“Iraq Withdrawal Syndrome”?

The Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz claims to see “signs of Iraq withdrawal syndrome” among the American media. How does this play on the other side of the Atlantic – say, in France?

There is still plenty of interest on the part of the French press in the aftermath of the War in Iraq. Although the magazine Le Point puts on the cover of its latest issue the inevitable image of George W. Bush doffing a cowboy hat (Est-il à la hauteur de sa victoire? “Is he equal to his victory?”), its treatment of post-war America in the lead article is even-handed, depicting the mixed feelings about the war and the human price it exacted among many citizens, even as a New York Times-CBS poll cites 73% of respondents as approving of the Coalition attack on Iraq. Meanwhile, the “hawks” are triumphant: Dick Cheney returns from three weeks’ disappearance to laud on TV “one of the most extraordinary military maneuvers of all time,” and the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, Ahmed Chalabi (described as the hawks’ chouchou – their “favorite,” or “teacher’s pet”) is installed in Baghdad. Naturally, the arrival in Baghdad of the American viceroy, Jay Garner , receives wide coverage, and Libération takes up the Easter theme to worry about the precarious status in post-war Iraq of that nation’s Christian population. They make up 3% of the population, belong to the Chaldean Christian Church (founded in 1553, and affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church), and were perceived to be unduly favored by Saddam Hussein’s regimes, just as were Sunni Moslems. This makes them vulnerable in the current surge of majority Shi’ite assertiveness enthusiasm, centered around the holy cities of Najjaf and Karbala and stoked by the arrival of high-ranked Shi’ite clerics from neighboring Iran. An article in L’Humanité describes the Shi’ite upsurge well, how the most-radical are displacing moderates and thus building up a hostility to the American forces of liberation/occupation which could easily turn dangerous.

But current coverage in France is focused more closely on the commemoration of a disturbing anniversary: the triumph of Jean-Marie Le Pen in the first round of last year’s presidential election, which also meant the end of Lionel Jospin’s political career. Quite apart from considerations of the calendar, France would in any case be reminded of that event by the current twelfth congress of Le Pen’s political party, the Front national (FN). FN delegates re-elected Le Pen as party president, although they rejected his nomination of his daughter, Marine (surely Le Pen’s very own chouchou), to the party’s central committee, which she sat upon in the past. Nonetheless, Le Figaro reports that Le Pen will appoint his daughter to the party’s executive bureau, with a title of vice-president. In an interview in Le Monde, Socialist Party deputy Julien Dray worries that the ascent of Marine Le Pen represents the winning by the FN of a new generation of voters, more pragmatic and therefore more dangerous to the French body politic. It is up to the French Left to win its own portion of that younger generation – whose political engagement could be seen in the anti-Le Pen demonstrations between the first and second rounds of last year’s presidential election. Unfortunately, “[t]he left has lost on the field of battle of ideas”; it must recover the political meaning and cultural hegemony it was able to gain under Mitterand in the late 1980s.

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