Something is rotten in the French Republic's diplomacy. On Friday, November 5, President Jacques Chirac hurried to the Arabian Peninsula to offer his condolences to the new president of the United Arab Emirates after his father's passing.
Under this pretense, Chirac was absent when Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi went to Brussels to meet with the European Union members to discuss the future of Iraq.
One is stunned by Chirac's priorities when it comes to international issues.
Chirac's dangerous liaisons with dictators have created a hidden diplomatic principle: preserving the stability of dictatorship rather than promoting democracy.
"Betrayal" is the only word that comes to mind. French diplomacy as a whole is sullied by this position, at least as long as Chirac remains president.
China and Iraq are two examples of his leniency toward dictatorship.
China may open its doors to the free market economy, and liberalization of its society is on the way. But it is still a communist dictatorship.
This dictatorship is celebrated to such a degree in France that last February the Eiffel Tower was illuminated in red: the symbol of communism, yes – but one might also think of the blood of the victims murdered by such a despotic power.
Ignoring the consequences to the Chinese supporters of democracy, Chirac has pleaded for France and the EU to be able to sell weapons to China. A few weeks ago, in Beijing, he again asked that the embargo be lifted, seemingly forgetting that weapons sold to a dictatorship can only be used against freedom.
But for the French president this moral assumption obviously carries little value.
Iraq represents the ugliest side of French diplomacy.
French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier recently stated that France wanted to include "those who have chosen the path of armed resistance" at the negotiation table with the present Iraqi government and the coalition.
Bluntly put, this resistance represents either Saddam's henchmen or Islamic fundamentalists. Either way, France is supporting dictatorship.
It is a subtle way to question the legitimacy of Allawi's government.
That is why France is ordering the Iraqi government to give democratic guarantees it wouldn't even dare ask of friendly authorities, in the Arab world or elsewhere.
In the long run – as far as the Middle East is concerned – the US will be better off with Bush's diplomatic legacy than France will be with Chirac's, a legacy that may live in infamy once a true democratic vision guides French diplomacy.
On domestic matters, Chirac usually follows the public opinion polls. He does the same with foreign affairs.
But statecraft is not a matter of polls, and a statesman must know when to go against isolationist temptation and public-opinion pacifism.
It is the very same public opinion, especially in Europe, that anathematized Bush.
What were his crimes? Establishing a democracy in Afghanistan, toppling a dictator, and sowing the seeds for free and open societies to grow in the Middle East.
But instead of wanting Bush to be defeated in the last elections for promoting democracy, Western public opinion should have demanded Chirac's dismissal for siding with dictators.
It is stunningly hard to believe that the former could be preferred, but the upside-down nature of public opinion seems to confirm it.
A sad reality! Yet the promotion of free and open societies must become a priority for French diplomacy, and for Europe generally.