Saturday, February 19, 2005

Chirac: Hezbollah's best friend

President Jacques Chirac of France has a remarkable talent for raising my temperature, mostly when he demonstrates his world-class talent for hypocrisy. This week, he did it again.

The issue this week is an old one: France's ongoing refusal to declare Hezbollah a terrorist organization. That Hezbollah is a terrorist organization seems very hard to refute -- the evidence is overwhelming. They are supported by Iran and Syria. They occupy Lebanon in contravention of international agreements (but with the active cooperation of Syria). Hezbollah is widely suspected of having carried out this week's assasination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri.

All right, all right, you say. So Hezbollah really is a terrorist organization. Why do we care whether Chirac will mouth the words? Because...until he does, Hezbollah can legally continue to seek and collect funds in Europe, which they are doing with great success. Of course the other European countries need to make the same declaration, but at the moment they're saying "Why bother?" because France will nix any such decree.

Why is Chirac (in the name of France) taking this position that seems contrary to all common sense? The only rational answer I can see is that France (and/or Chirac personally) has an economic interest in Syria, and Syria has a vital interest in Hezbollah. One hand washes the other, etc.

The Jerusalem Post has an article (free signup required) on the most recent brouhaha, excerpted below:

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier was noncommittal when pressed to help change his nation's opposition to branding Hizbullah as terrorists during a visit to Jerusalem last week. President Jacques Chirac was more direct in his meeting with Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on Monday. He said no.

France's argument for its position, that Hizbullah is a political faction in Lebanon, is ludicrous to the point of insult. This "political faction" has thousands of missiles pointed at Israel, is committed to Israel's destruction and is actively supporting Palestinian terrorism and undermining the PA.

Does this mean that if al-Qaida started a political party somewhere that it would no longer be a terrorist organization, no matter how deeply it is engaged in terrorism? How can France ban Hizbullah's television arm, Al-Manar, presumably for fomenting radicalism in France, and turn a blind eye to its doing much more than inciting terrorism against Israel?

The AP and New York Times had this to say:

Meanwhile, the Bush administration is arguing with European governments over whether they should designate the Lebanonbased Shiite group Hezbollah a terrorist organization, American and European officials say.

The disagreement over Hezbollah presents another challenge for President Bush, who will travel to Europe on Sunday on a mission to mend ruptures with Europe over the Iraq war.

In the past two weeks, the officials said, France has rebuffed appeals by both Rice and the Israeli foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, which would prevent it from raising funds in Europe through charity groups.

The Europeans are not solidly opposed to listing Hezbollah as a terrorist group, the officials said. The Netherlands, Italy and Poland support the Bush administration’s view, several said, while Germany and Britain believe the issue is moot unless the French change their minds. One European diplomat said other countries were "hiding behind" France on the issue.

It doesn't look to me as if Chirac is actually fooling anybody. When even the rabidly liberal press (NYT) is pointing out your liberal hypocrisy, you know you've raised it to high levels. Meanwhile, the mere sight of Chirac's image raises my blood pressure. I swear Photoshop uttered some gagging noises as I processed the picture above...

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