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Chirac's baguette diplomacy

By Jackson Murphy
web posted August 14, 2006

Paris, France - - Britain's real James Bonds at MI5 foiled the biggest terrorist threat since 9/11 last Thursday, causing a day of airline chaos, tough new air travel restrictions, and took the focus of the world's attention away from the Middle East. And yet on Friday in Paris, two of the airport security unions were still going on strike to protest their wages. Only in France could the airport security unions still want to strike after something like this.

That's the kind of thing that sums up a week in French politics. After nearly two weeks, President Jacques Chirac was still looking for his ceasefire and peace agreement. To add further insult to his plans to be the elegant statesman, other news kept preempting him.

French media coverageLast week it was the photos of 53-year-old Socialist presidential hopeful Segolene Royal in a turquoise bikini. Those photos along with others of Mr. Sarkozy on the beach in what The International Herald Tribune called, "tight-fitting Nike shorts" sparked a national debate on gossip journalism. When the French media start reporting on the private lives of politicians like this, it's a whole new ballgame.

Chirac must be the unluckiest politician this side of Connecticut. And I think we can all agree that nobody wanted to see Sen. Joe Lieberman in tight shorts earlier this month. But this was serious news in France.

On top of that, the peace process is not going quite as smoothly as the fine triple cream Brie he thought it would. In fact the Chirac peace process has more in common with the operationally challenged Piscine Josephine Baker – a new floating $23 million pool debacle on the Seine river, which seems to have trouble keeping its doors open. Likewise, every time this peace plan gets close to working, it falls apart.

At the beginning of the week the U.S.-French draft resolution was met with a tepid response from the Arab world. The two co-sponsors agreed to make some changes in the resolution to satisfy all parties, but by Wednesday Chirac suggested that one way or another, he would get his resolution in front of the U.N. Security Council.

"If we reach an agreement, then so much the better, If we don't, it is obvious that we will have a debate at the Security Council and each of us will clearly set out our positions, including France with its own resolution," said Chirac while still vacationing in Toulon.

On Thursday, Mr. Chirac's Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy was predicting a Lebanon resolution at any moment. But on Friday morning, Chirac was still looking for his diplomatic prize. The night before he talked to British Prime Minister Tony Blair who probably had bigger things on his mind even while he was on vacation in Barbados. At any rate Blair ended up sending his Foreign Secretary, Margaret Beckett, who was also holidaying – in France naturally - to New York.

It's clear that Chirac's newfound interest in Middle Eastern affairs is more about Chirac. "The public diplomacy of course has had a political pay-off for the needy Chirac," writes Denis Boyles in the National Review Online. "The French gambit was all done in negotiations that were carefully posed for the convenience of the French media. The papers showed Chirac looking presidential, in that slightly tipsy way of his."

Boyles goes on to speculate that Chirac has no intention of actually putting French troops on the ground at all, "at least not before the hotels are reopened and the beaches are safe for baguettes."

And as the hours ticked by slowly on Friday, Washington's Ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, told media that they were again, "very, very close to agreement and our aspiration to have a vote at the end of the afternoon remains." Which means in diplomatic parlance, either a sign that they finally are ready to sign the deal, or that another week of political posturing can continue.

The question of whether of not Jacques Chirac might have to actually do something this weekend, or heaven forbid send troops there remains. Naturally this piece of paper is not the Rosetta Stone for solving the problems between Hezbollah and Israel that Chirac makes it out to be.

By the end of summer, Chirac may wish he had opted for the tight shorts or the bikini. It would have been a lot easier to get press without any of the responsibilities that his ceasefire entails. And with the deal in sight on Friday night, again, Israel was expanding its ground offense anyway, just in case it didn't work.

Colin Powell made famous the concept of "The Pottery Barn rule" – essentially you break it, you own it. Chiracian diplomacy is a more inline with "The Baguette Rule" and designed to please the French media's palate rather than make long-term peace.

Jackson Murphy is the editor of The Vancouverite (www.thevancouverite.com) and recently launched Fedkicker (www.fedkicker.com) and is currently in Paris eating cheese and drinking red wine and wondering where all the French people are.

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