Sunday, November 21, 2004

It was supposed to be an attempt to enforce international law against a dangerous aggressor, but we sophisticates knew better all along.

The French moved into the little but chocolate-rich African nation of Ivory Coast ostensibly to enforce a cease-fire between warring parties. But then they unleashed a shock-and-awe campaign against that country on the flimsiest of pretexts.

Just because the Ivorians broke a cease-fire and attacked French troops, killing nine of them plus the required American aid worker, France has been using, in Kofi Annan’s phrase, disproportionate force in response to terror.

Let it be noted that France undertook this high-handed, preemptive policy without any authorization beforehand from the U.N. Security Council or even its own parliament, though it sought international support after the fact.

Now it appears Paris is determined to occupy the whole country and put down machete-wielding mobs whose only crime has been seeking out Frenchmen to kill. (Though rape and pillage have also been among the pleasures of the Ivorian mobs.)

The French were supposed to be there to keep the peace, not start a war. Yet when their troops were attacked, the Legionnaires wiped out the entire Ivorian air force (a couple of Russian-made jet fighters and a few helicopters), deployed troops throughout the capital of Abidjan and used aircraft and armored vehicles to seize key positions.

Talk about an overreaction. This was an overwhelming show of force typical of French imperialism.

French troops even seized the airport and dispatched gunboats to protect bridges in the capital. So much for what the French once called their civilizing mission in Africa.

Paris now has launched a pre-emptive attack on an innocent republic that represented no real threat to anyone. After all, no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Ivory Coast.

What next, regime change?

That would seem the obvious aim of the obstreperous Chirac administration. The French president seems to have adopted the tactics of the Wild West instead of working patiently through international diplomacy.

Even now, in its arrogance, Paris is trying to assemble a coalition of the willing to isolate this regime, which President Jacques Chirac has denounced as “questionable.”

The French leader makes no bones about it, warning France will tolerate no further trouble in Ivory Coast. To quote a rabble-rousing Mr. Chirac speech in Marseilles: “We do not want to allow a system to develop that would lead only to anarchy or a regime of a fascist nature.” Now the Quai d’Orsay mobilizes African states to join its fight against the Ivory Coast regime.

It’s clear to those of us who know the geopolitical score that the real aim of these French occupiers is to assure Paris’ control of the country’s vast cocoa plantations and its hold on the strategic chocolate market. Graham Greene should be with us now. This affair could have come out of one of his novels.

Naturellement, the French would deny any nefarious motive. “In no way,” the Foreign Ministry in Paris claimed, “is France there to destabilize Ivory Coast and its institutions or take sides. It is above all concerned with preserving constitutional legality.”

Yeah, yeah.

But the U.N. authorized this attack only after the fact, and now has demanded an immediate cessation of hostilities. Yet the French continue to defend themselves. What nerve. For a time they were even helping Europeans leave the country. How does this shore up trust in an African nation’s freely elected, legitimate government?

The attempt on Paris’ part to blame Ivory Coast’s peace-loving president, Laurent Gbagbo, will not wash. The whole world, especially those countries with an interest in maintaining President Gbagbo in power, knows better.

This is the work of a small circle of ever-scheming neoconservatives around President Chirac who have plotted to seize the Ivory Coast’s cocoa fields for years. And yet the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations has not used his veto to stop the Security Council from approving the French action. Where is the world’s conscience?

Just wait until Michael Moore exposes this whole rotten plot in his next blockbuster documentary, which will show a host of suspicious ties between France’s ruling clique and Ivorian cocoa sheikhs. The rest of Hollywood will surely weigh in at any moment, led by Whoopi Goldberg and her minions.

The BBC and NPR already plan specials to expose this war of aggression. If anyone doubts French responsibility for these atrocities, CBS’ Dan Rather has proof in the form of some certifiably incriminating documents he soon will air, and which are very convincing — if you don’t examine them too closely.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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