by Kenneth R Timmerman
Posted Mar 16, 2004
In his vigorous defense against charges by Senator John F. Kerry thatthe Bush administration's policy in Iraq has alienated America'sallies, Secretary of State Colin Powell noted on ABC's "This Week" onSunday that thirty countries had contributed troops to the war,including most members of NATO.
Certainly Spain, Italy, Poland and the "new European" members of NATOproved to be America's friends in fair weather and foul. One countrynotably absent from Sec. Powell's enumeration, however, was France.And for good cause.
As I reveal in a new book, The French Betrayal of America, thedivorce between the United States and France has roots that go deeperthan a mere policy disagreement, as Senator Kerry and his supporterscontend. This administration's continued hostility toward France isbased on a solid track record by French president Chirac and foreignminister Dominique De Villepin of double-dealing, duplicity, andoutright lies.
Many Americans will still recall the very public spat with the Frenchthat took place as the United Nations was debating a second(actually, the 18th) Security Council resolution that authorized theuse of force against Saddam Hussein. The dispute burst onto the frontpages when Villepin suddenly reversed course and told a pressconference outside UN headquarters in New York on Jan. 20, 2003 thatFrance would veto any resolution that explicitly authorized the useof force.
The Bush administration, starting with Powell himself, werecompletely taken by surprise by Villepin's announcement. Officialswho were involved in negotiating with the French over the language ofthe UN resolution use the words "ambush" and "sandbagged" to describeVillepin's betrayal.
A U.S. diplomat involved in the exchanges told me candidly that therewas never any misunderstanding between Paris and Washington over theeventual need to use force against Saddam Hussein. "The French knewexactly what our thinking was. But until January 20, we had thoughtthey were totally with us."
There was good reason for the Bush administration's confidence. UntilJanuary 20, I can now reveal, the French had gone out of their way toprivately assure the president, the secretary of state and U.S.diplomats working the issue that they backed the U.S. in the showdownwith Saddam, even if it included the use of force.
When the Iraqis stonewalled United Nations arms inspectors in lateOctober 2002, Chirac picked up the phone and called President Bush inthe Oval Office to reiterate French support for a strong UnitedNations resolution that would include the option of using force.
He reinforced that impression by dispatching a top French general toU.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, in December tonegotiate the specifics of the French participation in the comingwar. He publicly told the military to prepare for war.
"Chirac's assurances are what gave the President the confidence tokeep sending Colin Powell back to the UN," one source who was privyto Chirac's oval office phone call to Bush told me. "They alsoexplain why the administration has been going after the French soaggressively ever since. They lied."
Chirac's lie to the president was carefully cultivated by foreignminister Villepin, who was in charge of stringing Colin Powell alongat the UN. "Cher Colin," he began his letters to the U.S. Secretaryof State before the Jan. 20 ambush. No such niceties preface theirchilly exchanges today.
It became clear to me as I probed the facts and the reasons behindFrench double-dealing over Iraq that neither Villepin nor Chirac hadfully appreciated the dramatic changes that had taken place inAmerica after the September 11 attacks.
Villepin is well-known in France for his adoration of two historicalfigures: Napolean, whose slogan was "victory or death, but glorywhatever happens," and Machiavelli, who perfected the art of thediplomatic lie.
There is no doubt that he counseled president Chirac to oppose theUnited States on Iraq in a misguided effort to position France as anew "pole" in world affairs capable of countering -- or at least,challenging -- the United States.
But it is his love affair with Machiavelli that drove the game ofdeception he played with Secretary of State Colin Powell, and thatdrove President Chirac to lie to President Bush.
"The problem with you Americans," Villepin hectored a visiting UnitedStates Senator in Paris last December, "is that you don't readMachiavelli." His meaning, the Senator's aide told me, was crystalclear. Villepin and Chirac had lied to the United States during theIraq crisis, and if we didn't like it, we should get over it. That'show the "big boys" played politics.
Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to discuss these events with thechairman of the foreign affairs committee of the French Senate,André Dulait, during a visit to Libya. Senator Dulait lamentedthe collapse of amical relations between the United States andFrance, and urged the Bush administration to "come to its senses andlet bygones be bygones." I replied that if France really wanted torepair relations with the United States, it might begin by putting anew face on its diplomacy.