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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le voyage qui ramène la France dans le marigot atlantiste

by Hassane Zerrouky

The Voyage that Puts France Back in Atlantic Backwaters

Translated Tuesday 11 September 2007, by Henry Crapo

Iraq: The visit of Bernard Kouchner, immediately saluted by the Bush administration, comes at a time when the country is deep in a crisis provoked largely by the United States invasion.

"What can we do to help you in Iraq?", Bernard Kouchner slipped this sentence into his conversation with Condoleezza Rice during her visit to Paris in July. This proposition, reported by the Canard enchainé on 4 July, shows, if it is still necessary, that the visit to Iraq by the chief of French diplomacy is hardly a surprise. It is surely during that meeting that the question was discussed, before Washington, keeping its eye on troubles in Iraq, approved this mission that, according to a communiqué from the Quai d’Orsay, Mr. Kouchner "had been considering ever since his appointment to the post".

For an individual who in 2003 believed that the United States "wished to turn over to the Iraqi the keys of a democratic Iraq", and who was "misunderstood" when he failed to employ arguments "that would be popular with international opinion", he chose a bad time for a visit marking a turning point in French diplomacy. It is no longer a question of withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, as asked by Jacques Chirac, because "that page is turned", as the minister said yesterday to his Iraqi colleagues, among whom was the president Talabani. He reassured them, in spite of the gravity of the situation in Iraq, that "France is ready to participate in this fight against violence", which he qualified as "unacceptable".

Whatever the case may be, all information would lead us to believe that the hoped for return of France to Iraq is a tough wager, at least in the present socio-political conditions. Outside the Iraq government, whose authority does not extend beyond the "green line", and which is quite happy to see Paris change its policy, it is quite believable that Kouchner’s visit has little chance of displacing the Iraqi front line.

An incapacity to insure security

In truth, the country wallows in an unprecedented political crisis that is also the reflection of the fiasco of the United States invasion. Coupled with the continued violence of all sorts and attacks against the American forces, the range of possibilities for a peaceful political solution appear more and more reduced. The government of the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, boycotted by the Sunni parties and by the lay party of Iyad Alaoui, contested by the largest Shiite force, that of the imam Moqtada Sadr, who demands the end of the American occupation, is taking on water on all sides. It is incapable of providing security. For proof, no later than yesterday, while Bernard Kouchner discussed with the Iraqi leaders, the explosion of a vehicle loaded with explosives caused five deaths in Baghdad. A bit later, the Shiite governor of the province of al-Massouna was killed in an attack on his armed convoy. And wide-spread confrontations between opposing Shiite forces, between the Supreme Council of Iraqi Revolution (CSII) and the partisans of Moqtada Sadr, menace the Shiite nation.

As for the offensive launched by the American troops against the djihadists and the Shiite militias, the US commander has for the time being produced no report. Great Britain, which had already reduced its troop numbers, does not exclude a complete withdrawal of its troops over the course of the year 2008. And what’s more, the Iraqi prime minister is in trouble because of his incapacity to reestablish public services as vital as water and electricity for a population worn down by violence, while corruption conquers more and more territory and installs itself for the long term.

The United Nations, a welcome force of intervention

With respect to this somber picture, when the chief of French diplomacy evokes the idea of an increased role for the United Nations, he does nothing but accentuate the trap in which the Bush administration finds itself. The US would indeed look kindly on some involvement of the international community as auxiliary force to help them out of this mud-pit. For president Bush and the American neo-conservatives, the visit of Kouchner in Iraq is icing on the cake. It permits the White House, more and more isolated internally on the Iraq issue, to exorcise its demons. It makes credible those war leaders who remain convinced, despite the Iraq quagmire, that it is still possible to win the war in the name of Western ideals.

Surely, for the French foreign affairs minister, this "bright moment" permits him to put aside the fact that he was prevented from participating in the affair of the Bulgarian nurses, and to polish up his medals. But, more generally, he is engaged along a straight line of convictions that have always been his. In effect, the vision of intervention in the name of humanitarian aid is eventually not such a far cry from that developed by George Bush in the name of the defense of conservative Christian morality.

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