As George W. Bush looks out on an unfriendly world, where can he find new allies to support America’s tarnished foreign policy? Step forward Jacques Chirac, who in his final year in office acts as though he wants to be as good a friend to Washington as Tony Blair. After five years of trying to build an anti-U.S. front with Germany–splitting Europe down the middle–the French
president is reaching into his diplomatic toolbox and coming up with initiatives that are increasingly in tune with America’s global agenda.
So, as the U.S. president arrives in New Delhi with the aim of building up India as a 21st-century regional superpower capable of rivaling China, Bush will find that his path and message have been smoothed by Chirac. Just returned from India himself, the French president struck a blow for the U.S. administration’s strategy by strongly supporting a rapid buildup of India’s nuclear-energy ambitions. He signed an agreement to export French nuclear know-how, giving India the chance to obtain nonpolluting energy for its accelerating industrial and domestic needs and reduce its dependence on imported oil. The U.S. Congress has yet to lift its ban on nuke exports to India. But if Washington is as serious about assisting India’s nuclear option as it seems, then France‘s willingness to partner in the effort looks like welcome news indeed.
But Chirac has gone further. In a little-noticed speech on French nuclear doctrine earlier this year, he announced that France’s nuclear-weapons capability should be reckoned with by states tempted to sponsor terrorism on French soil. Although wrapped up in Gaullist tropes, this amounts to something akin to a pre-emptive-strike doctrine for Europe, not far removed from the U.S. policy that caused such a flap after 9/11. Belated or not, it echoes Washington’s determination to tell terrorists and their state sponsors that there are lines not to be crossed.
In the Middle East, France and America are working intimately on Lebanon. They are pointing a collective finger at Syria and forcing U.N. resolutions demanding that it stop trying to control its neighbor. Chirac was a close friend of the murdered Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, who kept a good chunk of his $6 billion fortune in France. Furious Hizbullah leaders in Beirut, supported by Damascus, denounce the French president as a poodle of Washington. Even more significant is the new joint front on Iran. Chirac has led Europe’s condemnations of Tehran’s threats against Israel and has been instrumental in referring its nuclear challenge to the Security Council.
Little of this is reflected in the French press, which cleaves to its diet of America-bashing pur et dur . But Chirac understands that posturing over Iraq has not protected France from Islamofascism. Militant Islamist preachers are active among the nation’s 5 million Muslim citizens, many of whom willingly believe that all their problems will get better if they follow Sharia and reject French secularism. Chirac also reacted swiftly when a French Jew was recently tortured to death after being kidnapped by a thuggish gang who believed that, because he was Jewish, his family by definition was rich enough to pay a massive ransom. This vestige of the very worst anti-Semitism shocked France and may serve to wake up intellectuals blinded to the excesses of radical Islamists by their own anti-Americanism.