Bush and Chirac: The Leader and the Appeaser

By: Greg C. Reeson

Watching the photo opportunity between U.S. President George W. Bush and French President Jacques Chirac, as the various leaders of the world gathered in New York at the United Nations a few weeks ago, I could not help but reflect on the differences the two men exhibit as they head their respective states.

On the one hand is President Bush, leader of the most powerful nation in the world and son of a former U.S. President. He is fiercely loyal to those in his inner circle, extremely intelligent and well versed in geopolitics, despite what his critics may say about his occasional mangling of the English language. He is a man who stands by his convictions, regardless of public opinion and without concern for polling data or what seems “popular.”

George Bush has a vision for the future. Some agree with that vision, and some do not. He sees the current global environment as nothing short of a life-and-death struggle between good and evil. He believes deeply that he is right and just in trying to spread American-style democracy and does not bend from his positions. In a political system that lives and dies by public opinion, President Bush remains true to his beliefs.

As the mid-term election campaign season got into full gear, many in the country expected a large withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq as a means for shoring up electoral support for the Republican Party and GOP candidates. The anticipated move was touted as political maneuvering and a ploy to use American soldiers to retain or win seats in Congress.

But President Bush’s commander on the ground in Iraq, General George Casey, recently announced that the current level of troops battling the Iraqi insurgency, a level that has increased from 127,000 to 140,000 in the past few months, would remain the same at least through the end of this year and possibly through 2010. So much for pulling out just in time to retain control of the House and Senate.

Time and again the President sticks to his guns. In Iraq, he is fulfilling his commitment to the fragile unity government to stay until the fight is done, despite public discontent for the war at home and despite repeated calls to get out of Iraq as soon as possible.

Opposite President Bush is French President Jacques Chirac. Chirac can best be described as the ultimate symbol of European appeasement. He consistently seeks political accommodation, no matter what the issue, and regardless of whether he has made promises to his allies.

I understand that nearly all diplomatic agreements are compromises. States give and take constantly in order to satisfy all involved parties. Sometimes, though, compromise is not, or should not, be an option.

Repeatedly, President Chirac has made promises to other nations only to reverse his position when confronted or challenged. After voting for multiple resolutions demanding that Iraq give up weapons of mass destruction and allow unfettered access to IAEA inspectors, France abandoned the United States and England when the time came to enforce those resolutions in 2003.

In the latest conflict between Hezbollah and Israel, President Chirac promised to lead a UN peacekeeping effort in Lebanon and to provide thousands of troops for the mission. After the resolution was passed, however, and the French were asked to deploy soldiers to the region, Chirac reversed himself again and offered only a few hundred auxiliary troops without French command of the U.N. force. It was only after much prodding from the United Nations that Chirac agreed to increase the number of troops headed for Lebanon, though the additional effort still fell short of original French promises.

Most recently, the French under Chirac have again begun the process of abandoning allies in the nuclear standoff with Iran. After voting for a United Nations Security Council resolution demanding that Iran cease uranium enrichment by August 31 or face sanctions, Chirac is now calling for an indefinite period of negotiations, without the previous demand of uranium enrichment suspension.

During the photo opportunity with President Bush, Chirac touted Franco-American relations and claimed that he and Bush saw eye-to-eye on the issue of Iran. Soon after the conclusion of the meeting, though, President Chirac spoke to the United Nations and asserted his belief that the time was not right for sanctions, even though President Bush has repeatedly called for the enforcement of the U.N. resolution calling for sanctions. What changed so suddenly? What happened to seeing eye-to-eye on Iran’s nuclear ambitions? Now, several weeks later and with Iran still defying the United Nations, Chirac still wants to find a way to talk to Ahmadinejad and the clerics.

The reality is that Chirac is a die-hard Europeanist. He sees the European Union as a potential superpower and counter balance to U.S. hegemony. He pushed for a European Constitution that would have surrendered much of France’s sovereign power, although in the end French voters rejected his efforts. He uses French veto power in the U.N. Security Council to thwart U.S. initiatives at every opportunity. His dream for a European super-continent that rivals the United States dominates his thinking and drives his quest to appease everyone but his American ally.

While President Bush provides strong leadership based on core beliefs and an unwavering commitment to the fight between good and evil, President Chirac seeks accommodation at the expense of what is right or just. His statements vary from audience to audience and he leads by reaction instead of by example. Given a choice, I’d take a President Bush over a President Chirac any day.

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