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Bush Was Right, Indeed, France Is Your Best Ally

Bush Was Right, Indeed, France Is Your Best Ally

Speech of Jean-David Levitte, Ambassador of France, Boston, October 29, 2004. Source: Embassy of France, Washington D.C.

Mr. Herman, thank you so much for your very kind introduction.

I am delighted to be with you tonight on the eve of a historic event, the Red Sox victory!

I think today, with you, we have a good opportunity to think about what I would call a French paradox. As you just said, I have been in Washington for nearly 2 years now. When I arrived, somebody told me: « You see, I consider France as our best ally ». It was President Bush, on the 9th of December, 2002. He was thinking of the war against terror. I think he was right, and he is still right, I do consider that France is your best ally in this war against terrorism. And for one good reason: we learnt the hard way.

It started in the 1980’s with the consequences in Paris, in Lyon, in Marseille of explosions in our streets, of the war in Lebanon, where we both had troops. We had ten hostages in Lebanon, we had explosions in our streets, and we reacted by putting together a comprehensive strategy to deal with terrorism. Then, in the 1990’s, we had the consequences of the war in Algeria, again in Paris, Lyon, Marseille, with explosions, and thus, over these last 25 years we have had a lot of experiences where we put together a comprehensive strategy with police, justice, military and intelligence agencies. We share all our intelligence with the CIA and your different agencies fighting terrorism. So yes, I do think that we are your best ally in what is your number one focus, the fight against terrorism.

But we are also, I do think, your best ally in Afghanistan. You have to know that on 9/11, I was the French Ambassador to the United Nations and I saw the destruction of the Twin Towers from the windows of my office, and I reacted. I was, during this month of September, the President of the UN Security Council. I could not join Paris because the telephone communications were out of order, the Verizon Center had been destroyed. But we knew what we had to do. And we proposed to change the international law to decide that such an act of terrorism should be considered an act of war. And we said that we should target not only the terrorists as individuals, but also the states that offer hospitality, training, equipment, financing to the terrorists. And what is amazing is that this resolution, proposed by France on the morning of the 12th, the day after, was unanimously adopted in 1 hour. At that moment, we knew what we had to do and everybody was involved.

Perhaps you remember the title of Le Monde « Nous sommes tous Américains ». And France did participate right from the beginning in the war in Afghanistan. We sent troops and today we still maintain troops in Kabul, to the point that a French general is in charge, is leading the NATO operations in Afghanistan. There are only 2 countries training the new Afghan army: the United States and France. And there are only 2 countries trying to get Bin Laden; maybe we’ll get him, the sooner the better. And the 2 countries which are staying closer to the borders with Pakistan, trying to get the last elements of Al Qaeda are, again, the United States and France. So yes, I do think that we are your best ally in Afghanistan.

In the Balkans, in Bosnia and in Kosovo, our troops are side by side. In Kosovo, you have the second NATO operation, and again a French General is in charge of this second NATO operation in Kosovo, simply because we provide a number of troops. But we also have troops side by side in Africa. We intervened together in Haiti, and so on.

So yes I think that president Bush was right, indeed, France is your best ally.

But, that’s not what I hear when I look at Fox News.

It started the day President Bush came to the United Nations’ General Assembly on 12 September, 2002, to propose to the world to disarm Iraq, if possible not by the use of force, and we said yes, and everybody applauded.

And we negotiated resolution 1441 to have a clear road map on how to disarm Iraq.

So far so good.

The problem started when you deployed troops around Iraq. At that time, I was transferred to Washington DC and I thought it was a good idea, because it was the best way to tell Saddam Hussein that this time, it was serious, either he would have to cooperate or he would have to pay the consequences, i.e. the use of force. But the problem started when you deployed not only 15.000 troops, but 300.000 troops and it was clear at this time that the pressure to use these troops was difficult to resist. But the mood in New York at the same moment was not at all the same because the more you had troops, the more Saddam Hussein was cooperative. And you remember maybe, the destruction by the Iraqi army of the missiles Al Samoud 2 at the request of the United Nations’ inspection. This was a real disarmament. So why stop a successful programme of UN inspection, we had to continue and that was the point of view of the 15 members of the Security Council.

And, yes, France did oppose the use of force, for good reasons. First, we did not see any weapons of mass destruction which would constitute a threat to the security of the United States. We did know that there were some, but we were unsure that they were a threat, an immediate threat, an urgent threat to the United States because you had 300.000 troops around Iraq, and thousand of inspectors inside Iraq, and Saddam Hussein was in his box with inspectors in the box.

And we did not see any link between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, nor between Saddam Hussein and the attacks of 9/11.

But we were very anxious about the consequences, because Iraq is a mosaic of different religions, ethnicities, tribes, and it has never been a democracy. And it is a great ambition to decide that Iraq will become a democracy. So for all these reasons, we said clearly that this war was not necessary at this time. At present the fact has been established, and it is time to turn the page, because together we have to make Iraq a safe and healthy system, together, for many reasons. The first is the future of the Iraqi people. It will be very difficult, but if we fail either you have a type of religion of the kind of the Taliban regime that Al Qaeda has formed in Iraq. That option is not good at all. Or even worse, a civil war, and if you have a civil war in Iraq it means that the Kurds will proclaim independence. Then Turkey will immediately intervene, as they cannot accept a Kurdish state because of their important Kurdish minority.

So now we have to make Iraq a safe and healthy system. But not only because of the future of the Iraqi people, also because of the future of the Middle East, as I said because a crisis in Iraq will have consequences in the entire Middle East. And even more important, what is at stake in Iraq today is the future of a religion, between the Muslim world and the West. That is what is at stake. That’s why we were so cautious. But now we have no option than to succeed, and we have to succeed together. We will not send French troops to Iraq for one reason, because we don’t think that anymore French troops will solve the problem. We know from the experience of the Algerian independency that we should never underestimate Arab nationalism. Never. Probably the Iraqi had a feeling of liberation when you saved them from a bloody dictator. But then the feeling of liberation was transformed into a feeling of occupation. That is the situation today. So what is important is to restore security by training more and more and more Iraqi policemen, Iraqi soldiers and officers. France has proposed to train Iraqi gendarmerie that is a kind of military police that France is famous for. I think that after the Presidential elections, after discussion with all of us, that’s what we will do, in the coming week, that’s my hope. Now all the procedures need to help to rebuild the state of Iraq, to prepare free and fair elections. And we will participate.

  • But beyond Iraq, we will also have to solve two other issues.

First the Middle East peace process. We cannot stay without doing anything with such situation. We support the proposals by Prime Minister Sharon to evacuate Gaza. It must be well organized, it must be a success, and it should not be only in Gaza first and in Gaza last, it must be followed in the West Bank. Let’s do it together.

So my hope is that after the elections the United States will be ready to take a new look and a fresh start to our common ambitions, to make Iraq a success story, to give a boost to the peace process in the Middle East, and to have a real dialogue with Iran to resolve the nuclear issues but also to inspire Iran to be a positive force in the Middle East, and not a negative force in Afghanistan. That is what we have to do in the Middle East. Let’s do it together.

Now a few words about the European ambitions, because again, many newspapers report wrong statements. Not in the Boston Globe or in The Christian Science Monitor, but in other papers, that Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroeder want to build the European Union as a kind of counterweight to American dominance. That is not true. We have started building the European Union 50 years ago, simply because we wanted to make war impossible. We suffered from centuries of wars, especially between Germany and France, we invaded Germany, Italy, Spain, we were invaded time and again, and it was time to stop. That is our real purpose, our objective.

And we started by putting together our coal and steel industries because guns are made of coal and steel. We continued with nuclear industry, because you can build bombs through nuclear power, and then we established a common market. And we discovered that when you have a common market, you need a common currency. Think about what would be your situation in the United States if you had one currency for New England, one for Texas, one for California. It would not work. We needed a common currency not to compete against the dollar but simply because we had a common market. And then, the EU was expanded to 9, 10, 12, 15 countries and this spring 2 miracles happened. The first one was a new enlargement, the most ambitious one. We went from 15 to 25 members and those 10 newcomers, most of them over 15 years ago were members of the soviet block and 3 of them, the 3 Balkan states, were part of the Soviet Union. So for us it is a dream to see Balkans and Poland now part of our EU, of our democratic country, peacefully.

  • The second miracle was the European Constitution.

We are not where you were in Philadelphia in 1787. You started from scratch, you wanted to build a new country, with one philosophy, a philosophy of enlightment, with one language, English, and with one goal. We have 25 countries, 2000 years of history. We speak 31 different languages, we have different cultures, different legal traditions, the common German Law, from Germany, from France, from most of the continents, the common law in the UK, some countries have no written constitution, like the UK, some have several constitutions, France, and for peace we have to adopt one constitution. We made it and we are very proud of it.

Now we have to ratify this Constitution. If we succeed, I think it will be very good news for both our countries, not only for the EU. First because you will better understand how it works. We are simplifying our institutions. You will have a President instead of a rotation of the Presidency every 6 months. You will be able to locate contact numbers much easier!

Today, I think it’s time to turn the page and to remember what we represent for each other. And maybe a good basis is to think of our economic policy. You have to know that France is the second country of foreign direct investment of the United States. It represents 170 billion dollars. And each day, there is 1 million dollars exchanged between the United States and France. That is very important. And we will continue to invest, first because we have great confidence in the United States economy, and second, because thanks to the rise of the euro we are in a position to do so. But there are negative effects too, namely on our French exports.

On the cultural side, when I visit your museums, I’m always amazed to see all the impressionists paintings, but we are also in love with American culture, and it is amazing to see the number of novels which are translated into French. This is as important as our economy.

We should always remember that we were together right from the beginning. Last week we commemorated the victory of Yorktown. And as you know, with George Washington you had Lafayette, Colonel Rochambeau, and Admiral de Grasse, there were as many French soldiers as American soldiers on your side. And in turn, you saved France twice last century.

At the end of the first World War, with two hundred thousand American troops behind General Pershing shouting « La Fayette Nous Voici ! » and of course at the end of the second World War. I was with President Bush and president Chirac on the beaches of Normandy on 6/6/2004 for the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of D-day. And we were with one hundred American veterans who landed on D-Day. And it was a very intense and emotional experience.

And let me say one word for the 60 millions of French people that were liberated that day.

  • We will never forget. And if we are a free country, it is thanks to you. And as a free country, we express our opinions when we agree, which is most of the time, but also when we don’t agree.

So my hope for after your elections is that if we disagree, let’s disagree without being disagreeable.

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Directeur de la publication : Joël-François Dumont
Comité de rédaction : Jacques de Lestapis, Hugues Dumont, François de Vries (Bruxelles), Hans-Ulrich Helfer (Suisse), Michael Hellerforth (Allemagne).
Comité militaire : VAE Guy Labouérie (†), GAA François Mermet (2S), CF Patrice Théry (Asie).