Thursday, February 1, 2007

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Oops, je l'ai fait encore

Jacques Chirac has gotten himself into a bit of foreign policy hot water, according to the New York Times' Elaine Sciolino and Katrine Bennhold:

President Jacques Chirac said this week that if Iran had one or two nuclear weapons, it would not pose a big danger, and that if Iran were to launch a nuclear weapon against a country like Israel, it would lead to the immediate destruction of Tehran.

The remarks, made in an interview on Monday with The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and Le Nouvel Observateur, a weekly magazine, were vastly different from stated French policy and what Mr. Chirac has often said.

On Tuesday, Mr. Chirac summoned the same journalists back to Élysée Palace to retract many of his remarks.

Mr. Chirac said repeatedly during the second interview that he had spoken casually and quickly the day before because he believed he had been talking about Iran off the record....

In the Monday interview, Mr. Chirac argued that Iran’s possession of a nuclear weapon was less important than the arms race that would ensue.

“It is really very tempting for other countries in the region that have large financial resources to say: ‘Well, we too are going to do that; we’re going to help others do it,’ ” he said. “Why wouldn’t Saudi Arabia do it? Why wouldn’t it help Egypt to do so as well? That is the real danger.”

Earlier this month, Mr. Chirac had planned to send his foreign minister to Iran to help resolve the crisis in Lebanon. The venture collapsed after Saudi Arabia and Egypt opposed the trip and members of his own government said it would fail.

Mr. Chirac, who is 74 and months away from ending his second term as president, suffered a neurological episode in 2005 and is said by French officials to have become much less precise in conversation....

In the first interview, which took place in the late morning, he appeared distracted at times, grasping for names and dates and relying on advisers to fill in the blanks. His hands shook slightly. When he spoke about climate change, he read from prepared talking points printed in large letters and highlighted in yellow and pink.

By contrast, in the second interview, which came just after lunch, he appeared both confident and comfortable with the subject matter. (emphasis added)

Two thoughts. First, what exactly is "a neurological episode"? Is this like "a minor circulatory problem of the head"?

Second, the implication in the Times report is that Chirac made more sense in the second interview than the first. To me that's really disturbing, because in the second interview Chirac actually makes less sense to me.

Chirac is essentially correct in stating that Iran would not nuke Israel because it would invite immediate retaliation, and Tehran would be leveled. Assuming that the political status quo remains in Iran and Ahmadinejad doesn't have his finger on the button, this is true.

However, for this to be true, the threat of retaliation has to be pretty clear. And this is what Chirac appears to amend in his second interview. Consider this part:

He retracted, for example, his comment that Tehran would be destroyed if Iran launched a nuclear weapon. “I retract it, of course, when I said, ‘One is going to raze Tehran,’ ” he said.
In the actual text of the interview, Chirac seems more conscious of how deterrence works. However, this is the one thing you do not want to water down.

UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan has an interesting theory for why Chirac seemed more lucid in the second interview

posted by Dan on 02.01.07 at 09:15 AM


You are probably going to raise your eyes at this but as I was perusing your blog I read the All About me section.

Your mom is awesome. I love her input about your middle name.

Yeah, I know this has nothing whatsoever to do with your post but I wanted to let you know that. So there. :)

posted by: Monica on 02.01.07 at 09:15 AM [permalink]

A "neurological episode" is what the French call a minor stroke when it's the King, um, I mean "le Président de la République" who suffers it.

I agree, by the way, with your assessment. His first remarks are way more convincing. They're just not very diplomatic, which is a faux pas in any language.

posted by: Headline Junky on 02.01.07 at 09:15 AM [permalink]

I'm a little more curious about:

We have the means, several countries have the means to destroy a bomb, once they see a bomb-carrying rocket launch. So it is hard to see what advantage Iran could find for dropping a bomb. The bomb would naturally be destroyed as soon as the rocket was launched. It is an important aspect of the issue.

Q: It would be destroyed, the bomb?

A: The bomb would be destroyed, yes.

Q: And what would the repercussions be for Iran?

A: Well the repercussions for Iran would have to be examined, naturally. I spoke quickly and I retract it, of course, when I said, "One is going to raze Tehran." It was of course a manner of speaking in my mind. I don't imagine that we could raze Tehran. But it is obvious that if an undeniably aggressive act, which is to say sending a bomb payload on a launch rocket, took place and this bomb would be — I repeat — automatically destroyed without even having left the Iranian soil or at least the Iranian airspace, it is obvious there would be without a doubt measures of coercion, measures of retaliation, of course. It is part of nuclear deterrence....

I favor the goals of missile defense research more than many, but as far as I know the technology to reliably destroy a nuclear missile in flight doesn't yet exist. If Chirac were right that it's possible to ensure that an Iranian nuke, once launched, couldn't reach its target, then it may well some sense to talk about retaliation short of nuclear as well. But I don't think he is right about that.

posted by: Mike S. on 02.01.07 at 09:15 AM [permalink]

Is it just me, or does it seem like the world is blessed with a set of truly unfortunate leaders these days?

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 02.01.07 at 09:15 AM [permalink]

Well if Tehran was going to be razed, who will pull the trigger.

posted by: Kevin on 02.01.07 at 09:15 AM [permalink]

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