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The land of "liberty, equality and brotherhood" is back-pedaling to save its national pride and hide.
France's recent brush with Muslims run amok - particularly a three-month stretch of national rioting by predominantly North African émigrés, which plunged the republic into a state of emergency and finally ended on January 4 - has served to awaken the milquetoast republic from its post-9/11 slumber.
Apparently, so broadsided is exasperated French President Jacques Chirac by the unchecked emergence of Islamic militancy in his backyard that he has issued a thinly-veiled warning to state-sponsored terrorists: we will nuke you if need be.
Mon dieu, France has come to realize that nuclear capabilities in the hands of terrorist-financiers and supporters is a dire state of affairs indeed.
"Nuclear dissuasion...isn't aimed to dissuade fanatical terrorists," Chirac opined earlier this month at a nuclear submarine base in Brittany, adding, "That said, those state leaders, who use terrorist methods against us, like those who consider using one way or another weapons of mass destruction, must understand they're exposing themselves to a firm and adapted response from us."
Has Chirac developed two faces and done a 180?
The challenge from the chief frog is quite a reversal from his aggrieved stance of three years ago when he responded with near-gallantry towards terrorists in their bid to unsettle and dismantle the Free World.
At that time, his dubious response to Dubya's demand that Saddam and his supporters exit Iraq, or face the consequences of war, was: "This ultimatum threatens the idea we have of international relations...it affects the future of a people, the future of a region, world stability."
Moreover, the arrival of the first wave of American marines in Kuwait was preceded by an editorial in the conservative French daily, Le Figaro, which gloomily predicted with the authority of the unknowing, "In a few weeks, a few months, when the cannons are silenced in Baghdad, the American president's ambition for the entire Middle East may subside to give voice to those who favor the virtue of dialogue over the power of force."
It is a matter of historical record that France is neither a novice, nor a conqueror, on the battlefield. It hasn't won a crusade since Napoleonic times, having sustained a thrashing by the Germans in the Franco-Prussian War and World Wars I and II, a creaming by the Vietnamese in Indochina, a flogging by the Algerians in North Africa and, most recently, a humiliating and bungled sortie in the Ivory Coast.
Chirac's tough talk comes at a time when France must validate its multi-billion-dollar nuclear arsenal in a post-Cold War era and divert the spotlight from his nation's assortment of political woes.
He may want to add a generous dollop of béarnaise sauce to the words he now has to eat - by the shovel-ful - after issuing the ultimate of ultimatums to the very forces he not so long ago appeared to support over the United States.
E-mail "A Britisher's View" at BritView@courierlife.net. All letters become the property of Courier-Life Publications and are subject to publication unless otherwise specified; please include your name, address and daytime telephone number for verification.
©2006 Community Newspaper Group
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