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.