Monday, August 21, 2006

Waiting for Chirac

French president Jacques Chirac is taking a well-deserved beating in the media here in the U.S. For the most part, it is more Chirac bashing than French bashing – except in some very conservative media who are always biased against France anyway.

The NYTimes sums it well today with its op-ed entitled “Waiting for Jacques” [a fitting allusion to Beckett’s existentialist play “Waiting for Godot” in which Godot is much talked about but never shows up].

It would be tempting to laugh about France’s paltry commitment of 200 additional peacekeepers for Lebanon, if it weren’t so dangerous. After insisting for years that they be treated like a superpower, the French are behaving as if they have no responsibility for helping dig out of the Lebanon mess.

As they put it, Chirac is certainly “a politically unpopular lame duck," and as we have said before, he does not have what it takes to lead the country effectively. That’s the way he is perceived in France anyway. His popularity may have gone slightly up but it is still very low – even lower than G. Bush’s - at a staggering 21% with 77% of the French who have no confidence in their president.
[I do not understand, however, what the NYT means when they say he is “unable to keep his generals in line.” It is true that the French military command is nervous about getting involved in what could turn out to become a quagmire but that does not account for Chirac’s inability to deliver his promises.]

Unfortunately, the French know all too well that this president has not delivered on most of his promises domestically so why expect anything different in foreign affairs. Unfortunately, the consequences may be greater as it impacts France's future diplomatic ability, and weakens the fragile truce in Lebanon.

As we also said before, if the French defense minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie has a point when she says:

“We need to know what are the material and legal means at our disposal. You can’t send in men and tell them: Observe what is going on, but you don’t have the right to defend yourself or shoot.’’,

But what is the French government waiting for drifting a new resolution that would clarify the rules of engagement in this conflict? They, after all, wrote this resolution. It really seems like a bad excuse to keep the status quo.The problem is that cowardice is contagious – the rest of Europe is also having cold feet. No wander! The whole thing does not seem to prevent Chirac from having the nerves to urge for other European countries to get more involved. How much credibility does he have? His arrogance is with no limit.

Chirac also gets a lot of heat from the press in France (see left-wing newspaper Libération but also the more conservative Le Figaro).

The French socialist rising star Segolène Royal also took a swipe at the Middle East policy of President Jacques Chirac, saying that France, "to win the respect of the world", should be prepared to act, not just talk."

The famous ending quotes of Waiting for Godot seem all the more appropriate when it comes to the French president these days:

Vladimir: Well, shall we go?

Estragon: Yes, let's go.

And they do not move.

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