Steve Sachs Duke


Tuesday, May 20, 2003


Let the frog-bashing commence. A friend asks,

I always kind of vaguely hear that France has done terrible things over the years, like selling weapons to various nasty regimes, but I have little idea if any of it's true... I was wondering if you could recommend a website on the topic? Or tell me I'm barking up the wrong tree?

A modified version of my response follows:

I have to say, I don't know too much about France's foreign policy record in general, or the different regimes they've supported over time. I've been following their Iraq deals more closely, and the most recent stuff I can think of is William Safire's pieces on the French government turning a blind eye to sales of rocket fuel to Iraq ("French Connection" and "French Connection II"). There was a report after the fall of Baghdad in one of the British papers on how France allegedly helped Saddam disrupt a human-rights conference of Iraqi exiles; the original article is "French helped Iraq to stifle dissent," in the Daily Telegraph, and the conference organizer has a piece in the Scotsman headlined "Questions have to be answered by Paris over Iraqi death threats."

There's also been some news on France's role in selling arms to Iraq pre-1990; a Swedish research group has data that's been put into a graph and posted on various blogs.

Of course, the prime example of France selling nasty stuff to Iraq is the Osirak reactor, which Jacques Chirac personally negotiated in 1975 and which Israel bombed in 1981. There's a great picture from the Boston Globe of Chirac and Saddam inspecting a French nuclear complex (google cache). The reactor had only one purpose--and given that Iraq is sitting on the second-largest oil reserves in the world, and that nuclear energy is hardly economical even in the U.S., it sure as heck wasn't electricity. The Globe article also notes that Chirac had wanted to ship Iraq weapons-grade uranium that was more highly enriched than necessary, but was overruled by his superiors. A full description from a report by Strategic Forecasting LLC (a private security consulting firm) can be found here. Christiane Amanpour asked Chirac about this in an interview in March; his response was to say "Well, this reactor was civilian reactor [sic]," and then to follow that up with a version of "everybody did it."

I'm sure there's a lot more than Iraq; Christopher Hitches had a stinging piece on Chirac and French foreign policy in general in The Age back in February. Other dictators France has recently supported include:
  • Robert Mugabe, whose record of torture and repression in Zimbabwe earned him a royal welcome earlier this year.
  • Jean-Claude ("Baby Doc") Duvalier, Haitian dictator who oversaw thosands of political murders and who escaped Haiti for a luxurious exile in France, where he still lives.
  • "Emperor" Bokassa of the Central African Republic, known best for killing and eating political dissidents and student leaders; France paid $22 million for his coronation, and former president Valery Giscard d'Estaing (now chairman of the European Convention) lost his job after receiving diamonds from him as gifts. France eventually removed Bokassa in an invasion, but had had warm relations with him for much of his rule.

I'm sure you could put together another long list of nasty dictators (Saddam included) who at various times have received U.S. support, also; but my impression is that the French are particularly well known for this sort of thing. The Observer, in a fine example of British frog-bashing, had a piece back in 2001 on French corruption; apparently, France is seen to be almost as corrupt as Italy...




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