Asharq Al Awsat Has Gotten Hold Of

*Asharq al-Awsat has gotten hold of a confidential Iraqi memo that outlines Saddam’s plan for a diplomatic blitz in the Arab world after the end of the Muslim holy day, the Eid al-Adha. He will send personal representatives to various Arab countries to make the case that Iraq has complied with inspections. He will offer to attend an Arab summit to discuss the crisis. The memo dismisses the idea of Saddam going into exile from Iraq. [For the likelihood that all this diplomatic maneuvering inside the Arab League will amount to anything, see my comment yesterday about Mubarak’s hopelessness.]

*A new poll shows that 94 percent of Turks oppose an Iraq war and 74 percent oppose extending facilities to the US to pursue it. I take it this means that 20 percent of Turks think the war is terrible but Turkey should let the Americans launch it from their soil. Pragmatists.

*Muhammad Samir Abussu`ud, Egypt’s Interior Minister, announced that on-going investigations indicate that the jihadis or religious extremists among Muslim radicals in Egypt continue to exist and to plan operations. One, Jund Allah (the Army of God), is a branch of al-Jihad al-Islami. Extremist groups once seemed extremely important in Egyptian politics, especially in the early to mid-1990s. But a massive government campaign of repression, with some 20,000 jailed and 1500 killed in street fights with Egyptian security, appeared to repress the movement. Its own excesses also turned Egyptians against it, as with the killing of Spanish tourists at Luxor in 1997 (most Egyptians make some money, at least indirectly, from tourism). The leadership of the Islamic Grouping in Tura prison has renounced violence. But Abussu`ud says new groups have taken its place. One planned to attack Israel via the Egyptian desert last August but failed, another plotted violence against the Israeli embassy in Cairo.

*[Note: this message replies to a debate at H-France over French differences

with the US with regard to Iraq policy. It attempts to root the

differences in French domestic politics and diplomatic realities, rather

than, as in some media commentary, French “national character.”]

The reluctance to see a major war in Iraq on the part of Chirac and his

cabinet has several motives, none of which have much to do with objections

to unilateral military interventions in the Third World. After all, French

governments of the Right have frequently intervened in their former

colonies in Africa. Indeed, it is amusing that in 1956 the shoe was on the

other foot, and Eisenhower was furious about the French invasion of the

Suez Canal zone alongside British and Israeli co-conspirators.

Nor should the French position be caricatured. Here is what Chirac said of

Saddam just last September: “I haven’t seen him for a long time . . . He’s

probably changed since. So have I.” He called Mr. Hussein “especially

dangerous to his own people,” adding that he personally wished for the

Iraqi’s political demise and would not rule out the use of force against

him if it were approved by the United Nations Security Council. See

The issue for France as I read it is whether to have a war for sure in

March or to possibly have a war much later, if the inspections haven’t

borne fruit. In other words, they are not as cynical about the inspections

process as the Bush administration is. Indeed, it seems obvious that the

inspections from a Bush admin. standpoint were always expected to fail and

were intended to be a casus belli rather than a genuine investigation.

Chirac’s policy inner circle is also said to believe that Iraq could be

reformed without a war, through international pressure, and that Saddam’s

younger son Qusay is someone who could be worked with. See Amir

Taheri’s analysis at:

Although I haven’t found public statements about it, the French government

is almost certainly alarmed at the doctrine under which the US is going to

war against Iraq, which is the new security policy pushed by Undersecretary

of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. It holds that the US will not allow any

military peers to develop anywhere on the globe, most especially in

countries hostile to the US, and will intervene unilaterally to stop

weapons development by such emerging peers. It is not hard to see that

DeGaulle’s old force de frappe and reminder to Washington that missiles can

be pointed both ways might well have qualified Paris for invasion under the

Wolfowitz doctrine. French nationalists would have every reason to

obstruct the implementation of the new doctrine anywhere, including in Iraq.

Then, France is a democracy that holds elections. An American war against

Iraq is deeply unpopular with the French electorate as a whole. The

Gaullists want to be reelected and do not want the Socialists to get back

in. For them to take a hard, pro-American line on Iraq would outrage the

Socialist key constituencies, such as school teachers and labor, and would

risk giving the Socialists an excellent hook in the next elections. A new

poll shows 66% of the French are against such a war, up from 58% opposing,

last summer. See

An American war against Iraq is especially unpopular with French Muslims.

There are about 5 million French Muslims, nearly ten percent of the

population, and although only a third of them are eligible to vote, a

constituency of 1.5 million is a swing vote of some importance. They are

vehemently against such a war. A nice article on the French Muslims and

electoral politics is:

As was noted, about 18 percent of the French are practicing Catholics, and

they vote solidly for the Right (except for their priests, who tend to vote

Socialist :-) Not only has the Pope come out against the war, but the

French Bishops did, as well, last fall. See

They are a constituency that any Gaullist government would need to please.

I am an Arabist and happen to know something serious about Baathist Iraq,

which paralyzes me from opposing a war for regime change in that country

(Milosevic did not kill nearly as many people). If it is true that Chirac

thinks the Baath party can be reformed from without, he is simply wrong.

But the French position is neither crazy nor irresponsible. And it has

perfectly rational roots in French politics and diplomacy.

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