Amir Taheri comments on the foreign policy debate now roiling France:
“Has France shot itself in the foot by trying to prevent the toppling of Saddam Hussein?
“The question is keeping French foreign policy circles buzzing as the year draws to the close. Even a month ago, few would have dared pose the question.
“In denial mode, the French elite did not wish to consider the possibility that President Jacques Chirac may have made a mistake by leading the bloc that opposed the liberation of Iraq last March. Now, however, the search is on for someone to blame for what the daily newspaper Liberation describes as ‘the disarray of French foreign policy.'”
Taheri reviews the foreign policy setbacks the French have suffered in recent months, and finds them to be, for the most part, self-inflicted. He argues that the root of the problem is the French tradition of vesting foreign policy, to a nearly monarchical degree, in the President. If France had had an open debate on Iraq as other countries did, Taheri argues that : “France might have ended up opposing the war, all the same, as did Germany. But it would not have become involved in an active campaign against its allies and in favour of an Arab despot.”
Perhaps. And perhaps France merely misjudged Arab reaction to its support for Saddam. Taheri quotes Arab leaders:
“‘I cannot imagine what Chirac was thinking,’ says a senior Saudi official on condition of anonymity. ‘How could he expect us to join him in preventing the Americans from solving our biggest problem which was the presence of Saddam Hussein in power in Baghdad?’
“Another senior Arab diplomat, from Egypt, echoes the sentiment. ‘The French did not understand that the Arabs desired the end of Saddam, although they had to pretend that this was not the case,’ he says.”
But I think it is hard to lay blame for the French policy on either its monarchical tradition in foreign policy, or mere miscalculation of Arab sentiment, or even on French commercial interests. It seems to me that the French policy on Iraq, as on other recent issues, reflects a moral and politicial perversity that is deeply embedded in the French populace, and especially in French intellectuals.
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