Wednesday, October 16, 2002

And While We’re at It

Since I’m busy knocking the BBC today, I thought I might also refer to a piece entitled “Chirac Denies Iraq-al-Qaeda Link.” The article, referring to an interview French President Jacques Chirac gave to Lebanese newspaper L’Orient Le Jour prior to a trip to Beirut later this week, gives more evidence of the typical nonsense we’re used to hearing from the French when it comes to Iraq. And we should thank the BBC for providing us with yet more proof that the French spirit of appeasement is alive and well.

Or should we? Because, strangely enough, the text of the interview is a bit more subtle than the BBC would lead one to believe. The BBC begins the article as follows:

French President Jacques Chirac has said he knows of no relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda, and has warned that a war against Baghdad could provoke terrorists to stage new attacks.

The implication here is that Chirac clearly denied any link between Iraq and al Qaeda, and moreover, that an invasion of Iraq could lead to more terrorism. In this light, it appears that Chirac is opposing military intervention because he sees a direct link between such action and new acts of terrorism. In other words, he’s on the side of those who believe that the root cause of terrorism is western, specifically American aggression. To bolster this point, the BBC provides the following quote from Chirac in translation:

“We cannot rule out the possibility that terrorist groups use the Iraq affair as a pretext for new acts and as propaganda arguments."

The BBC piece then makes the following statement which is not a quote:

The president said that the feeling of injustice shared by many Arabs watching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could widen if Iraq was also brought into the fray.

As such, it appears that Chirac is following the line that injustices committed against the Palestinians by the bad Israelis would only be heightened by military action.

The BBC then follows with a quote that demonstrates Chirac’s opposition to action:

“Our responsibility is to look after stability in the Middle East. With the Iraqi crisis, it's the whole region that is threatened."

The overall impression is clear. Military action will aggravate a situation already inflamed by Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians and American support for Israel. The wise alternative would be negotiations, inspectors, etc.

While this is one interpretation of the text, it’s not altogether clear that it’s the most faithful. In fact, it tends to misrepresent some key elements.

First, we need to look at the quote concerning the connection between action against Iraq and future terrorist attacks. The quote itself is part of Chirac’s response to the question regarding the link between Iraq and al Qaeda. What he actually says, with my translation is:

“To my knowledge, no proof has been found, or in any case made public, of a link between Iraq and al Qaeda. Even if certain terrorists have been able to find refuge in Iraq, we must not confuse the two topics. The primary objective of action by the international community, in terms of Iraq, must be disarmament. On the other hand, we cannot exclude the possibility that terrorist groups might use the Iraqi affair as a pretext for new actions and as a source of propaganda."

What’s interesting here is that the BBC presents Chirac’s statement on further terrorist attacks in response to a military action against Iraq as following from his view that there is a lack of proof – and he says specifically proof made public – connecting al Qaeda to Iraq. However, Chirac started his comment about the possibility that terrorists might use an invasion as a pretext for future attacks with the phrase on the other hand. He did not give the impression that one was a necessary consequence of the other and that military action therefore is inadvisable. While Chirac is far less willing to make the connection made by Bush and Blair, he is not stating that the failure to demonstrate this connection will only further aggravate terrorists as though these terrorists are in some sense justified. He denies this possibility.

Next, when we consider Chirac’s comments regarding the Israeli-Palestinian situation, things become even more problematic. The quote, again with my translation, is:

"At the present moment, in which the impasse in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict increases the frustrations of injustice among the peoples of the region, and where we are engaged in a battle of long duration against terrorism, we must be vigilant et do everything possible to win the wager of security in peace."

My translation may sound a bit awkward, but I’ve stayed as close as possible to the French text in order to demonstrate some salient points. The BBC article speaks only of the “injustice shared by many Arabs watching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict [which] could widen if Iraq was also brought into the fray.” According to the text however, Chirac never once mentions a sense of injustice shared by Arabs – in fact, he doesn’t use the word “Arab” in the whole interview. What Chirac does do, in a quote not mentioned by the BBC, is disagree with the interviewer who characterizes Ariel Sharon as extremist, while affirming Israel’s right to defense. Chirac also points out that when it comes to supporting the establishment of a viable Palestinian state, he and George Bush are in agreement. And, as my translation above shows, Chirac refers to the “peoples of the region” not simply to the Palestinians or Arabs. Had the BBC writer read the whole text, it would be clear that Chirac recognizes the complaints of Israel along side those of the Palestinians. Chirac even goes further, mentioning security and the battle against terror.

In short, Chirac’s comments were far more subtle than they appear in the BBC article. I emphatically do not agree with everything he says, but true to his rather evasive and noncommittal nature, I can say that he does not make the connections attributed to him by the BBC. As I’ve said before, Chirac is a consummate French leader, and as such, a consummate diplomat. The BBC correspondent, it appears, wishes to find something in this interview that isn’t there in order to prove that Chirac is simply opposed to Bush and Blair. I don’t believe this is really the French position, though the BBC might wish it were. Thankfully, the BBC doesn’t run France or Britain for that matter.

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