*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.