As I am one of the many who assumed that the British newspapers were accurate when they reported that French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin refused to answer when asked who he wanted to win the war in Iraq, I am most grateful to have been set right by the foreign ministry’s spokesman in Paris, and I want to publicly thank the French consulate here in Washington for sending it to me personally. That’s the sort of attention I appreciate. Anyway, here’s what the spokesman has to say: “We,” he writes in his usual royalist way, “are indignant with the way that certain press correspondents’ presented the remarks made by the foreign minister.”
The spokesman says that Villepin wasn’t silent. He “simply referred the reporter to earlier remarks.” It seems a bit unlikely, but the important point comes next: “Let me remind you of what the minister said on March 24 ‘We hope that the United States will win this war quickly.’” And, in conclusion, a quick rap across the knuckles: “Under these circumstances, it is unacceptable for France’s positions to be distorted or misrepresented in this manner.”
The spokesman is right, it is quite unacceptable for so many of us to distort or misrepresent the words of the French foreign minister, when he had actually been totally consistent. And I want to be one of the first to apologize. I should have checked with the embassy in Washington. Had I done so, it would have been obvious that it was churlish of me to suggest that he might have been embarrassed by the question. Imagine! He just couldn’t be bothered to help his listeners. So he told them to stop annoying him, and go back to his words of the 24th.
Perhaps he didn’t want to repeat his support of the United States in London, because some of the Brits might have then asked him if he included them in his good wishes. But again, I don’t want to make matters worse by niggling criticisms or purely theoretical explanations. He said what he said, and that’s that.
In fact, there was no reason for him to be embarrassed by the question.
He had already provided a perfectly good lie on the 24th, and he didn’t have to dream up a new one in London. For whatever Villepin (or Chirac for that matter) said, in London or Paris, on the 24th or whenever, the fact of the matter is that France has done everything in its power to prevent the coalition from winning this war. Indeed, France took an amazing step, whose only possible consequence was to prolong the war and to maximize casualties on both sides. That took place when France and Germany threatened the Turkish opposition parties with total excommunication from Europe if they dared vote in favor of permitting the U.S. to use Turkish bases in the liberation of Iraq.
When the Turkish vote was taken, it was manifestly clear that we were going to war, and that the Turkish bases were very important in the conduct of the war, since they provided us with the wherewithal to quickly create a northern front, and to close in on Baghdad. By depriving us of this possibility, we had to reroute an enormous quantity of material and an enormous number of soldiers, over many thousands of sea miles, to the peril of our fighting men and women.
That’s what I should have said in the first place. I shouldn’t have paid so much attention to the British press (perfidious Albion!). I should have just noted that the French lied again.
As Colin Powell and George Bush have learned to their dismay and to our great cost.
Maybe the next time France invades Africa we’ll call for volunteers to fight with the brave people of the Ivory Coast, as so many of them have been publicly imploring us to do.