Magazine article The Spectator

French Mischief

Magazine article The Spectator

French Mischief

Article excerpt

Most educated people in this country are Francophile, and tend to give French initiatives in foreign affairs the initial benefit of the doubt. But sooner or later doubts arise, followed by adverse criticism and eventually antagonism. The French are hag-ridden by their historically created inferiority complex (in politics, that is, not in anything else). They choose false gloire in place of self-interest. They end up with neither, but make themselves a damned nuisance to their allies.

President Chirac's political pilgrimage to the Holy Land fits depressingly into this late-Gaullist mode of measuring influence by its capacity to annoy rather than to defend or further France's military, political or economic interests, her historic role as protector of Middle Eastern Catholics, or the common good of post-Cold War stability.

There are arguments for and against the European Union's involvement in the Palestine confusions. But to be taken seriously, it would need quiet canvassing through European diplomatic channels, not polemical pronouncements in the West Bank couched to provoke Israeli opposition ab initio. M. Chirac earned cheap applause from Palestinians, but they know as well as he does that only the Americans have the power to make the running on this issue. The US Administration will not act, or even posture, before the elections, and will be less likely to seek European participation after M. Chirac's performance, designed to embarrass the United States rather than to help the Palestinians.

Whereas Washington is following a policy of patiently pressing the incumbent Israeli government to honour and build on its predecessor's commitments, M. Chirac's soap-box oratory will give comfort only to those elements in Israeli political life which will adduce it as proof that the West is so obdurately hostile anyway that no concessions will help.

If M. Chirac's intervention in Palestine was ludicrous, his performance in Syria was dangerous. In a region of chronic instability, Syria is an epicentre of conflict. Its minority dictatorship, which may not survive its dictator's failing health, has antagonistic relations with all Syria's neighbours:

Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel and the West Bank proto-state. It trains, finances and dispatches terrorists and saboteurs in all directions.

M. Chirac's unequivocal support for the Syrian claim to unconditional return of the entire Golan can only make matters worse. Israeli opinion is divided on the issue. At one end of the scale are those who reject the return of any of the Golan, not least because nothing will abate Assad's desire to destroy the Jewish state, while the withdrawal of Israeli armour from the road to Damascus would remove a major deterrent to Syrian attacks on Israel, initiated by massive rocketry purchased with Arab and American finance. …

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