From Algeria, where he has started a three-day visit, French President Jacques Chirac must have surveyed the Monday papers with satisfaction. Several news items seemed to vindicate his approach to Middle East affairs—which primarily meant the Bush administration had suffered serious reversals.
Buoyed by his image as an Arab champion, Chirac arrived in Algeria Sunday to a hearty welcome, with many locals praising his anti-war stance but also shouting, “Chirac give us visas.” It was the first state visit by a French president to the former colony since 1962, and Paris’ Le Figaro described the trip as an effort to “establish a tight partnership between the two countries, four decades after they were tragically torn apart.” For the French satirical weekly Le Canard Enchainé, the reconciliation was always going to be a “honeymoon,” since, as one of the paper’s stories asserted, “Franco-Algerian friendship is worth a bit of amnesia.” Among the topics passed over was the assassination of seven French monks in 1996, in which Algeria’s security services are alleged to have played a suspect role, or Chirac’s affirmation that the Western Sahara is Morocco’s southern province, a view the Algerian authorities don’t share. Several Algerian papers claimed that Chirac would stop in Oran to visit the tomb of an older brother who died in World War II. However, the effort to find an enduring link with the president bombed: Chirac never had an older brother. According toLe Figaro, similar stories have appeared several times linking political figures such as George W. Bush with the residents of Algerian cemeteries.
The Turkish parliament gave a fillip to the anti-war camp when it unexpectedly voted Saturday against allowing U.S. ground forces to use Turkey as a staging ground for a war against Iraq. London’s Financial Times noted that the Bush administration was waiting to see what parliament would do, but cited the opinions of Western diplomats that the Turkish government “was unlikely to resubmit the proposal as it seemed bound to fail again.” The paper calculated that since it might take two weeks to unload the equipment for the 4th Infantry Division, which had hoped to disembark in Turkey, “a mid-March invasion window is rapidly closing.” For Bruno Frappat, writing in the French Catholic daily La Croix, America’s difficulties contrasted with Chirac’s triumph in Algiers, but also “gave more weight to the [anti-war] initiative John Paul II intends to submit to the White House [through former nuncio to the United States Cardinal Pio Langhi] which, up to now, has scornfully dismissed pontifical stands.”
Meanwhile, the Arab League, which has had trouble taking a strong stand on anything related to Iraq, did so on Sunday at a summit in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt. As Beirut’s English-language Daily Star reported, the Arab states expressed “complete rejection of any aggression on Iraq” and reiterated “the necessity of resolving the Iraqi issue through peaceful means.” This signaled success for the harsher Arab critics of an Iraq war, particularly Syria and, in its shadow, Lebanon. However, by refusing to ask Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to relinquish power, the Arabs looked ineffectual. The Financial Times recalled that “pressing Mr. Hussein to go into exile is very much an Arab idea, even if it is not supported by the majority of the 22-member Arab League.” Indeed, it was the Saudis who first floated the scheme, despite a prevailing fear among many Arab regimes that if one illegitimate leader were so ousted, they might soon follow.
The Bush administration suffered more embarrassment thanks to London’s Observer. The paper revealed Sunday that the National Security Agency, the U.S. government body that eavesdrops on international communications, has stepped up its surveillance of the U.N. delegations of six non-permanent members of the Security Council whose support Washington needs to pass a new resolution authorizing war against Iraq. The information was found in a leaked memorandum written by one Frank Koza, a chief of staff in the NSA’s “regional targets” division. In it, he stated that the body was “mounting a surge” to get information related to the Iraq debate at the United Nations, particularly “plans to vote on any related resolutions, what related policies/negotiating positions they may be considering, alliances/dependencies, etc—the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises.” The memo is dated Jan. 31, and the clear implication in the article is that it was leaked by someone in British intelligence. The leak will make Prime Minister Tony Blair’s efforts to engineer a consensus at the United Nations more difficult. Already on Friday the Bush administration added regime change in Iraq to its list of conditions for avoiding a Gulf war, which irritated the British government. Increasingly, it seems, George W. Bush may embark on war with a “coalition of the unwilling.”