Mitterrand not only protected his cronies, like Maurice Papon, from their Vichy pasts, but was implicated in several murky deaths, including the dubious suicide of François de Grossouvre. Neither Giscard nor Mitterrand was ever brought to account.

Even so, it is interesting that Jacques Chirac feels confident that no charges against him will be brought once he leaves office. Could it have something to do with the fact that he recently appointed Laurent Le Mesle, his personal legal adviser, to the post of chief prosecutor in Paris? Presumably the president expects that Le Mesle can be relied upon to protect his patron. All the chief prosecutor has to do is to sit tight for one month after Mr. Chirac leaves the Elysée Palace in May. If this impending bill, aimed at writing into law the de facto immunity sitting French presidents enjoy, passes, any charges relating to crimes committed while Chirac was president would have to be brought against him by June, after which he will be immune from prosecution. No pardon, no embarrassment. The French political elite certainly knows how to look after its own. L’état, c’est moi—et la justice aussi.

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M. Chirac’s Retractions

The “united” Western position on Iran unraveled somewhat last week when French President Jacques Chirac told reporters that if Iran were to get one nuclear bomb and “maybe a second one a little later, well, that’s not very dangerous.” Should the Iranians try to use them, he continued, “Tehran will be razed.”

The uproar was dismissed by the Élysée Palace as a “shameful campaign” by American news outlets intent on “using any excuse to engage in France-bashing”—an absurd accusation given a Le Monde editorial titled “a radical turning” and accusing Chirac of destroying French credibility. So reporters were summoned for a “retraction” interview the next day—but Chirac’s only retraction was to regret any insult he might have given Iran. Three times he called the Islamic republic “a great country.” As for his comment that “Tehran will be razed” should it launch a nuclear weapon: “I retract it, of course.” So long, nuclear deterrence: the “essential foundation”—to quote Chirac in 2001—at the “heart of our country’s security.”

What Chirac did not retract was his statement that a nuclear-armed Iran is “not very dangerous.” Rather, he confirmed it with a long rant: “the moment [a bomb] was launched, obviously [it] would be destroyed immediately. We have the means—several countries have the means—to destroy a bomb once they see a bomb-carrying rocket launch.” In fact, no country has an effective, let alone fool-proof, anti-missile system. Chirac himself stated his absolute opposition to the limited missile defense endorsed by President Clinton in 2000 and to the national missile-defense program begun by President Bush in 2001.

Chirac’s fatuity, clichés, and lies are not exactly surprising. He long ago proved where his sympathies lie in these matters by calling Saddam Hussein a “dear friend” and genuflecting before Yasir Arafat’s corpse. Sadly, Chirac’s behavior is part of a long tradition of French indifference to, indeed collaboration with, terrorism and Islamism—brilliantly exposed in David Pryce-Jones’s new book Betrayal, an expansion of his recent COMMENTARY article “Jews, Arabs, and French Diplomacy.”

As if to perfect the farcical quality of this episode in the waning days of his presidency, Chirac dismissed Iran’s nuclear program as a distraction from what he called the truly pressing “current problem” facing the world: the environment.

The “united” Western position on Iran unraveled somewhat last week when French President Jacques Chirac told reporters that if Iran were to get one nuclear bomb and “maybe a second one a little later, well, that’s not very dangerous.” Should the Iranians try to use them, he continued, “Tehran will be razed.”

The uproar was dismissed by the Élysée Palace as a “shameful campaign” by American news outlets intent on “using any excuse to engage in France-bashing”—an absurd accusation given a Le Monde editorial titled “a radical turning” and accusing Chirac of destroying French credibility. So reporters were summoned for a “retraction” interview the next day—but Chirac’s only retraction was to regret any insult he might have given Iran. Three times he called the Islamic republic “a great country.” As for his comment that “Tehran will be razed” should it launch a nuclear weapon: “I retract it, of course.” So long, nuclear deterrence: the “essential foundation”—to quote Chirac in 2001—at the “heart of our country’s security.”

What Chirac did not retract was his statement that a nuclear-armed Iran is “not very dangerous.” Rather, he confirmed it with a long rant: “the moment [a bomb] was launched, obviously [it] would be destroyed immediately. We have the means—several countries have the means—to destroy a bomb once they see a bomb-carrying rocket launch.” In fact, no country has an effective, let alone fool-proof, anti-missile system. Chirac himself stated his absolute opposition to the limited missile defense endorsed by President Clinton in 2000 and to the national missile-defense program begun by President Bush in 2001.

Chirac’s fatuity, clichés, and lies are not exactly surprising. He long ago proved where his sympathies lie in these matters by calling Saddam Hussein a “dear friend” and genuflecting before Yasir Arafat’s corpse. Sadly, Chirac’s behavior is part of a long tradition of French indifference to, indeed collaboration with, terrorism and Islamism—brilliantly exposed in David Pryce-Jones’s new book Betrayal, an expansion of his recent COMMENTARY article “Jews, Arabs, and French Diplomacy.”

As if to perfect the farcical quality of this episode in the waning days of his presidency, Chirac dismissed Iran’s nuclear program as a distraction from what he called the truly pressing “current problem” facing the world: the environment.

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