France’s New Middle East Policy and War with Iran

I was wrong.  If there was one thing I thought Sarkozy could not radically change, it was French Foreign Policy.   

No sooner had I rejected any rapprochement between France and the US over Iraq on French TV in August, did Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner show up in Baghdad in apparent support of the American political process there. He said France is willing to help. 

Now Kouchner calls on the world to get ready for war with Iran.  As much as he tries to water down his tough statement on French radio this week end, his talk remains geurrier.  He has even threatened to bypass the United Nations if the world body refuses new sanctions and impose American style sanctions of its own if Iran does not give up its nuclear program. 

What is surprising is not so much that this would have never happened under President Jacques Chirac as that it goes against French public opinion, including within Sarkozy’s own ranks.  The French elite have grown very distant from the Americans since the invasion of Iraq.  The US attack is condemned by the overwhelming majority of the French and European population. 

Even in Lebanon, Paris has toughened its approach. Although the French have not yet called the Iranian backed Hezbollah in Lebanon a terrorist organization, their rhetoric has become much tougher than it was under the preceding administration.  France has troops in Shiite Southern Lebanon.

Beyond Sarkozy’s desire to build close relations with Washington and fight Islamic terrorism, one should look to Israel to understand where Paris is going. The French President insists on Israel’s right to security and self-defense.

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad has sworn to destroy Israel.  It has been said that Iran does not have to use the nuclear bomb to destroy the Jewish state. They just have to possess it.  Jews will stop moving to Israel.  And those who have duel citizenship, the vast majority, will quickly return to the countries hence they came. 

Israel will empty and the Palestinians will remain.  Israel, which has the nuclear arm in large numbers, is threatening its own attack if the international community does not stop Iran.  Their air strike on Syria earlier this month has to be seen in that light. 

At the same time, the destruction of Iran’s military and industrial infrastructure would pull the carpet from under Shiite feet in Iraq at a time when the US is arming even Sunni extremists to counter the powerful Mahdis linked to Teheran.  Basically, when Iraq held elections last year, Iran was the big winner.  But now President Bush has a new friend. 

France this time seems to be a willing partner to the United States.  Will public opinion support France as an active partner?