Tuesday, August 31, 2004

The Shadow of France

If the French are not seeking to pay monetary or some other type of ransom to obtain the release of the two Frenchmen kidnapped by Iraqi terrorists nothing in their actions of the past few days makes sense. The French Foreign Minister, Michel Barner, is on tour of Middle Eastern capitals to seek support for the release of the hostages. The Taipei Times says:

In Paris the foreign ministry said its outgoing secretary-general, Hubert Colin de Verdihre, just named ambassador to Algeria, had arrived in the Iraqi capital to boost the French embassy in the Iraqi capital. Barnier said he would be accompanied by a number of other senior officials. Barnier hinted that he would also visit other regional capitals but gave no details. He was due to have talks in Cairo with the secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Mussa.

So far, his line to the kidnappers has been, "but we're friends". The Moscow Times reports:

"France, due to its position on the war in Iraq, could have hoped it was safe," Le Figaro said in an editorial on Monday. "This was not the case." ... Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, the Arab world's largest Islamist organization but officially banned in Egypt, said in a statement that it condemned the kidnappings. "The Muslim Brotherhood demands that the two French journalists kidnapped in Iraq be freed, especially as there is no proof of their involvement in any activity against law and order, but rather they were participating in exposing the occupation and its practices," the group said.

The idea that this was a red-on-red, some ghastly mistake, was conveyed by the BBC:

The BBC's Angus Roxburgh in Paris reports that a large crowd of people gathered in the city's Trocadero Square on Monday evening, to show their support for Christian Chesnot of Radio France Internationale and Georges Malbrunot of Le Figaro newspaper. Thousands in France demonstrated solidarity with the journalists He says French people have been appalled by their plight, and are baffled that the country's citizens should have been targeted by Iraqi militants, given France's vocal opposition to the US-led invasion of Iraq.

But the descent of so many French diplomats on Middle Eastern capitals suggests it is trying to cut a political deal with the terrorists and their backers. Since France has ruled out rescinding the headscarf ban to preserve the appearance of amour propre, the obvious alterntive is to make someone else make concessions. That someone will probably be Iraq. This may have sparked off the exchange between Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and the Quai de Orsay. According to Xinhua:

... Allawi declared earlier Monday that the kidnapping of two French journalists showed that there was "no possible neutrality" in Iraq and that those who do not fight at the government level can not escape terrorism. "None of the civilized countries can escape," he said, noting "there is no possible neutrality, as shows the kidnapping of the French journalists." "The French deluded themselves if they would hope to stay outside," he added.

Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's declaration, which came after the kidnapping of two French journalists in Iraq and accused France's position towards terrorism, was "unacceptable," the French Foreign Ministry said Monday. "This declaration seems in fact to have cast doubt on France's determination in the fight against terrorism ... France is leading untiringly a resolute action against this scourge and it is always bringing its support and contribution to all the initiatives of the international community in this field," said Cecile Pozzo di Borgo, spokeswoman of the French Foreign Ministry. The spokeswoman reiterated her country's call for efforts to seek a "political solution" to the Iraqi crisis, adding that "the organization of free and democratic elections would permit to get together conditions of a real political and economic reconstruction of Iraq". France has opposed the US-led Iraq war and has no troops in Iraq.

This suggests that the French diplomats are attempting to link the release of the French hostages to changes in the method and manner in which the Iraqi elections will be held. The mere fact that France is negotiating implictly means there will be a quid for the quo. After all, in 2003, European hostages held by Al Qaeda affiliate Algerian Islamic militant Group for Preaching and Combat were released in exchange for $6M dollars, according to Deutsche Welle. There were even demands from German politicians to force the ex-hostages to reimburse the state for the payout.

Deputy parliamentary leader of the opposition Christian Democrats, Wolfgang Bosbach, pointed to the hefty bill. Tourists who "frivolously get into danger just for the thrill of it, should be prepared to pay a part of the costs involved in their release," Bosbach said. He added there were some citizens who traveled to risky areas in the expectation, that if something went wrong, the government would take care of it and German taxpayers would pay for the entire operation to secure their release. Bosbach’s statement sparked a heated round of debate as politicians of all stripes jumped into the discussion on whether or not tourists should be held accountable in the event of a hostage situation.

Paying tribute is all part of the nuanced foreign policy of former great states. But whether the French ante up with secret political concessions or payouts, the result will be the same. More Americans and Iraqis will die as the price of French appeasement.

Yet the French will not escape the carnivorous attentions of the terrorists in the end. Promises by blackguards are made to be broken. The trick is to know that and the French have forgotten. Americans at least, have old Arnold Schwarzennegger movies to remind them.His character in the 1985 movie Commando holds a villain by the ankle over a cliff and this bit of dialogue ensues:

Arnold to thug: "Hey Sully, remember when I promised to kill you last?"

Thug: "Yeah, man! You said that!"

Arnold drops the man.

Arnold: "I lied."