- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 19, 2004

When I first heard the announcement from the French Foreign Ministry in Paris, I thought it was a joke.

France is considering sending troops to Haiti, smack in the middle of America’s Caribbean back yard, to quell unrest against a Marxist-leaning president by fellow Haitians who reject his iron grip on power.

Wasn’t that precisely what the Monroe Doctrine, announced in 1823 as Europe sought to subvert local governments in America’s backyard, was supposed to prevent?

The French claim they have 2,000 citizens living in Haiti, and must send a “rescue mission” to protect them during the violence. If that sounds familiar, it should. France has used similar pretexts in Congo, Ivory Coast, Chad and elsewhere whenever it has sought to reverse regimes, install friendlier dictators or otherwise protect French national interests.

Despite all the huffing and puffing of Foreign Minister Dominique Galouzeau de Villepin during the Iraq crisis last year, the French have shown repeatedly they will act without so much as a nod to the United Nations whenever they feel their interests require a rapid response.

The French move has apparently taken Secretary of State Colin Powell by surprise. As The Washington Times’ Sharon Behn reported Wednesday, Mr. de Villepin breathed not a word of his intentions when he met with Mr. Powell last Friday. But in Paris, the mecurial Frenchman was telling reporters France could intervene in a heartbeat, and pointed out France has 4,000 troops in nearby Martinique and Guadaloupe, French overseas departments.

The U.S. is in a quandary. The State Department says it is “deeply engaged” in Haiti to effect a peaceful resolution to the 12-day old revolt by armed “thugs,” but Mr. Powell has made it clear he does not favor sending U.S. troops. So now the French have sprung the trap on him.

The French foreign minister’s behavior is reminiscent of another time he sandbagged an unsuspecting Mr. Powell, that close advisers to the secretary of state tell me he has never forgotten — or forgiven.

The French betrayal of America during the Iraq crisis last year was almost legendary in proportion, but it was widely misreported by a Bush-hating press.

The version most Americans are familiar with has the French insisting the United States return to the United Nations for yet another Security Council resolution in January and February 2003, to authorize the use of force against Saddam Hussein. When U.S. diplomacy failed, President Bush ordered U.S. troops into Iraq unilaterally.

While those events did indeed occur, beneath the surface another dance was taking place, a devious dance that had been choreographed by French President Jacques Chirac and his preening foreign minister, Dominique Galouzeau de Villepin.

In fact, I can now reveal, Mr. Chirac personally telephoned President Bush at the White House to assure him France would support the United States at the U.N. in seeking a new Security Council resolution. Mr. Chirac even ordered the French Joint Chiefs of Staff to prepare units to be send to Iraq as part of a U.S.-led liberation army.

But on Jan. 20, 2003, Mr. de Villepin pulled the rug out from under Mr. Powell and the president, announcing behind Mr. Powell’s back at the United Nations that France would under no circumstances send troops to Iraq — in direct contradiction of those promises he and Mr. Chirac had made to the United States.

To this day, the French have remained unrepentant about their lies, apparently in the belief this is what big boys do when they play on the world stage.

The rest, as they say, is history. The president’s staff was so angered by the French perfidy that they renamed the French toast on Air Force One “freedom toast,” and Americans were soon munching on “freedom fries” as well.

The situation in Haiti is complex. President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a once-elected president, has now become “an opponent of democracy,” says Constantine Menges, a former Reagan administration NSC official who helped plan the invasion of Grenada and the overthrow of its New Jewel Party communists in 1983.

Some of the “thugs” that he complains are killing innocent Haitians are being “led by gangs he armed for the purpose of opposing the genuine and unarmed democrats” who have been seeking Mr. Aristide’s ouster through elections, Mr. Menges adds.

Into such a witches’ brew, simmering right on America’s back porch, the last thing we need is to bring in the French. By now, Colin Powell should understand Foreign Minister Villepin is up to his old tricks. French troops in Haiti will not absolve the United States from its responsibilities; they will only make matters worse.

Kenneth R. Timmerman, a senior writer for Insight Magazine, is author of “The French Betrayal of America,” forthcoming from Crown Forum.

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