Sunday, November 23, 2003

Oi Jacques, no!

You may have been right all along about Iraq

You may actually know what you're talking about when it comes to postcolonial wars.

The Algerian uprising certainly made a powerful impression on a young man destined for France's highest political office: Jacques Chirac. Conscripted in 1956, at the age of 23, to serve as an officer in the French army, Chirac commanded a platoon in an isolated mountainous region of Algeria. The mission was to keep order. But order proved impossible to keep, with the local population protective of the fellaghas, the armed resistance fighters from the Fronte de Liberation Nationale (FLN). Chirac himself was not wounded in engagements with the guerrillas, but some of his men were, and some were killed. In a speech to the French Military Academy in 1996, he called his time there the most important formative experience of his life.

According to an old friend and adviser, Algeria principally taught Chirac that occupation, even under the best of intentions, is impossible when popular sentiments have turned against the occupier: "His experience is that despite all the goodwill, when you are an occupier, when you are seen [by the local people] as an occupier, the people will want you to get out." And if Chirac was convinced of anything, according to this source, it was that the Americans would ultimately be viewed not as liberators in Iraq but as occupiers. He foresaw a kind of re-enactment of the Algerian tragedy, the source adds, a "vicious circle" in which increasingly violent acts against the occupier are met with an increasingly harsh response -- a cycle that inevitably sours local people against the occupation.

But you can stop running your greasy, garlic smelling fingers lasciviously over the muscular forms of our national heroes

"Rarely have I seen a match of such commitment and intensity," President Jacques Chirac wrote in a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "This deserved victory is also a victory for Europe."

But then again, why not? If a match between the Sydney suburbs and the home counties is a triumph for Britain, then there's nothing wrong with it being a triumph for Europe as well.