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Were the French going to support the war in Iraq?

Posted by Helen Friday, October 08, 2004

The Wall Street Journal Europe (a newspaper that believes in putting news on the paper) yesterday reprinted a piece by Glenn Kessler in the Washington Post. Mr Kessler reports that a new book published in France Chirac Contre Bush: L’Autre Guerre (Chirac vs Bush: The Other War) has put an interesting gloss on the story of French refusal to support the war in Iraq.

According to the two authors, Thomas Cantaloube and Henri Vernet, both journalists for the newspaper Le Parisien, the French military were planning to provide 15,000 troops for an invasion of Iraq and a French general, Jean Patrick Gaviard, even visited the Pentagon on December 16, 2002 to discuss details and negotiate landing and docking rights for French jets and ships.

According to the book, which, curiously, does not seem to mention, the benefits various highly placed French politicians and officials seem to have extracted from the food for oil scandal, President Chirac stopped the negotiations because he thought that the Americans were pushing too fast and more time should have been given for inspections.

The French military were not best pleased, it seems, feeling that “not participating with the U.S. in a major war would leave French forces unprepared for future conflicts”.

The theory of Chirac overruling his military on whatever pretext sounds plausible enough. He had much to lose by the war and he may not have believed that the coalition forces will take the country quite so quickly and find quite so many incriminating documents. Otherwise, perhaps he would have made sure that there were French troops there to ensure that information did not fall into the "wrong" hands

There are some fascinating glimpses in the book. It seems Chirac conducts confidential conversations on his mobile phone despite his officials telling him that these calls are listened to. Also, a great deal of blame for the frosty relations between France and the United States is placed on the personal antipathy between the two presidents.

One particular problem seems to be Chirac’s constant references to Bush senior. As Mr Kessler writes:

“During one of Mr Bush’s first European trips, when the new president impressed other European leaders at a summit. Mr Chirac excitedly pulled out his cellphone to call Mr Bush’s father to report that the new president had done a great job, the authors [of the book] said.

‘The father reported this to his son,’ Mr Cantaloube said. ‘It was not very well received in the White House.’”
I’ll bet.