France throws a spanner in the superpower's plans.

France throws a spanner in the superpower's plans.

France throws a spanner in the superpower's plans.

What the foreign papers are saying.
March 12 2003 7:01 PM

Them vs. U.S.

The French papers are in a jubilant mood this week, with almost every paper celebrating President Jacques Chirac's apparent victory in his U.N. Security Council battle with the Bush administration. An editorial in Libération, headlined, "The American War," argued that the United States wants war "to restore American hegemony in a time of globalization and of the emergence of new powers. … America needs to wage war, repeatedly, to restore its power of deterrence, destabilized by Sept. 11. This war will be followed by others, because the fall of Saddam and the ghost of his army will not quench the existential need to patch the fracture of the World Trade Center."

June Thomas June Thomas

June Thomas is managing producer of Slate podcasts.

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Le Figaro demanded an emergency summit on Iraq, though the paper's description made it sound more like an opportunity for European leaders to patronize President Bush than a meeting of minds. If Bush listened to Jacques Chirac, the paper claimed, "he would understand that France by no means seeks a confrontation with the United States; rather it worries about the consequences of a pre-emptive war on the world of tomorrow. Gerhard Schröder would explain to the former governor of Texas why he had to flatter the pacifist voting bloc in order to win election. Then Bush would have occasion to congratulate Schröder, something he still hasn't done. … If the head of the 'hyperpower' deigned to really listen to Vladimir Putin, he might quiet Donald Rumsfeld, who never ceases to threaten Germany with redeploying American troops in the east." Süddeutsche Zeitung said it was not surprised that the Bush administration rejected the summit proposal: "They are frightened by the idea that a few gentlemen from the old Europe could, shoulder to shoulder, call George Bush to account in front of the whole world." (German translation courtesy of BBC Monitoring.)

In Spain, where the center-right government of Prime Minister José María Aznar supports the U.S.-U.K. position, despite widespread public opposition to war, ABC was one of the few papers to offer Aznar any solace: "For reasons of coherence … because of the intrinsic nature of the genocidal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein .. the Spanish government has adopted the right policy." Elsewhere, El Mundo said, of a declaration of war on Iraq, "With the United Nations it's a mistake; without the United Nations, it's a barbarity!" El País announced that "Bush, Blair, and Aznar are subjecting public opinion to games of rhetorical prestidigitation to justify a decision that's already been made." The editorial concluded, "Better a security council that's ignored and declared 'irrelevant' by one warring party—which then decides to act without its consent—than a council subjugated and forced against its will to give its formal approval to an invasion that has already been decided on against the true will of the component governments and that of public opinion."

French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin's whistle-stop trip to the three African members of the security council—Angola, Guinea, and Cameroon—was less successful than the French government hoped. The Angolan foreign minister told de Villepin that war in Iraq is "inevitable," and according to the Financial Times, "the Angolan leadership is considered susceptible to US pressure, with American oil companies responsible for driving both exports and inward investment. The US is also believed to have recently raised its offers of aid in post-civil war reconstruction in Angola." Guinea has ties with both France, its former colonial ruler, and the United States, but as a beneficiary of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, Guinea is obliged to avoid acts "hostile to U.S. national security." Cameroon's president was particularly supportive of Jacques Chirac at the recent Franco-African summit, but "caught between French overtures and US arm-twisting, analysts in Paris felt it would be hardest for governments to resist the latter."

Papers in Mexico and Chile, the U.N. Security Council's current Latin American representatives, balanced the desire to vote their conscience with the need to stay in Washington's good graces. Mexico's El Universal praised the Fox administration for its "dignified and honorable" stand in resisting "overwhelming U.S. pressure to drag us toward a resolution in favor of war on Iraq. … Unfortunately, you have to pay a price for dignity sooner or later. … It would be regrettable for a legitimate and dignified political position—such as our tradition of pacifism—to lead to a disaster for many compatriots whose wellbeing depends on the relationship with the United States." The editorial concluded, "We cannot sell our vote, however, nor can we sacrifice millions of Mexican citizens, including some of those who are the least protected." An editorial in Chile's El Mercurio criticized Chirac's anti-U.S. stance, noting that "if the United States had always opted for 'peace,' France would now be under the Nazi or Soviet yoke." It concluded, "Being on the security council is an opportunity not to please the whole world, but rather to gain prestige, to show that Chile is a mature, intelligent, and brave country capable of its own opinions."

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In Pakistan, most papers welcomed Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali's appeal for the security council to allow more time to seek a peaceful settlement with Iraq. The Daily Times of Lahore said, "Recent developments in Pakistan indicate that it would be suicidal for the government to support an attack on Iraq. … [S]uch a move would strengthen the resolve of the religious parties to disrupt the functioning of the Jamali government with full public support on the streets." Dawn said the government was on the right side of the war debate: "Pakistan as a member of the Organization of Islamic Conference and as a key Muslim country cannot afford to support any resolution that seeks to inflict further human suffering and devastation on Iraq. In this Pakistan must be guided by the fact that the cause of peace is just and must be upheld under all circumstances. An attack on Iraq will be morally and legally unjust." The Nation pointed out that adherence to U.N. resolutions is a key part of Pakistan's foreign policy since the country's "entire case on issues such as Kashmir rests on principles of the UN charter. … [A] morally ambivalent position on Iraq today would weaken Pakistan's ability to stand up to India's bullying tomorrow."