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France Meets World's Expectations
Chirac's personal agenda jeopardized Lebanese peace process and its own army
Pierre Joo (pierre_joo)     Print Article 
Published 2006-08-25 23:35 (KST)   
France's choice of a rooster as its mascot is believed to come from the resemblance between France's pre-Roman name, "Gaul," and the Latin word for rooster, gallus. But beyond this wordplay, there may be other similarities between a rooster's behavior and the image of France conveyed by some of its leaders.

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Each morning, the rooster proudly sings out its presence to the world, which it seems to rule at that moment. Yet a rooster does not have much for itself: it's not particularly clever, pretty or feared; it's not even much of a bird, as it can't even really fly. And it definitely doesn't rule the world; expect maybe for a few other female chickens and the pile of manure on which it stands for its morning performance.

What a relevant bucolic metaphor of France's foreign policy, some might be tempted to say, with regards to France's wobbling in the latest war in Lebanon.

Such hesitation was nowhere to be seen during the early phase of intense diplomatic activity to stop the fight between Israel and the Hezbollah militia. France was at the forefront of efforts, determined to end a conflict, the main victim of which was Lebanon, a country with many historical ties to France.

Citizens rally for a cease-fire in Lebanon on the streets of Paris.
©2006 Pierre Joo
France spoke loud and clear to impose its views on the international community, and drafted UN Resolution 1701, enabling a fragile truce in a conflict that has ruined 15 years of Lebanese efforts to recover from its civil war.

There are several reasons why the international community was ready to accept France's solution to the settlement of this deadly conflict: its deep knowledge of the Arab world and old ties with the region for one; its reasonable approach to resolving the conflict by obtaining a cease-fire first, followed by a political agreement between the parties; finally, the dispatch of U.N. forces was another reason, the fact that France holds one of the five permanent seats at the U.N. Security Council, with a veto right on any U.N. decision.

But what enabled the French to have an edge in the heated diplomatic discussions was probably its pledge to provide the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) with a substantial amount of force: up to 5,000 troops some had assumed.

But the two weeks that followed the vote of resolution 1701 have been a succession of French wobbling and uncomfortable silences. All of a sudden, conditions were not met for UNIFIL to safely fulfill its mission, as the U.N. resolution, of which France was the main author, was too vague, especially with regards to the chain of command and engagement rules of U.N. forces. Moreover, UNIFIL should not be dominated by any single country, but should result from a balanced contribution of European and Muslim nations. France seemed to be reconsidering its commitment in Lebanon from several thousand troops, to a mere 400.

In fact, all of these arguments are legitimate, especially for France, which has paid a high price for its past commitments in peacekeeping missions: in 1983, 58 French soldiers died precisely in Lebanon, after a suicide attack on their Beirut headquarter by Shiite Muslim terrorists that would eventually morph into the Hezbollah militia. During the Bosnia war, French peacekeeping forces suffered many losses and humiliating situations in which prohibitive engagement rules and a complex chain of command made it impossible to protect civilians, or even respond to hostile fire.

All of these subjects of caution seem to have been disregarded by President Chirac during the early period of France's diplomatic activity. After eleven years at France's top position, Chirac is about to leave a disastrous legacy, both domestically with a growing social disparity in French society, and internationally with the French refusal of the European Constitution and the resulting setback for the European construction.

To Chirac, the Lebanese conflict may have appeared first as a personal opportunity to regain some popularity, before seeing the potential threats to French forces. Hence a ridiculous situation where a President promotes a solution that puts its own armed forces at risk.

So is the morning over and the rooster back in its henhouse? Not yet. After intense pressure from the international community, President Chirac appeared on television Aug. 24 to announce a firm 2,000 troop commitment to UNIFIL, arguing he had received enough guarantees about the role of the peacekeeping forces.

Indeed, France had no other choice but to dramatically increase its commitment. Not doing so would have endangered the precarious ceasefire and seriously jeopardized the U.N.'s credibility and capacity to solve international conflicts. Moreover France's move backward would have been a tremendous blow to Chirac's foreign policy: how could France, a country that has always been the utmost advocate of a multi-polar world, ruled by international rights, and enforced by the UN, possibly drop the UN at such a crucial moment? How could this attitude be consistent with France's opposition to the U.S. about Iraq in 2003, when it was the most ardent supporter of control and sanctions within the frame of the U.N.?

The peace process in Lebanon seems to be back on track and let's hope France's much awaited commitment will trigger a momentum leading to more commitments from other nations. But for France the damage is already done, due to the last gestures of an ill-motivated president that lead to a catastrophic sequencing of its diplomacy.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Pierre Joo

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