Saturday, August 19, 2006

France leads ... sort of

EU: As the Sunday Times brings the snark.

When Israel launched its attack on Hezbollah in Lebanon, President Chirac was among the first leaders to call for a ceasefire, cocking a snook at the Anglo-Saxon pair, President Bush and Tony Blair, the prime minister. M Chirac went on to be instrumental in the passing of the United Nations resolution which demanded just that, and which promised to send in UN troops to ensure that southern Lebanon was free from Hezbollah. There is, of course, no such thing as “UN troops”. There are, rather, national troops loaned to the UN when it assembles a mission. Now that there is indeed a ceasefire of sorts and the UN is required to assemble troops, one might have assumed that it would have a substantial number from the nation that had been most vocal calling for such a UN force: France. As if! When France started, as the saying has it, to “talk the talk”, M Chirac suggested that some 5,000 troops were needed, a Middle East expedition to rival Napoleon’s adventure in Egypt. The French, however, appear to be reluctant to “walk the walk”, offering the grand total of 200 soldiers. The Italians have come forward with 3,000. Not that one should be surprised. There are few more regular — or entertaining — sights than French statesmen indulging in grandiose statements of political and philosophical intent, and then proceeding to do absolutely nothing. Whether it is French domestic reform, the future of the European Union, Nato or foreign policy, the French are past masters at saying one thing and doing quite another. And they are all the more reliable for that. Diplomacy relies on the ability to predict the behaviour of another nation. So the predictable unpredictability of the French is a godsend. Heaven help us if the French were to be consistent with their words: nobody would have a clue what was happening.

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