by Kenneth R Timmerman
Posted Mar 16, 2004
In his vigorous defense against charges by Senator John F. Kerry that the Bush administration's policy in Iraq has alienated America's allies, Secretary of State Colin Powell noted on ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that thirty countries had contributed troops to the war, including most members of NATO.
Certainly Spain, Italy, Poland and the "new European" members of NATO proved to be America's friends in fair weather and foul. One country notably 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, the divorce between the United States and France has roots that go deeper than a mere policy disagreement, as Senator Kerry and his supporters contend. This administration's continued hostility toward France is based on a solid track record by French president Chirac and foreign minister Dominique De Villepin of double-dealing, duplicity, and outright lies.
Many Americans will still recall the very public spat with the French that took place as the United Nations was debating a second (actually, the 18th) Security Council resolution that authorized the use of force against Saddam Hussein. The dispute burst onto the front pages when Villepin suddenly reversed course and told a press conference outside UN headquarters in New York on Jan. 20, 2003 that France would veto any resolution that explicitly authorized the use of force.
The Bush administration, starting with Powell himself, were completely taken by surprise by Villepin's announcement. Officials who were involved in negotiating with the French over the language of the UN resolution use the words "ambush" and "sandbagged" to describe Villepin's betrayal.
A U.S. diplomat involved in the exchanges told me candidly that there was never any misunderstanding between Paris and Washington over the eventual need to use force against Saddam Hussein. "The French knew exactly what our thinking was. But until January 20, we had thought they were totally with us."
There was good reason for the Bush administration's confidence. Until January 20, I can now reveal, the French had gone out of their way to privately assure the president, the secretary of state and U.S. diplomats working the issue that they backed the U.S. in the showdown with Saddam, even if it included the use of force.
When the Iraqis stonewalled United Nations arms inspectors in late October 2002, Chirac picked up the phone and called President Bush in the Oval Office to reiterate French support for a strong United Nations resolution that would include the option of using force.
He reinforced that impression by dispatching a top French general to U.S. Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, in December to negotiate the specifics of the French participation in the coming war. He publicly told the military to prepare for war.
"Chirac's assurances are what gave the President the confidence to keep sending Colin Powell back to the UN," one source who was privy to Chirac's oval office phone call to Bush told me. "They also explain why the administration has been going after the French so aggressively ever since. They lied."
Chirac's lie to the president was carefully cultivated by foreign minister Villepin, who was in charge of stringing Colin Powell along at the UN. "Cher Colin," he began his letters to the U.S. Secretary of State before the Jan. 20 ambush. No such niceties preface their chilly exchanges today.
It became clear to me as I probed the facts and the reasons behind French double-dealing over Iraq that neither Villepin nor Chirac had fully appreciated the dramatic changes that had taken place in America after the September 11 attacks.
Villepin is well-known in France for his adoration of two historical figures: Napolean, whose slogan was "victory or death, but glory whatever happens," and Machiavelli, who perfected the art of the diplomatic lie.
There is no doubt that he counseled president Chirac to oppose the United States on Iraq in a misguided effort to position France as a new "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 of deception he played with Secretary of State Colin Powell, and that drove President Chirac to lie to President Bush.
"The problem with you Americans," Villepin hectored a visiting United States Senator in Paris last December, "is that you don't read Machiavelli." His meaning, the Senator's aide told me, was crystal clear. Villepin and Chirac had lied to the United States during the Iraq crisis, and if we didn't like it, we should get over it. That's how the "big boys" played politics.
Two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to discuss these events with the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the French Senate, André Dulait, during a visit to Libya. Senator Dulait lamented the collapse of amical relations between the United States and France, and urged the Bush administration to "come to its senses and let bygones be bygones." I replied that if France really wanted to repair relations with the United States, it might begin by putting a new face on its diplomacy.