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Backing down

Pentagon hard-liners on France, led by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, carried the day early in the war, but accommodationists within the upper councils of the Bush administration took control as the conflict went on.

Among those who took a softer position on France was National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, the former Stanford provost who surrounded herself with State Department officials and Foreign Service officers.

Rumsfeld drew a great deal of attention on Jan. 22, 2003 — and created a backlash within the State Department — when he let fly a verbal salvo against France and Germany for not siding with the United States, describing them as “old Europe” during a meeting with foreign reporters.

Rumsfeld also criticized French and German political leaders for making policy based not on “their honest conviction as to what their country ought to do” but on opinion polls that reflected ever-shifting public sentiments.

As the accommodationists in the Bush administration gained the upper hand, Rumsfeld and others were ordered to tone down the anti-Europe rhetoric. By late last year, the defense secretary’s critics within the Foreign Service were crowing that Rumsfeld had been “tamed.”

Just a day after the Iraqi attack on Wolfowitz’s hotel in Baghdad, in an interview with The Washington Times, Rumsfeld took an even softer approach toward the French.

“People tend to look at what’s taking place today and opine that it is something distinctive,” Rumsfeld said of the turbulence in Franco-American relations. “I don’t find it distinctive. I find it an old record that gets replayed about every five or seven years.”

The public soft-policy line was, in many ways, a great victory for France. Even as new evidence poured in that the French had betrayed the United States and cost the lives of American troops, the government backed down from a confrontation with its erstwhile ally.

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