Hezbollah Nights: The ballad of Jacques Chirac
By Jackson Murphy
Paris, France - - You know things are getting pretty bad in the Middle East when even France is starting to wake up and smell the war, and worse wanting to do something about it.
Sure, France is a powerful member of the U.N. Security Council. Sure, they were once the colonial overlords of Lebanon. And sure, they aren't carrying around the baggage of having anything to do with Iraq. But how did it come to be, that as August burns we find Jacques Chirac and France at the center of diplomacy and Middle East affairs?
Seriously, when was the last time you heard anyone say, as Emma-Kate Symons did last week in The Australian, that " France is in the driver's seat in this conflict - as both broker of peace and the likely leader of an international peacekeeping force on the Lebanese-Israel border - and Mr. Chirac, who is relishing his regained status as international statesman, knows it."
You know it's just killing poor old Jacques to be driving this time of year, when the rest of his people have fled the capital for their epic August holidays. But there he was like his friend from Crawford, Texas, Chirac just arrived at the Presidential retreat Bregancon, in southern France. He's still in that drivers seat, even if it's the backseat of a chauffeured car, presumably so his white poodle can ride on his lap.
On Friday he was on the phone with Tony Blair and pushing hard for a U.N. backed cease-fire even after snubbing a U.S. led meeting on the subject. Chirac knows this game is blood sport, lest anyone forget how burnt he got the last time he tried to play. This time he sees redemption and a winning domestic policy issue and he may be right too. This is the first thing to improve his worse than George W. Bush approval ratings, bumping five points last week to about 21 per cent.
Besides, Chirac had to do something to show up conservative Interior Minister and rival Nicolas Sarkozy whose book on political philosophy is selling hotter than macaroons at Ladurée, already in its fifth printing in only two short weeks of sales.
What cemented this new seriousness was that even the French, who usually want to play ball with Iran couldn't tolerate the crazy rants of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who once again demanded the end to Israel while calling for a ceasefire, "Although the main solution is for the elimination of the Zionist regime, at this stage an immediate cease-fire must be implemented," he said.
I suppose when Ahmadinejad starts talking about the elimination of Israel as casually as buying a croissant, even the French can't just turn the other cheek. And this seems more remarkable when you realize that the French don't usually think twice about letting people like that say crazy things. They are realists after all.
In his latest farce of a book Merde Actually Stephen Clarke's illustrates an interesting point about the kinds of things that the French do get bothered about.
"They honestly don't care about vegetarianism. They think that anyone who doesn't orgasm over undercooked beef is a total philistine. To them a vegetarian coming to France is like someone who takes a vow of chastity and then goes to live in a harem. They think vegetarians are nuts."
But Ahmadinejad isn't a vegetarian is he? No, but definitely a philistine, and perhaps that's what got the French finally. They honestly don't care about Iran, or anyone else for than matter, aside from the oil, and maybe they just had enough of the crazy talk from an Iranian philistine who wants to wipe an entire culture off the map. Ignorance like that, it seems, is just enough to motivate the French.
But Chirac's plan, to put Paris, and France, back in the drivers seat and on the hook for the crisis isn't without its pitfalls. In 1983, the last time the French were heavily involved in Lebanon, they lost 41 troops in an Iranian backed Hezbollah bomb attack. Trickier still could be the fallout of a misstep in the region from France's volatile Muslim community. Not to mention that nation building in the Middle East seems to be much harder than it looks on paper.
The French strike when it gets too hot in the Metro. If things go badly who knows what could happen. The last thing Chirac needs, even if he doesn't run for reelection next year, is the situation to blow up in his face and have streets littered with burning Citroen, Renault, and Smart cars going into the 2007 elections.
The reality is, Jacques Chirac is just dreaming. He is not going to solve this conflict and has about the same change of solving it as Will Ferrell's Ricky Bobby would. Okay, maybe less. But it's sure fun watching him try.
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