Choir for Peace
President Chirac is convinced that only he can stop Bush from a war against Saddam.
The French take a leadership role in Europe.
By Romain Leick
[This article is translated from the German in: Spiegel 2/2003.]
In the circle of his ministers, Jacques Chirac spreads a depressing mood. Before the French president set out for a short Christmas vacation in Morokko, he made clear that he was preparing for the worst. "We are in an extremely difficult phase", Chirac analyzed. "George Bush wants to force Iraq unconditionally. He has set in motion a mechanism that hardly allows a withdrawal of the Americans."
Those present understood what was not said. Only one, France's head of state believes, can bring Bush to consider another view: Jacques Chirac.
Since New Year's day, Paris assumed the chairmanship in the Security Council of the United Nations. Chirac is determined to use this opportunity as much as possible to avoid an outbreak of war in the Persian Gulf. He puts himself in the limelight as a statesman with a sense of distance and a feeling of responsibility to finally give Europe its weight and independence in world politics.
"France must be in the first row defending peace", the president declared with a dramatic pathos in his New Year's address. Premier Jean-Pierre Raffarin echoed the president: "War is left when everything is attempted to avoid war."
The president and the head of government know that public opinion in France is not ready for a strike against Iraq on account of the old historical interest of the country in the Arab world.
Chirac often emphasizes that "France has its freedom of judgment and will maintain this to the end." People should stop acting as though the outbreak of war were immediately imminent. Defense minister Michele Alliot-Marie who knows Chirac's train of thought also reacts this way: "War is always the worst of all solutions. Everything possible must be tried to prevent war."
With all pessimism, the polyphonic peace choir from Paris is more than merely self-calming. Chirac is convinced he may be the only one with a realistic chance of stopping Bush.
After Iraq resolution 1441 unanimously changed on French pressure on November 8, 2002, the US can no longer strike in a single-handed effort outside the UN, the Parisian diplomats believe. Theoretically Washington does not need any second resolution. If Iraq blatantly violates the strict control conditions, Bush could feel authorized to start the American war machine.
However from a practical-political perspective, Chirac thinks this way is barred thanks above all to France's uncompromising attitude.
The next critical deadline comes on January 27. Then UN chief inspector Hans Blix must present a report on Iraqi armaments to the Security Council. France is determined to use its chairmanship to force a new second debate and a new decision whether or not it pleases Washington or not.
No exclusive interpretation sovereignty of the US over the findings is possible according to this strategy. Americans may not simply draw conclusions not covered by reality...
Will there be a unanimous vote in the Security Council?.. France could use her veto power if necessary...
Chirac doesn't want to go that far. Everything depends on the good conduct of Iraq. Saddam Hussein may not give Bush a pretext. In discreet channels, the French should give good counsel to the Iraqis so the great conflagration does not arise out of an insignificant occasion.
In his peace plans, Chirac faces an ally who first wanted to bring the French unwillingly to grow into the preferred partner and counter-player of the US president: the German chancellor.
The sudden drop in temperature between Washington and Berlin is just what Chirac needed. He, not Gerhard Schroder, now embodies the critical and yet reliable voice of the European continent in dialogue with the US. Nothing else is left to the chancellor than to hope for an unqualified success of the statesman in Paris. Only he can come out of tight spot of either remaining with a rigid No in the Security Council or being insulted as a weather-cock. The hierarchy of power has shifted a little in a few months in the European Union. France leads, Germany follows - as in the old days of the glorious Gaullist predominance 40 years ago.
The president sees the chance of using the sudden fainting of the German partner to enforce his vision of the European Union, whether with common proposals in Brussels or with the formation of a credible counter-pole to the "hyperpower US" (as the former French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine). The EU may be undecided about its future president. Chirac is already this president.
Americans are shown human possibility. At the end of January, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier "Charles de Gaulle" present in the war around Afghanistan will set out to a new deployment. "This is a strong sign that we face our responsibility", the Gaullist defense statesman Pierre Lellouche exclaimed.
Chirac may dream of peace. But if war comes against his conviction, France's voice will be raised for the formation of an Iraqi- and Middle East postwar order.