France : the difficulty of being when you had been
France has a glorious past. We had been the most powerful country in the world. Consider sciences, philosophy, warfare, we really were. Our territory was huge including what we called colonies (e.g. Algeria or Vietnam) or when we invaded half of Europe with Napoleon as a leader. We had to battle very hard against England or Germany, sometimes they were ranked #1, sometimes we were. Nowadays, we have slipped on most domains : we obtain only few Nobel prizes, our army capacity is limited, our cultural influence is either strong in small countries (western Africa) or weak in huge countries (US, China), our language is less and less spoken on the planet (in part of the overall population), our economic marketshare is decreasing day after day, we hadn't been the leading edge of the latest technology revolutions like Internet or biotechs. We still have a seat at the very selected club of permanent members (with veto right) of the United Nations (UN) Security Council (inheritance of WWII) but our influence on US or China policy is limited. And, as hard as we try, we're less and less involved in conflicts resolution like Israel vs Palestinians. We're far from insignificant but we've been ousted of the major league (which undoubtfully includes USA, China and Russia). That's not a drama in itself but French people, deep inside, are living this as a punishment. And french leaders are often still acting as if they were still part of this league. Hence the question: is this possible to be, here and now, when you've been greater in the past ?
The question is very different for US. The country had seen its power (real and relative) rising from the very beginning until very recently. And it's still in the major league. Some alarms were ringing during the Vietnam war and US is always balancing between exporting its model to the world and focus on itself first (between 1975 and 1981, the "focus on ourselves" briefly won and then Reagan came with "America's back", sending the pendulum in the opposite way). After the Berlin's wall fall, some thought America will lead the world with no rival. Francis Fukuyama predicted the "end of history". All wrong. Iraki war #1, 9/11 awful tragedy, Iraki war #2, Afghanistan war, Guantanamo, all showed that America cannot anymore send the pendulum back to "focus on ourselves", do not have a solo lead anymore in a "multipolar" world, and got to deal with other countries. End of a (brief) illusion for some delusional folks.
France diplomacy : hypocrisy as a compass
The french current Secretary of State, #2 of the french government in the protocol, said, in a press conference on Oct, 23rd 2012 "Our influence is meant to support our interests but also to defend universal values. That's one of the french diplomacy specificity". That's a sentence previous Secretary of State may have made, a "sub-Secretary of State", dedicated to "Human Rights", had been created by previous government. Moreover, the base line of french Secretary of State is always : we're acting for the greater good of Humanity and, in the same time, for french interests. Let's take the Iraki War #2 as an example. When US decided to make on move on Irak and oust Saddam Hussein, France was opponent #1 and our Prime Minister of the time, Dominique de Villepin, made a brilliant speech at the UN tribune (a lot of french people still remember that very speech with emotion as a moment of "french splendor"). I wasn't a fan myself of this war and was not sure about those WMD story but I was very uspet at the time. Because the story told by french authorities to french population, proxied and backed by huge majority of politicians, medias, experts and intellectuals was :
- This is a was for petroleum only
- Maybe this is also a payback for George W. Bush for what his father did not manage to succeed (oust Hussein)
- Bringing democracy to Irak will is bullshit (by the way, we're not sure "those people" are ready for democraty ... maybe dictature fits them better)
- US acts based on their interests only, do not care about local population and that's wrong
Huge majority of french folks believed that and still do. A tremendous hate wave against US President rocked France and also a hate wave against US itself. A year ago, some french people (not a majority but not that isolated ... and even educated ones) thought that 9/11 was, somewhere, "deserved" by Americans for their long-time arrogance. There was a call for a minute of silence in France after 9/11. At the decided hour, I parked my car and "thought" about the victims (I would have prayed but I'm not religious). My colleague looked at me like I was a martian and said to me that we're not Americans and would US people had been more "understanding" with the rest of the world, that would have had never happened. I answered to her if she thought terrorists attacks on France, in 1995 for example, were "well deserved". Of course not.
Regarding Irak, most of french people forget that Saddam Hussein was a long-time "friend" of our nation (photo above is our former president Jacques Chirac with Saddam Hussein). We sold (signature was made by the president itself) in the late 70s a nuclear power plant, OSIRAK, to Saddam Hussein, which had been eventually bombed and destroyed by Israeli aviation. And our biggest company (TOTAL, a petroleum company), long-time Nation's owned monopoly but now private with a lot of political links, was fiercely acting to be the one to benefit the most of an expected stop of "petroleum against food" UN program.
If you're looking at the more recent history, France had been very active to obtain a UN resolution (despite the reluctance of Russia & China) on Libya. The reason was to save population of a town named Benghazi. Noble cause. But we violated the resolution (hence the higher reluctance of China on Syria) : we were supposed to perform an air-ban and protect civilians, not launch missiles on Gaddafi convoy or houses. Humanitarian reasons were true but other considerations were at stake : gas/petroleum supply, influence on Arab's world, not having a terrorist backyard so close to Paris, ...
France used to have numerous colonies in Northern and Western Africa. What does this mean ? Those lands were governed by France, populations were second-rank french (or not french at all), we extracted resources from their soil for our own purpose (at a very low cost and no dime for local population). After an ugly decolonization process in the 50s (worst of it was Algeria war including terrorism and torture on both side), a new policy had been theorized and enforced. The name is "Françafrique". It had been setup by a man reporting directly to the President of the time, General de Gaulle : Jacques Foccart. He set up networks so to keep french influence at any price. The aim of the influence was to ensure the gas & petroleum supply, ensure UN votes of African dictators and obtain indirect influence from those bullies. To do so, France financed rebellions, helped military coup realization, and any other kind of actions that were "necessaries" to fulfill the goal. Note that the system was nicely thought : France was financing local bullies regardless of what they do with their population, bullies were letting us extracting petroleum from their soil at a very competitive cost, they loaded their Swiss bank accounts and send back a part of the money to french politicians.
The system had been smooth but is still alive. Over decades, it led us to play a dirty part in humanitarian aftermath like in Biafra. Our exact role in Rwanda genocide (800.000 casualties chopped off with machete) is unclear but we supported the "future killers" because they were "pro-french" and the "future corpses" were supposed to be pro-US. Now, the game is getting more complex with China arising in Africa.
If you're looking at a map of the french forces acting outside France, we're part of several ops : Afghanistan (2.200 troops), Lebanon, Tchad (african country, the operation started 26 years ago ...), Ivory Coast, Kosovo (after former Yugoslavia collapsed in 1991). Our "pre-positioned" soldiers are based in Djibouti (North-East Africa little country, led by crook politicians financed by France, close to Middle-East petroleum sea routes; 1.900 troops), Indian Ocean and ashore Arabic Emirates, Gabon (Western Africa, 900 troops), Senegal (Western Africa, 350 troops). No need for a long study to understand what those troops are doing here : protect our influence in Africa and the road to our energetic resources (gas, petroleum, uranium). Where does french petroleum importations come from (we don't have any in our soil) : 33% from Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaïjan, 16% from Libya (hence our interest for Libya population), 16% from other countries in Africa (hence troops there), 15% from Norway and UK, 9% from Saudi Arabia (hence the troops in the area), 4% from Irak (hence our opposition to the Iraki war #2). Our uranium (75% of our electricity is made by nuclear power plant so we need uranium) is mainly coming from Africa. TOTAL, our big oil blue chip, highly linked to Francafrique and french politics ? 35% of its petroleum is extracted in Africa and 37% of its proven reserves are lying under Africa's soil. Gas ? 37% from Norway, 17% Netherlands, 16% Russia, 15% Algeria.
Superpowers flex their wings
So let's not fool ourselves. The purpose of french diplomacy is to preserve our influence and secure our energetic supply. If that's compatible with human rights, that's good. It not ? Too bad. That's why Laurent Fabius (current french secretary of State) sentence is pure hypocrisy. A Secretary of State's job is to push its country interest. Acting otherwise would be treason. Am I happy with this ? Well, I'd like us to manage to fill our car gas tank without having to think about abused children, sure. But that's the way world works. We might be able to change this, little by little. But certainly not by denying the reality.
France and US are alike. They're acting to push their influence, secure their energetic supply. The only specificity those two countries have is that they also want to "teach" something to other countries. And why not? The only difference I see between USA and France is that US is a grown-up country able to face the fact it's using realpolitik. France needs to lie to itself to do so cause we're ashamed of what we do (and maybe it has something to do with guilt associated for what we did in our colonies but that's another story and that'll be another post).