President George W Bush goes to New York next week for the annual United Nations General Assembly to ratchet up the demonization of Iran, confident that his new French ally is doing “a heck of a job”. President Nicolas Sarkozy – widely referred to in Paris as King Sarko the First – has let loose the dogs of war with more panache than a madame from the chic seventh arrondissement parading her miniature Pinscher.
The Sarkozy-sponsored, Europe-wide demonization-of-Iran campaign has now begun. Hot on the heels of Sarkozy coining the ultimate catch phrase – “the Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran” – it was the turn of his glamorous, dashing, humanitarian top diplomat.
“We have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war,” said Bernard Kouchner, foreign minister and founder of Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres) on French 24-hour news channel LCI.
In the reasoning of the “French doctor”, as he is known around the world, there was always the unspoken aside during the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program that it might proceed “right to the end”. But then came the assumption, set in stone, that an Iranian nuclear bomb is inevitable and will pose “a real danger for the whole world”.
The Bush White House, opportunistic Republicans and assorted neo-conservatives obviously loved it. From Vienna, Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief of the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), abandoned his cautious demeanor in an effort to dismiss all the hysteria set off by the French comments, saying, “We need to be cool and not hype the Iranian issue.”
ElBaradei has not endeared himself to Western powers led by the United States and France over the IAEA’s agreement with Iran requiring it to answer questions about past secret nuclear research but without addressing its uranium-enrichment program.
ElBaradei’s remarks are a reminder to all the players that only the UN Security Council is entitled to authorize the use of force against Iran, and recall events leading up to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the elusive search for weapons of mass destruction.
“There are rules on how to use force, and I would hope that everybody would have gotten the lesson after the Iraq situation, where 700,000 innocent civilians have lost their lives on the suspicion that a country has nuclear weapons,” ElBaradei said.
A measure of the perplexity in European diplomatic circles was contributed by Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik: “I don’t understand why he [Kouchner] resorted to martial rhetoric at this juncture,” she said at the sidelines of an IAEA meeting in Vienna.
As much as Europe may be divided over the issue, the problem is there’s a looming fatalistic atmosphere in most European chancelleries, not to mention the European Union in Brussels, that an attack on Iran is all but inevitable.
The white man’s oil burden
Meanwhile, it seems clear that Sarkozy’s game is playing messenger to big (energy) business. He is well known in Paris as the man of the CAC 40 – the French equivalent of the Dow Jones index.
The French rapprochement with the Bush administration – in both Iraq and Iran – could not but revolve around oil, what has been called “the entry of France into Mesopotamia and Persia”. The former US Federal Reserve oracle and the world’s most powerful central planner, Alan Greenspan, finally admitted what even the mineral kingdom already knew: Iraq was invaded because of oil. An attack on Iran, if it happens, will also be because of oil (and gas).
The huge Majnoun oilfield in southeast Iraq, near the Iranian border, the fourth-largest in the country with reserves of more than 12 billion barrels, had been awarded by Saddam Hussein to Elf of France. The US occupation obviously nullified all of Saddam’s contracts.
Then last month US giant Chevron and Total of France signed an agreement to prospect and develop Majnoun together. They already have a partnership regarding the Nahr ben Omar field in southern Iraq (6 billion barrels).
The recent Kouchner trip to Baghdad had a non-humanitarian central theme: oil. But there’s a huge catch: the new oil law – the key Bush “benchmark”, meaning a de facto denationalization of the Iraqi oil industry – has to be approved by the Iraqi Parliament (the debate has already been postponed for months).
In June, Chevron and Total executives met with Iraqi government representatives to discuss their agreement – but there was still no new oil law. And even if there were a law, there would have to be some sort of security on the ground, what with the Sunni Arab resistance attacking oil installations on a daily basis.
Meet the charming hot warrior
Former UN secretary general Boutros Boutros-Ghali described Kouchner as “an unguided missile”. The missile is moved by a lethal weapon: vanity. There’s a lot of murkiness behind the glowing, vapid, ingratiating profiles of this charming “humanitarian patriot”.
It’s a long time since the barricades of May 1968 at the Latin Quarter in Paris, when he wanted to change the world by defying the “square” bourgeois order; a long time since the 1970s when he was sent by the visionary Jean-Francois Bizot, the founder of the swingin’ countercultural Actuel magazine, all over the world as a reporter to document the planet’s ills; a long way from a medical non-governmental organization founded – with the discreet Richard Rossin – to alleviate people’s misery and suffering and defend their human rights in war theaters.
Kouchner was in favor of the war on Iraq – on the basis of human rights serially violated by Saddam (as if the US occupation would turn Iraq into Sweden). Recently, he became the first French foreign minister to go to Iraq since 1988 – vainly offering French mediation as an “honest broker” among Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds, none of whom, perhaps wisely, bothered to take it.
Another myth perpetrated by the majority of the French, and large sectors of the US, press is that Kouchner and Sarkozy harbor “humanitarian motives” for an intervention in Darfur in Sudan. There are rumors in Paris of a dodgy French-supported coup about to be engineered against the government in Khartoum. The motive in this case is precious Sudanese oil – which simply cannot be allowed to be solely in the hands of the Chinese.
Media hero? Certainly. Shameless egomaniac? Most of the time. There are reasons to believe Kouchner may also be quite a distorted humanist. The French doctor is arguably the most popular European proponent of imperialism with a human face. The phenomenon has been dissected with implacable brilliance by Jean Bricmont in his book Humanitarian Imperialism: Using Human Rights to Sell War (Monthly Review Press, New York, 2006).
Bricmont is a first-class, rigorous European intellectual, a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Louvain, one of the executive directors of the highly respected Brussels Tribunal (an association of “intellectuals, artists and activists who denounce the logic of permanent war promoted by the American government and its allies”), and recently a co-organizer of an extensive Noam Chomsky compilation at the prestigious French collection L’Herne.
In his book, Bricmont describes how humanitarian imperialism became the ordre du jour:
Moralizing rhetoric combined with perfectly cynical practice (notably in Afghanistan) was amazingly successful. In Europe, especially in France, where revolutionary illusions were fading, the intelligentsia took charge of a major reversal, from the systematic criticism of power, associated with [Jean-Paul] Sartre and [Michel] Foucault, to its systematic defense – especially the power of the United States – symbolized by the emergence of the “new philosophers” as media stars. Defense of human rights became the theme and principal argument of the new political offensive against both the socialist bloc and Third World countries emerging from colonialism.
Gone are the days when France, as Bricmont writes in his book regarding the war on Iraq, could “act independently of European Union structures” and oppose US hegemony “without firing a single shot”. In a recent piece on Counterpunch.org, Bricmont explained how there won’t be any opposition at the core of Europe to an attack on Iran:
France has been changed from the most independent European country to the most poodlish (this was in fact the main issue in the recent presidential election, but it was never even mentioned during the campaign). In France, moreover, the secular “left” is, in the main, gung-ho against Iran for the usual reasons (women, religion). There will be no large-scale demonstrations in France either before or after the bombing. And, without French support, Germany – where the war is probably very unpopular – can always be silenced with memories of the Holocaust, so that no significant opposition to the war will come from Europe (except possibly from its Muslim population, which will be one more argument to prove that they are “backward”, “extremist” and enemies of our “democratic civilization”).
Kouchner is of course aware he’s playing in the “winning” camp. Nevertheless, quite a few top European intellectuals are baffled that a doctor who created an association helping populations destroyed by war is now all but advocating war (humanitarian imperialism as a way to “save” the women and the youth of Iran). By following the dictates of Sarkozy – whose knowledge of foreign policy rivals Miss France’s – Kouchner seems to ignore how Iraq turned into an ethical, political, strategic – and humanitarian – disaster of biblical proportions.
French public opinion, though, simply will not swallow Sarkozy basking in the glow of a self-appointed role as preferred Bush courtesan. The excellent French blog Rue89.com has pointed out how foreign policy in France is woven “without a national debate, even a parliamentary discussion”.
“Unguided missile” Kouchner has been to many a theater of war to know better: he should beware his missiles don’t reduce himself – and his master – to collateral damage.