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The Chirac cold foot in mouth disease

By Jackson Murphy
web posted August 21, 2006

Paris, France - - Surprise! After the United Nations met, debated, voted, and made a ceasefire agreement, they forgot that something has to be done to make it actually happen. While President George W. Bush was busy reading Camus, Jacques Chirac spent his summer vacation playing with his shiny new diplomacy toy. But he's already bored with it.

I had assumed, perhaps mistakenly, that deep down Mr. Chirac actually cared about what was happening in Israel and Lebanon. I assumed that he wanted to stop the carnage of terrorists lobbing missiles and an army answering in kind. He's a humanitarian after all, right? But here we are a week later and Chirac is now haggling over the price.

Like any good politician – and certainly any great French politician – he wants all the spoils of his ceasefire agreement, but doesn't want to pay for it. Lead the effort, but contribute nothing but advice. France has offered 200 troops, in addition to the 200 that are already serving in a UN force in south Lebanon (Unifil) and leadership of that force, which will start at 3,500 men and need to grow quickly to 15,000. It's no surprise then, that UN officials were more than a little disappointed.

"France still wants command of the UN force, but is acting as though it wants control simply for the sake of it rather than for the purpose of ensuring a sustainable peace," said an editorial in The Times. "For France to have retreated from a key role to the realm of 'symbolic' gestures 'symbolises' only one thing: a French loss of nerve." The Washington Post simply called the country "bashful" before adding, "The consequence for the peace deal it helped broker could be calamitous."

This is a fiasco in the making on the scale of the François Mitterrand library in Paris. Let me explain. The last of President Mitterand's 'grand projects', the "Bibliothèque National de France", is a great metaphor for the Chiracian 'grand project of diplomacy'. They wanted to build the greatest library in the world - a library to house the amassed written knowledge of the French people, but in a greater, cooler, super-sized building.

What they got is a beautifully modern building that will probably end up destroying the books. You see they built a library in giant glass towers that put the books in jeopardy by exposing them to light, heat, and moisture and making it expensive and difficult to actually get at the books. They made the greatest library in the world, who cares if it doesn't work, and people can't check out the books. Just like this ceasefire, the French wanted to build it, and didn't take the care and effort to do it properly.

And here I though the whole point of this, beyond pumping up Chirac's anemic domestic poll ratings, was for him to show the world – particularly those diplomatically tone deaf American cowboys – how you make peace properly. But it turns out that Chirac's concept for how to police a ceasefire zone and everyone else's isn't exactly the same. Big surprise.

Adding to this confusion, the nations meeting to contribute troops were now trying to figure out what the UN resolution even meant. A bad sign considering it was written in French, and even the French couldn't understand it now. Thankfully Indonesia, Nepal, and Bangladesh jumped at the chance to send nearly 4,000 troops.

I know you're scratching your heads. The little "Magnum P.I." voice in your head is saying, "the last I heard, Nepal was back fighting amongst itself, again, this time with a breakaway group of former Maoists." Ah yes, I remember when being a Maoist was enough in Nepal. Bangladesh? "Surely", your voice says, "they would need their soldiers to fight their own communist rebels?" Ah yes, and those huggable Indonesians? "Not only do they not even recognize Israel," you say "but doesn't it have enough of its own problems to worry about?" Hey, what's a little avian flu, terrorism, and natural disaster between friends. And if you thought this looks more like the "Hanson Brothers of peacekeeping", you probably were on to something. 

But how did we get from French resolution to sending the Minor League Peace Keeping farm team to Lebanon? "To an extent, the French position is understandable. The mission won't be under Chapter 7, its purpose is fuzzy, and the Lebanese army isn't planning to disarm Hezbollah," writes James Forsyth at Foreign Policy's Passport Blog. "That means either the French will have to perform this task—which won't be easy—or there's a good chance that hostilities between the IDF and Hezbollah will resume."

Let me be the first to congratulate Chirac for not putting this ugly UN sponsored mess into jeopardy by throwing too many Frenchmen at the problem.

You see, you can have the greatest library and still destroy books. You can have a great peace agreement on paper, and still have no chance at making peace. It all comes back to the French foreign policy core, what Jonah Goldberg once described beautifully as, "a shinning fromagerie on a hill" - a wonderful place where diplomatic form triumphs over function and all reason. ESR

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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