Jacques Chirac is not usually in an enviable position, and, at least to many Americans, his comments often come off the wrong way. Still, I find his remarks on the Israeli raid on Lebanon to be absolutely tone deaf:
President Jacques Chirac said Friday that Israel’s military offensive against Lebanon is “totally disproportionate” and asked whether destroying Lebanon was not the ultimate goal.
However, he also said that rockets fired on Israel by Hezbollah and Hamas are “inadmissible, unacceptable and irresponsible.” Chirac implicitly suggested that Syria and Iran might be playing a role in the expanding crisis in the Middle East which, along with the Iranian nuclear issue, creates “a truly dangerous situation in which we must be very, very careful.” (AP)
First of all, news that’s hot off the wire can sometimes be wrong or provocative and inflammatory. Certainly there was no shortage of anti-Bush bias during the 2004 elections. Still, the subtext of what President Chirac is saying is quite disturbing.
I think reasonable people can disagree as to whether the Israeli response is “disproportionate”. I myself have no qualms about destroying an enemy’s infrastructure if civilian deaths can be kept to a minimum and the payoff in psychological damage to the enemy is great enough (think about General William T. Sherman’s March to the Sea).
President Chirac’s snide suggestion is that Israel is trying to destroy Lebanon, when it is in fact Hezbollah that wants not only to destroy Israel, but to wipe it completely off the map. Such an insinuation is insulting at best. Fortunately, unlike Third World professional victims, Israel doesn’t whine about its hurt feelings. Israel, for all its flaws, is strong and confident. Perhaps that’s what infuriates President Chirac so.
Moreover, Lebanon has been of Gallic interest for the better part of a millennium. The Levantine kingdoms of the Crusades were, after all, French, and the French have resented any non-French outside influence in Lebanon, including that of Syria. Would that the French would also be more forthright about the Iranian influence; but I suppose asking France to stand up to a real power that might just strike back is asking too much.
[Cross-posted at Between Worlds]