At a time when most world powers have forged a united front against Iran because of its nuclear program, President Jacques Chirac arranged to send his foreign minister to Tehran to talk about a side issue, then abruptly canceled the visit earlier this month in embarrassing failure.
Chirac's troubles stemmed from his deep desire to help resolve the crisis in Lebanon before his term runs out in May. To that end, he decided to seek the support of Iran, which, along with Syria, backs the radical Shiite organization Hezbollah, three senior French officials said in describing the effort.
So he planned to send Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy to Tehran, only to call off the trip two days before it was to have taken place, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on diplomatic issues.
Sounds like he thought better of it. But if we read on, we can see that this was certainly not the case.
Both Douste-Blazy and senior Foreign Ministry officials concluded that such a trip was doomed to fail and that it would send the wrong signal just weeks after the United Nations Security Council unanimously approved sanctions intended to curb Iran's nuclear program, they added.
That put Douste-Blazy in the uncomfortable position of having to tell Chirac that he did not want to go, one senior official said.
We are getting closer, but we are still not there yet. If we read on, we can see where the real pressure came from.
When Douste-Blazy visited Saudi Arabia and Egypt this month, the foreign ministers of both countries also informed him that they strongly opposed any such initiative.
Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, was so determined to stop the visit that he spoke to Douste-Blazy in uncharacteristically blunt terms — "I am going to tell you, do not go" — according to a senior official familiar with the conversation.
So, now we come to the realization that it was Arab and Egyptian pressure that got his attention more so than any common sense thinking, more than his advisers' apprehension too.
Here's the thing, most presidents that come to power through legitimate elections at some point in time become, lame-ducks. That is usually when they become concerned about their legacies, and this would appear to be the case here. Chirac currently enjoys little popularity, except with those that love to say how right he was about Iraq. But that within itself, is not enough, despite the fact that we do not even know if he was right, yet. History will bear that out, not present day pundits that only see the present day situation.
What history is bearing out though, is much clearer. Chirac did not want Saddam removed because he was under pressure from companies that were profiting from the "Oil for Food" scam. That will be his legacy. Therefore, there is this self-imposed pressure to reverse that somewhat.
So, knowing that an effort to alter his legacy was probably what drove him to this poor judgment (described in this article), we cannot say that this is a new strategy. Clinton tried to do it with Barak and Arafat and could have yielded some meaningful results, had Arafat truly wanted peace. With that in mind, I cannot fault Clinton for trying, although his motives may have been out of more selfishness than concern for true peace.
In my view, it's plain to see what Chirac tried to do here. He wanted to slip through the back door, undetected, while everyone else was trying to present a united front against the Iranian government. He wanted to secure a deal, independent of his European counterparts and claim the glory for himself.
What's important to note here is, Europe was on one page and Chirac was clearly on another. He was content to go behind the rest of Europe's backs, to do this. How can we aggrandize the glory of a united Europe and still play the lonewolf, when no one else appears to be noticing? To do so and fail, would have yielded disastrous results.
Despite the fact that this was an unrelated issue, he could have sent the wrong message to Tehran, had he been successful in engaging them in any kind of dialogue. In other words, he could have really screwed this thing up (not that it's going all that well, to begin with). The world could have suffered more, than his legacy was worth. But, I guess such is the case when a person is self-absorbed, like most politicians are.
I call this undermining, what do you call it?