Sunday, December 24, 2006

The roots Sarko/Sego's Mideast view

A book review in Asharq Alawsat of Chicac D'Arabie provides a good overview of how French-Arab relations have shifted since the Iraq War, and how this has laid the groundwork for Sarkozy's and Royal's more neutral, slightly pro-Israel, and even somewhat American stances with regard to the Middle East. Its main analysis is the frantic diplomacy of Jacques Chirac in anticipation of the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

If Chirac made a mistake, it was not in trying to use the UN to stop the fall of Saddam Hussein. His mistake was in thinking that most Arabs did not want Saddam to fall. The truth, however, was that, at least as far as the governing elites were concerned, almost no one in the Arab world was prepared to shed a tear for the Baathist despot.

Even then, Chirac's gamble may have paid off. Imagine what would have happened if the US and its allies, unable to obtain a specific mandate from the UN to invade Iraq, had called the whole thing off. Chirac would have become a hero with the Baathists in Iraq while Saddam Hussein would have been able to make a spectacular return as a claimant to the leadership of all Arabs. France would have ended up as the only major power that had sided with the winner.

What did Chirac learn from the experience? The authors say he ended up with a "bitter taste in his mouth". This was not because Saddam Hussein was eventually toppled. What chagrined the French leader most was that, to his horror, he found out that Arab leaders, in fact, resented France's attitude. Officially hostile to the war in public, most Arab leaders in private reproached France for championing Saddam Hussein's cause. After the war, that attitude was translated into a virtual freeze of Franco-Arab relations and a significant decline in commercial exchanges.

Aeschimann and Boltanski claim that Chirac learned the lesson and tried to restore France's position in the US-led Western bloc by joining Washington's efforts to drive the Syrians out of Lebanon and to put collective pressure on the Khomeinist regime in Tehran with regard to Iran's controversial nuclear programme. Chirac has also increased France's military commitment to the war in Afghanistan thus easing pressure on the US armed forces. Read more...

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