Wall Street Journal – REVIEW & OUTLOOK: Barring a surprise, Jacques Chirac’s 45-year run in politics is likely to end later this year when the French elect a new leader. They’re certainly going to miss him in Tehran. The Wall Street Journal
REVIEW & OUTLOOK
February 2, 2007; Page A18
Barring a surprise, Jacques Chirac’s 45-year run in politics is likely to end later this year when the French elect a new leader. They’re certainly going to miss him in Tehran.
The French president gave a fitting valedictory in an interview published yesterday in the New York Times, International Herald Tribune and Le Nouvel Observateur. Speaking Monday, Mr. Chirac reversed years of public rhetoric by proclaiming himself indifferent to a nuclear-armed Iran. “Having one [atomic bomb”>, maybe a second one a little later, well, that’s not very dangerous,” Mr. Chirac said. “Where will [Iran”> drop it, this bomb? On Israel? It would not have gone 200 meters into the atmosphere before Tehran would be razed to the ground.”
His aides quickly realized their man had committed the gaffe of saying what everyone thought he really believed, and so left out those passages from an official interview transcript. The journalists also got a return call from the president on Tuesday, in which he noted that “I should have paid better attention to what I was saying and understood that perhaps I was on the record.”
We can guess they needed no such clarification in Tehran. On or off the record, Mr. Chirac was merely confirming what the mullahs have long believed, which is that the Europeans simply aren’t serious about preventing them from going nuclear.
Monsieur le president’s version of mutual assured nuclear destruction could also stand some parsing. He seems to think that Tehran would never launch an attack for fear it would be annihilated in return. But assuming Israel were destroyed first, what other country would risk a counterattack itself by nuking millions of Iranian civilians to avenge Israel? France? The same country that wouldn’t even let U.S. jets fly over its territory to drop a few conventional bombs on Libya? We doubt many Israelis will share Mr. Chirac’s faith in nuclear deterrence against Islamists who prize martyrdom.
Mr. Chirac won’t make public his political intentions before March, but in one recent poll only 2% of the French want him on the ballot again. Privately, Chirac aides believe that only a foreign policy crisis — say, over Iran — could revive his political career. His remarks this week make it more likely that Iran will become a crisis, but at least we can hope he won’t be around to make it any worse.