Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Au revoir, mon ami!

Has anyone else been following the election in France this past week? Well, even if you haven't been, it seems like half of the world's dictators have just lost one of their best friends: outgoing French President Jacques Chirac, who has highlighted a lengthy, some would say interminable, career in French politics, has apparently managed to become best friends with nearly every single dictator in Africa and the Middle East.

Chirac's friendship with the mercifully deceased Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is legendary, of course, once gushing "you are my personal friend. Let me assure you of my esteem, consideration and bond" to the Butcher of Baghdad. Saddam, who apparently wasn't particularly looking for compliments, must have been somewhat baffled by his newfound Gallic admirer, but became fast friends with Chirac all the same. Especially since Chirac found no problem with selling nuclear technology to Iraq during Chirac's stint as French Prime Minister in 1975.

Did Jacques Chirac object to Saddam's unique stipulations that the nuclear technology transfer program "contain no persons of either the Jewish race or Mosaic religion" both on the Iraqi and French sides of the project? Mais non! Pas de problème, mon ami! Saddam eventually came to find his strangely obsequious ally very useful indeed, especially when the French adamantly opposed the war the eventually toppled him. He might have preferred French military support, but that's something of a sore topic with France.

Chirac stepped up his fawning relationship with world dictators when he became President of France, especially when the dictators in question ruled French speaking, or especially, former French colonies. Chirac not only bankrolled, but struck up personal friendships with some of the world's most notorious tyrants, such as Algerian dictator Abdelaziz Bouteflika, autocrat Félix Houphouët-Boigny of Côte d'Ivoire, and Tunisian strongman Zine El Abdine Ben Ali. The more notorious the reputation, the greater Chirac's apparent eagerness to strike up a friendship.

Even Chirac's notorious hostility to the English language couldn't prevent Chirac from striking up a personal friendship with Zimbabwean dictator, and international pariah, Robert Mugabe. So consistent was Chirac's track record in maintaining friendship with the world's most repressive leaders, Mugabe could not help but feel offended when France later made a big show of possibly denying Mugabe permission to visit Paris. If it's any comfort to Robert Mugabe, Chirac's newfound reluctance came only after his former willingness to embrace Mugabe caused a scandal in the French press. Chirac finally found courage enough to ignore the feelings of the French public and extend a warm hand to the visiting dictator. Mugabe was right to take umbrage, however briefly justified. Since when had the scorn of the public stopped Jacques Chirac from cozying up to a dictator?

While some will grant that maintaining diplomatic relationships with dictatorships is an unavoidable necessity, is it really necessary to befriend the dictators themselves? Chirac saw no problem with this whatsoever.

UPDATE: President elect Nicolas Sarkozy vows to discard the French status quo with regards to coddling injustice in the name of "stability".

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