I know Jacques Chirac, and let me tell you, he’s no Charles De Gaulle. He wants to be De Gaulle, and he’s tall enough to play the part, and in fact that’s the way he comes off: A tall guy trying to play De Gaulle. But it doesn’t work, because he’s a small, selfish, pedestrian guy trying to play a world-historical figure.
Tony Blankley wrote a great column the other day about De Gaulle, in which he quoted the great man as saying that France was forever associated in his mind with greatness (“la gloire,” I think De Gaulle said, and maybe “glory” or “grandeur” comes closer than greatness), and that if France wasn’t associated with greatness it had failed to live up to its destiny. That kind of language suggests grand, independent undertakings, but part of De Gaulle’s gloire was his utter reliability as an ally. General Vernon Walters was sent to Paris during the Cuban Missile Crisis to enlist French support for Kennedy’s blockade against the Soviets (and remember that De Gaulle had worked very hard, to our very great annoyance, to insert himself as an independent interlocutor between us and the Soviets). Walters brought to Paris the U-2 photographs of the Cuban missile bases, and he offered to show them to De Gaulle. The French president waved him away.
“I do not need your photographs, Walters,” he said, “This is serious, and when the United States asks France for her support on a serious matter, she will give it. Just tell me what you want France to do.”
That’s what grandeur and great leadership are all about: The willingness to subsume personal interest for the common good. That’s Machiavelli, chapter three, or thereabouts.
Chirac, on the other hand, is all about personal interest. His own, not that of La France. It’s what he’s always been about. The streets of Paris — of which he was long the mayor — are littered with the embittered bodies of his former associates, all abandoned by Chirac at the first scent of scandal. Indeed, the man who for years was Chirac’s most loyal aide, both in the prime minister’s office and then in the Parisian town hall, was instantly jettisoned when he was accused of handling payola for the mayor. This guy was so brave that he told the judges he would not consider answering their questions until and unless he were indicted for something, and then he would defend himself. But he would not serve up Chirac for their personal delight. And still Chirac never expressed a word of gratitude, even when a succession of French courts found the loyal aide innocent in investigation after investigation.
A man capable of betraying his closest associates is quite capable of abandoning his closest ally when it suits him, and our diplomats should not be surprised at recent developments. De Gaulle flirted with the Soviets when the Soviet Union was a superpower — but he knew he was a member of the Atlantic Alliance, and he knew that, without the United States, La France could not survive on its own. Chirac flirts with the Arabs, and has forgotten, or has chosen to deny to himself, that the United States is indispensable to the success of Europe. De Gaulle’s France did lots of business with the Soviet Union, but agreed to restrict high-tech exports to weaken the Kremlin’s military power. Chirac’s France does lots of business with Iraq, and bridles at any suggestion of limitation. Chirac’s country, and by all accounts Chirac’s political party as well, take in a lot of money from oil and gas contracts, as well as from military and dual-use exports to Saddam, and he’s not about to give it up simply because the Western world is threatened by terrorism.
Moreover, Chirac is appeasing French Muslims, and encouraging the other Europeans to do the same. He has recently blessed the creation of a sort of Muslim political organization in France — Europe has not yet learned the vital importance of the clean separation between church and state — which will greatly amplify the sound of the Muslim voice in France. He has embraced the Palestinian cause and speaks contemptuously of Israel in words far more terrible than those used by De Gaulle during the Six-Day War.
Why would our diplomats have expected anything helpful from Chirac, when it is still not clear that we are going to war? I have no doubt that he will join in the war when it becomes certain — to do otherwise would risk the loss of billions of euros at the hands of the government of free Iraq, which will certainly take note of those who abstain from the country’s liberation.
But not before. If Secretary of State Powell — reportedly furious with the arrogance and unhelpfulness of the French foreign minister — wants to get action out of Jacques Chirac, there is only one way. He has to tell this midget successor of a towering giant: “Listen, buddy. We’re going in. If you’re not with us — as of now — we’ll cut you out. Your choice.”
— Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. Ledeen, Resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute, can be reached through Benador Associates.