Others also bear the brunt of French leader's outbursts

Saturday, July 24, 2004

PARIS -- Jacques Chirac, whose refusal to join the Iraq invasion gained him I-told-you-so clout, is worrying allies with his blunt outbursts.

At a time when fighting terrorism needs a united front, arrogance in Paris and Washington alike is breeding discord, analysts and diplomats say.

The crux is simple: While George W. Bush wants to destroy terrorism, Chirac insists that, at best, it can only be contained.

But things have gone beyond the two men's apparent mutual dislike to drag in other leaders.

Turkey, for instance, badly wants to join the European Union. But last month, when Bush endorsed Turkey's ambitions, Chirac essentially told him to mind his own business.

Chirac has enraged eastern European newcomers to the European Union by warning them against supporting the Iraq invasion. He is engaged in a nasty exchange with Ariel Sharon over the Israeli prime minister's claim that France is engulfed in "the wildest anti-Semitism." And he has angered the Muslim world by championing a ban on schoolgirls' wearing Islamic head scarves at school.

Paris and Washington have taken measures to repair their rift, but Anne-Marie Le Gloannec, of the Center for International Studies and Research, sees the problem growing.

"Unfortunately, the U.S. administration is extremely arrogant and the French president is extremely arrogant," she said by telephone from Washington.

In fact, she said, Bush and Chirac share similar viewpoints on many issues, but: "They are very much of the same fabric, and each says things in the bluntest way. This makes things dramatic."

Le Gloannec dismisses any notion that France can be an alternative force to America, but believes the two should be talking about "what we all want and how we ought to get there." Events proved Chirac right in insisting on a U.N. mandate to depose Saddam Hussein, she said.

Far from the power centers, this concern is plain in France.

Roger Casanova, a globe-trotting geologist and former mayor of the Provence village of Ampus, describes himself as staunchly pro-American.

"If Bush had just made a case for removing an evil dictator, we'd have acted in concert, as we did with his father in the first Gulf War," he said. "But he lied to us about the facts and his motives."

A woman buying tomatoes at the Ampus market broke in to say she had just seen Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11." She said Bush should be tried as a war criminal.

But such sentiments do not necessarily translate into support for Chirac. "He is the consummate opportunist," Casanova said, "and I think people are ready for a change."

Polls put Chirac's approval ratings at just over 50 percent. Television satirists call him "Superliar" and "Superthief," evoking corruption charges from which he is immune as long as he is president.

In other European countries, opinion on Chirac is divided.

Marek Cichocki of the Center for International Relations in Warsaw, told The AP, "Nobody in Poland expects anything good from Chirac anymore," while in Britain, The Sun, a populist tabloid, called him "le Worm."

But another tabloid, the anti-war Mirror, praised France, Germany and Belgium for digging in their heels against the United States.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: