On Sunday May 6, 2007 the second round of the French presidential election will be held. This will be the decisive run to determine whether center-left Socialist Segolene Royal 53, or Nicolas Sarkozy 52, the center-right Gaullist candidate will lead France. Regardless of who the winner will be, however, both candidates have promised a visible departure from the foreign policy of President Jacques Chirac.
Outgoing President Jacques Chirac began his love affair with Arab dictators in the 1970’s while serving as prime minister. In due course he developed a close personal relationship with Saddam Hussein. The French government would eventually build a nuclear facility for the Iraqis at Osiraq, near Baghdad and, in return, the Iraqis made sizable contributions to Chirac’s political party (UMP). Chirac, infatuated with the Iraqi dictator, often referred to Saddam as “The De Gaulle of the Middle East.”
Chirac also developed a close personal relationship with Yaser Arafat and invited the terrorist leader to France to receive medical attention. Chirac was the only world leader to visit Arafat regularly at his hospital bed. Not one to leave any dictator out of the equation, Chirac also cuddled with Libyan dictator Muammer Qadaffi in the 1980’s. And, last January, Chirac was quoted as saying that, “ Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons would not be dangerous.”
Chirac threatened to veto the UN Security Council resolution that would authorize the use of military force to rid Iraq of alleged weapons of mass destruction, and rallied other governments to his position. "Iraq today does not represent an immediate threat that justifies an immediate war," Chirac said on March 18, 2003. The same Chirac did little to protest against Saddam’s gassing of the Kurds in Halabja, Iraq, or the killing of thousands of Iraqi Kurds and Shiites. Associates of Chirac were closely involved in the U.N. Oil for Food scandal.
A recent book titled Chirac of Arabia: The Mirages of French Policy by Eric Aeschimann and Christophe Boltanski, two journalists writing for the leftist newspaper Liberation, concluded that Chirac’s Middle East policies, especially those pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, was misguided and wrong. They claimed that Chirac saw the Palestinian issue through Yaser Arafat’s lenses.
The Iranians, Palestinians, Hezbollah, and virtually all the Arab states, have never had a better friend in the Palais delâ Elysees than the outgoing President Jacques Chirac. His pandering to Arab dictators and the Palestinian cause knew no equal. Chirac followed in the footsteps of his Gaullist predecessors all the way back to Charles De Gaulle, by strengthening France’s alignment with Arab dictators such as Yaser Arafat and Saddam Hussein, as a counter-weight to the U.S. influence in the Middle East.
Nicolas Sarkozy, most recently France’s Interior Minister, is known as a “tough guy” who took a strong stand against the rioting immigrant Muslim youth of Paris’ banlieues. He has pledged to make the French economy more competitive, and openly expressed his admiration for the U.S. He clearly does not have the Gaullists hang up about “Anglo-Saxon dominance.”
Sagolene Royal, who is the first woman candidate for the French presidency trounced her more experienced Socialist male colleagues to become the party nominee. Her inexperience in foreign affairs was exhibited by several noticeable blunders made during her April 2006 trip to the Middle East. At a Beirut meeting that included Ali Ammar, a member of the pro-Syrian, Iranian-backed Hezbollah party, who, during a meeting with Lebanese MPs, likened Israeli incursions into southern Lebanon to Nazism. "The Nazism that has spilt our blood and usurped our independence and our sovereignty is no less evil than the Nazi occupation of France," he was reported telling Miss Royal. The same Hezbollah party member charged the U.S. with “unlimited dementia” and called Israel the “Zionist entity.” Ignoring his first comment, Royal responded, “I agree with a lot of things that you have said, notably your analysis of the U.S.” She later added that, “Israel is a recognized country.” It took Royal 24 hours to become aware of her “agreement with the “Nazi remarks” and she apologized for it.
On the domestic front, Royal has proposed using public funds, including subsidies, to promote jobs and has promised to raise the minimum wage by 20%, while failing to explain how she will pay for them. Both candidates, it should be noted, have promised to “eliminate waste.”
The current electoral battle is focused on which of the two surviving candidates will be able to take the lion’s share” of Centrist Francois Bayrou’s 6.8 million votes. If Sarkozy, who garnered 31.2% of the vote in the first round, can generate at least half of the 18.57% won by Bayrou, and the 10% of ultra-rightist Jean Marie Le Pen, it would put him over the top.
For Royal, with 25.87% of the vote in the first round on April 22, to win the May 6th elections, she must take all of Francois Bayrou’s votes in addition to the majority of the six far-left candidates for a combined total of 10.57% of the vote. It is unlikely however that Bayrou’s entire voting block would go for Royal. Bayrou, in the meantime, has failed to endorse either candidate and continues to criticize them both.
It has become increasingly clear that Chirac’s Middle East policies have been a failure. Both Sarkozy and Royal are anxious to move away from Chirac’s anti-Israel attitudes and his accommodating relationships with the Iranian, Palestinians, and the Arab world.
Sarkozy, despite his being a Gaullist candidate, has taken a position that is diametrically opposed to Chirac’s. He seeks closer cooperation with the U.S. over an alliance with the Arab world, and he promised a more balanced French policy towards Israel. Last March he declared, “French decision-makers must be able to say a certain number of truths to our Arab friends, for example, ¦the right of Israel to exist and live in safety is not negotiable, and that terrorism is their true enemy.” Sarkosy made it clear that he will defend “Lebanon’s integrity” and stands in opposition to Hezbollah.
The interim presidency of Socialist Francois Mitterrand, coming between the Gaullist presidents, reduced tensions with the U.S. But, the election of Chirac in 1995 restored the Gaullist “illusion of grandeur” and the anti-American stance, which originated with De Gaulle. Hopefully, either Sarkozy or Royal will restore U.S.-French cooperation in the Middle East. It was such cooperation between France and the U.S. that forced the withdrawal of the Syrian forces from Lebanon. A more balanced French policy in the Arab-Israeli conflict will give France a greater role in peace making in the region and provide for a more coherent western voice in the Arab Middle East.
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