That Gallic Skepticism Over Iraq

“Sovereignty” was transferred to the new Iraqi provisional government last Monday, two days earlier than what had been announced, in what has been praised as a slick move to head off the crescendo of attacks insurgents surely were holding in store for what was supposed to be today’s ceremony. But that’s necessarily “sovereignty” in quotation marks, since it’s an open question what sort of “sovereignty” that new Iraqi government has really received, if for no other reason than the large number of foreign troops – mostly American – that remain in the country but outside of any sort of direct Iraqi control.

You know that you can expect views from the maximal-skepticism side to come from the French press. The early hand-over may have been a surprise, but both Libération, from the French Left, and Le Figaro, from the Right, were nonetheless quickly ready to provide the same.


For its part, Libération is hardly willing to take the American claims about any transfer of sovereignty at face value. In fact, that journal’s front page of yesterday, reproduced here, reads “Iraq: The False Exit of the Americans.” This mood naturally extends to Patrick Sabatier’s editorial, entitled The Bet. He actually discusses two bets that this new development represents, though: George Bush’s bet (in view of that pesky election coming up in four months’ time) that he can show the American electorate that he knows what he’s doing in Iraq, and that American casualties are sure to diminish now that Americans are now longer in the front line. (Sabatier judiciously adds a “theoretically” to that “no-front-line” claim.) And Iyad Allawi’s bet (he’s the new Iraqi premier, termed by Sabatier the “strongman”), that he can persuade his constituency, the Iraqis, that this transfer of power to his government is for real.

Unfortunately, the latter is looking doubtful, and Sabatier gives a list of reasons for sham “sovereignty” that go beyond the sheer continued presence of Coalition forces. The new Iraqi government does not have the right to pass any meaningful laws which can have any effect into the long-term, it is still subordinated to a constitutional panel established by the Occupation Authority (pending a new Iraqi constitution), and it has no control over the use of the international aid coming into the country. As for those in-country troops which are merely the most glaring sign of that government’s powerlessness, Sabatier estimates that they will be needed there, to ensure internal security until Iraqi forces are trained in numbers to do the job, for another good two or three years.

In all, then, there are reasons to doubt that either of these bets will succeed. But at least there has been this gesture towards giving the Iraqis more responsibility to manage their own affairs. Ultimately, Bush had no other choice. What’s more, Sabatier notes, he took much too long in recognizing that he had no other choice. But it’s finally done, and it’s at least better than nothing.

That’s tepid enthusiasm indeed, and the unsigned editorial in Le Figaro (Iraq: The Intact Danger) is not much more enthusiastic, although it does deliver some interesting twists, including an insistence on referring to the occupation forces still in the country as “Anglo-Saxon forces”(!).


Where Libération’s Patrick Sabatier speaks of two bets, the Le Figaro article finds only one central question: Will Iraq now begin a descent into chaos and civil war, or an ascent into the sort of Arab-style democracy that George W. Bush has promised? One key factor in what the answer turns out to be will be whether those “Anglo-Saxon” forces can henceforth master the tricky trade-off between continuing to act sufficiently to bring about public order (and, again, out from under any direct Iraqi control), while at the same time staying out of the limelight enough to start to convince ordinary Iraqis that they finally are running things in their own land.

True, George W. Bush (finally) gave his word that a transfer of sovereignty would happen, and it did, two days early even. But those who might wish to minimize this achievement still have power facts to marshal that it will make little difference, not the least what Le Figaro terms “the basic facts of the Iraqi chessboard”: It’s a country riven between three different ethnic factions, with influence from across its borders that is only increasing. (Presumably the writer here means Iran.) It’s this increasing skepticism over whether the situation there can really ever be saved that stood in Bush’s way as he tried to use the NATO summit earlier this week (another reason to transfer “sovereignty” two days early, so it happens during the summit itself) to try to gain more assistance for the Coalition’s efforts in Iraq. And this same skepticism is spreading over the American electorate as well – as Le Figaro notes ironically, these days for the first time a majority of Americans are siding with Jacque Chirac’s assessment of the situation in Iraq, and not with that of President Bush.

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

Comments are closed.