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National Security Policy and the Strong ExecutiveIt was Mitterrand who first accepted the necessity of multilateral military coordination at a strategic level, as a way to achieve more strategic influence within the Alliance.56 Chirac continued this process and supported NATO and other Allied military operations, all the while endeavoring to remain true to two of the basic premises of Gaullism: maximum diplomatic autonomy; and a leadership role for France commensurate with the nation’s global rank. French participation in operations in the Balkans or even Afghanistan was simply an extension of traditional policy in which multilateral structures or coalitions were viewed as vehicles to enhance the role and influence of Paris. Although France participated in these campaigns, there remained resistence to American command dominance of the command and control structures, even when the United States provided the overwhelming bulk of the forces. This was simply a manifestation of the continuing resistence to American unilateralism.

Afghanistan as Prelude
The early policy choices of the Bush administration were perceived to foretell of a renewed U.S. unilateralism. Officials in Paris pointed to transatlantic strains over the Kyoto Treaty, National Missile Defense in the United States, and a range of trade disputes as proof that the Bush administration intended a retreat from the post-Cold War multilateralism of previous American governments.57 The attacks on 11 September seemed to change this. Chirac was the first foreign head of state to visit Washington in the aftermath of the attacks and he pledged broad French support for the United States. In fact, France supported U.S. efforts to improve intelligence-sharing and law enforcement cooperation on terrorism. The French further supported the U.S. effort to gain invocation of Article V of the NATO charter (the collective defense clause).58 However, there quickly emerged divergences between the two countries over the strategy and scope of the American war on terror.

The French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine (who had previously denounced the United States as a “hyper-power”) attempted to establish France as an interlocutor in the Arab-Israeli Conflict and continued to oppose U.S. policy on transatlantic trade.59 Chirac pressed for a greater role in planning the military strategy of Operation Enduring Freedom and demanded greater French influence in planning as a precondition for significant participation in the campaign. This was refused by the Bush administration, which instead relied mainly on U.S. military assets during the military phase of Operation Enduring Freedom. Subsequently, Jospin and Vedrine were especially vocal in their denunciations of Bush’s “axis-of-evil” speech which they described as “simplistic and absurd.”60

Once the campaign was over, France protested the post-Taliban division of labor under which the United States retained operational command in Afghanistan, even over the UN peacekeeping forces.61 Chirac especially objected to being tasked to “clean-up” after the American campaign. He perceived that the signal from the Bush administration was that the Americans would “do the cooking and prepare what people are going to eat, then you [the French] will wash the dirty dishes.”62 The result of U.S. policy was the loss of prestige or rank for France and a seeming confirmation of the unilateralism of the Bush administration.

Chirac became determined to avoid marginalization. Buoyed by electoral successes in 2002 which gave him a majority in the National Assembly, the French President endeavored to increase the role of the UN in the war on terrorism. For instance, France steadfastly maintained that any expansion of the war on terrorism would require approval by the UN Security Council.63 Throughout the build-up to the campaign in Iraq, Chirac categorically maintained that military operations against Iraq were “not a topical issue,” and he stated, “I hope it will never become a topical issue because intervention would have serious consequences for the international coalition against terrorism.”64 Instead, he insisted that Iraq was a separate issue from the war on terrorism and that the UN was the best way to disarm the regime of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).65

American Preemption and French Obstructionism
Speaking before the UN General Assembly on 12 September 2002, Bush issued a stern warning to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, one demonstrative of a fundamental shift in American foreign and security policy. In the context of that address, the President made three unambiguous points. First, he demanded that Iraq refrain from the development of nuclear, chemical and biological WMD, a promise Saddam’s regime made in the context of its surrender at the conclusion of the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War and had since broken repeatedly. Second, he challenged the UN to carry out its responsibilities by impressing upon Saddam the need to disarm in an internationally verifiable manner as stipulated in myriad previous Security Council Resolutions. Third, he emphasized the United States would act—multilaterally if possible but unilaterally if necessary—to remove the threats posed to American interests by Iraq’s development of WMD and support for transnational terrorist groups including but not limited to Al Qaeda.66

Five days after Bush’s UN address, his administration released its first formal National Security Strategy (NSS), an initiative designed to warn American adversaries generally and Iraq specifically that the United States would no longer tolerate either the development and proliferation of WMD or the state sponsorship of terrorist. Essentially, Bush’s NSS represented a shift in strategy from the containment doctrine of the Cold War era and comparably reactive policy-making of the Clinton administration to the use of preemptive means to safeguard U.S. interests at home and abroad. It was a shift necessitated by the changing nature of the severity of the threats posed to American security in the post-11 September world.67 As National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice has argued, “some threats are so potentially catastrophic—and can arrive with so little warning, by means that are untraceable—that they cannot be contained. . . . So as a matter of common sense, the United States must be prepared to take action, when necessary, before threats have fully materialized.”68

Put simply, the Bush administration used its policy toward Iraq as a test case for the practical implementation of the NSS. It did so through a three-part strategy that has unfolded between September 2002 and the present. First, Bush attempted to use diplomatic measures to ensure Iraqi disarmament, most notably by securing the return of UN weapons inspectors to Iraq under the auspices of Security Council Resolution 4112, which was passed unanimously on 8 November 2002.69 Second, when Saddam refused to comply fully with the weapons inspectors, the United States collaborated with the United Kingdom—and, to a lesser degree, allies including Australia and several Eastern and Central European states—to forcibly remove the Iraqi regime from power in orchestrating a campaign that lasted just over one month between mid-March and mid-April 2003. Third, the Americans and British are currently leading a coalition of the willing to build a democratic system in Iraq over the long term.

During the initial stage of the above process, Chirac consistently voiced his unambiguous opposition to the use of military force to disarm Iraq and employed all diplomatic measures at his disposal to block that course of action. For example, although France voted for Resolution 4112, it did so only because that measure did not explicitly sanction the use of force against Iraq. Ultimately, when the United States, the United Kingdom and Spain indicated they would seek a second resolution condoning military action to disarm Saddam’s regime, Chirac responded that “whatever the circumstances, France will vote no,” ensuring that the campaign for any such resolution was stillborn.70

Chirac’s behavior raises one overarching question: Why was he so insistent that the United States not remove Saddam from power? In short, there are three reasons, each of which includes both domestic and international components that require more detailed independent explanations. First, France had close public and private economic ties with Saddam’s regime, which it was understandably eager to preserve. Second, France plays host to a growing Muslim population, one whose members were unequivocally opposed to U.S. military action against Iraq and by no means averse to expressing their opposition in violent—and thus socially destabilizing—ways. Third, Chirac perceived the Iraq crisis as an opportunity to revitalize flagging French prestige—both within and outside of Europe—in opposition to American predominance in the post-Cold War international system.

Economically, France had much to lose as a result of the liquidation of Saddam’s regime. At the governmental level, Baghdad is in debt to Paris to the tune of approximately $8 billion.71 While the sum itself is not substantial, it suggests the potential existence of linkages between Chirac’s administration and the regime in Baghdad that may extend at least peripherally to collusion on the development of WMD. In theory, economic connections between France and Iraq are perhaps even more relevant with respect to the private sector. Most significantly, French oil companies such as TotalFinaElf (TFE) are suspected of negotiating contracts to develop Iraqi oil resources that would enter into force concurrent with the removal of UN economic sanctions against Iraq. While TFE Chairman Thierry Demarest denies signing any such contracts, published reports indicated that the finalization of a deal for TFE to “exploit the huge Majnoon field, with 20 billion barrels of oil, in southern Iraq, as well as the smaller Nahr Umr field nearby” was all but a formality prior to the outbreak of hostilities.72 Given French opposition to the war, the nascent democratic Iraq is unlikely to TFE nearly so favorably as was true of Saddam.

In addition to these economic considerations, Chirac faced equally pressing domestic political concerns over the potentially volatile reaction of Franco-Muslim communities to any governmental support whatsoever for the American-led use of force against Iraq. There are presently between five and seven million Muslims residing in France.73 Collectively, they compose both the largest and most economically and socially marginalized French minority group. As a result, Chirac was justifiably concerned over the likelihood if not certainty of domestic instability emanating from the urban housing projects in which most Franco-Islamic communities are situated given past acts of Franco-Muslim defiance ranging from public demonstrations to the prosecution of terrorist attacks. Yet, while Chirac’s anti-war strategy mollified France’s Muslims in the short term, deeper ethnic and religious divisions are likely to prevail without the development of a more effective governmental strategy to integrate Islamic communities within the societal mainstream over the long term.

Notwithstanding Chirac’s domestic economic and political motivations, his opposition to and attempted obstruction of the Bush administration’s preemptive strategy toward Iraq was, at its core, a product of the traditional French aversion to the expression of American power in the world. During the Cold War, France consistently sought to create independent roles for itself as a hub of opposition to U.S. leadership within Europe and across the developing world. Manifestations of this trend included de Gaulle’s acquisition of a nuclear force de frappe and subsequent withdrawal of France from NATO’s military command structure in 1966. It is not unreasonable to characterize Chirac’s behavior of late in similar terms to that of de Gaulle. Lacking the economic vitality or military capacity to portray France as a legitimate rival to the United States, Chirac attempted to achieve that objective by using the one body in which Paris possesses power relatively equivalent to that wielded by Washington: the UN Security Council. Regrettably, in the process, he may well have damaged the Franco-American relationship to an extent that will require months—and perhaps—years to repair.

The history of relations between the United States and its European allies has been characterized by alternate periods of collaboration and discord. Notwithstanding short-term European-American disagreements over a variety of economic, military and political issues since the end of World War II—some of which (the 1956 Suez Crisis and stationing of Intermediate Nuclear Forces in Germany in the 1980s, for instance) proved more serious than others—the broader transatlantic relationship has grown progressively deeper with each passing decade. Thus, in one sense, the imbroglio over the 2003 war against Iraq simply represents the latest proverbial broken fencepost for the Americans and Europeans to mend in order to maintain political cohesion across the Atlantic. However, in another sense, the repair work may prove markedly more challenging in this instance than was the case in the past in that it will coincide with the largest widening of the twin pillars of the transatlantic community—NATO and the EU—in either institution’s history.

In the process of opposing the use of force to remove Saddam from power, Chirac sparked divisions within both NATO and the EU. Most significantly, Germany elected to join France in obstructing U.S. attempts to forge consensus within NATO on Washington’s policy toward Iraq, resulting in a de facto division of the European continent into wings favoring and opposed to the Bush administration’s doctrine of preemption. These divisions, in turn, had spillover effects in the context of the EU. With respect to transatlantic community broadly defined, France and Germany—and a number of less influential states including Belgium and Luxembourg—entrenched themselves on one side of the debate over Iraq, while the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Portugal, and the vast majority of prospective EU and NATO members from Eastern and Central Europe aligned themselves with the United States on the other side. Put bluntly, such divisions pose an inopportune—and unnecessary—complication to the scheduled enlargement of NATO and the EU to include several Central and Eastern European states that have staked out positions in opposition to two of the three most politically influential states in Europe.

Ultimately, the United States and France are each at least partially responsible for the predicament in which the transatlantic community finds itself on the eve of the dual enlargement processes slated to move forward in 2004. Bush, for example, could have done a better job accommodating Western European concerns over issues ranging from global warming to the imposition of American steel tariffs in 2001. Chirac, on the other hand, could have been more understanding of U.S. worries over Iraq’s development of WMD and sponsorship of terrorist groups, particularly in light of the tragic events of 11 September. Yet, irrespective of the share of the blame apportioned to Washington and Paris, the Bush and Chirac administrations each now have an opportunity if not an obligation to restore cohesion across the Atlantic rather than remain stubbornly aloof and risk a delay—or perhaps a more serious derailment—of the completion of the idea of a Europe whole and free launched in the aftermath of World War II.

Page 1 2 3 Endnotes

Assessing the Presidency of George W. Bush at Midpoint

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