Jewish World Review Feb. 20, 2004/28 Shevat, 5764

Wesley Pruden

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Looking to break a losing streak | If you're the president of France it's not easy to project Gaullic power and influence. But Jacques Chirac is giving it the old college try.

France is feeling squeezed by Tony Blair, who is trying to expand the Franco-German axis (so to speak) meant to dominate the European Union, and Gerhard Schroeder, who, having sobered up from all that orgy of anti-American fun in the run-up to the war in Iraq, has decided that being friends with the Americans might be a good idea, after all.

M. Chirac, pushed against the Maginot line, may have no choice but to strike out on a foreign adventure to measure his mettle. Finding someone of your own size to pick on is not easy. There aren't many places left where anyone speaks French, to begin with, and M. Chirac must be careful where he sends an army on a hundred-year losing streak. Flexing flab is very different from flexing muscle, as the French learned against the Germans (twice) and even the Vietnamese.

Going boldly where few Frenchmen have gone lately, without even a cursory nod to the decencies of world opinion and flaunting contempt for the United Nations, Dominique de Villepin, the French foreign minister, threatened last week to dispatch "security forces" to... Haiti. He has 4,000 crack troops standing by in nearby Martinique and Guadeloupe, ready for D-Day. When an interviewer asked whether these crack troops could be deployed quickly, M. de Villepin, affecting his fiercest Don Rumsfeld imitation, replied: "Absolutely. Many friendly countries are mobilized."

Back in Foggy Bottom, where saner, cooler heads were trying to prevail, an anxious State Department official said that M. de Villepin had given Secretary of State Colin L. Powell no indication that his troops were actually about to board their Higgins boats for the assault on the Haiti shore, designated by French military planners as "Mauve Beach."

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Mr. Powell told reporters that the rebellion that erupted in Gonaives, 70 miles northwest of the nervous capital of Port-au-Prince, was taking on "new dimensions" as bandits and political exiles try to exploit the instability in the republic. President Jean-Bernard Aristide, marooned in Port-au-Prince, begged someone, almost anyone, to come to his aid before the rebels set out on the rue de Nord, hell-bent for the capital.

Nobody much likes President Aristide, but the rebels sound almost as bad. "They are murderers and thugs," Mr. Powell said, "and you can't expect anyone to deal with them."

All the more reason to applaud French derring-do (rarer than French do). One military strategist, who naturally insists on anonymity, predicts a Franco-Haito war could be "the little stepsister of all battles." M. Chirac's troops would face formidable odds, particularly if its army takes the fight to the stronghold at Gonaives. The rebel force there is believed to number as many as 50, or maybe even 55, and the rebs chased the local cops out of town in less than an hour.

Mr. Aristide has asked only for "technical assistance." This is understood in Washington to be the euphemism for "dollars." Said Mr. Powell: "We cannot buy into a proposition that an elected president can be forced from office by thugs."

But if thugs can't force him from office, maybe diplomats can. The secretary said the United States is working with the United Nations, the Organization of American States, "the Caribbean community" and the French to open a "dialogue" between Mr. Aristide and the evildoers. President Aristide has had ample time to steal whatever may be left that is worth stealing, and maybe he can be persuaded to leave with the booty before they carry his corpse out on a shovel.

Haitian thugs actually have a pretty good record against superpowers. Bill Clinton dispatched a warship to Port-au-Prince and angry Haitians met it at the dock, where Mr. Clinton lost his nerve and withdrew his ship under a hail of beer cans. Mr. Aristide was subsequently ousted in a coup and 20,000 U.S. troops were finally dispatched to restore him to a position to plunder. The French would probably need luck as well as pluck to put down the evildoers, all 50, or maybe even 55, of them.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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