- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 21, 2006


By David Pryce-Jones

Encounter Books, $23.95, 185 pages


In his latest book, “Betrayal,” David Pryce-Jones states that not only has France betrayed its Jewish citizens but also itself. There has long been a stratum of French society that has never quite accepted the French revolution but maintained an exclusive sense of French superiority. Members of this group considered the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (the Quai d’Orsay) their natural home and not until the 1950s were Jews and Protestants even considered for appointment.

It made for a rather ingrown, highly literate, but not very effective instrument for foreign policy. The establishment had a romantic attachment to the Holy Land (Palestine) dating from the Crusades, and schools with instruction in French proliferated throughout the Turkish and Arab Near East.

From the time of Napoleon III, government figures would occasionally describe France as “une puissance musalmane” or Islamic power, presumably because of the Arab addiction to the French language and to French culture, strengthened by the French political and military presence in North Africa. When France along with its army was obliged to withdraw from North Africa the never very powerful “puissance musalmane” also disappeared, but the determined French cultivation of the Arab world continued.

Gen. Charles de Gaulle told the British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, after freezing all military sales to Israel during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, that some day the West would thank him as from then on France would be the only Western power to have any influence with the Arab governments. What this influence has come to through the years, other than the procurement of an occasional fat military contract, such as the building of an atomic reactor for Iraq, has yet to be shown.

The French and British had been at war with each other for far more hundreds of years than they have been allies and this inherited French resentment, particularly among the elite, manifested itself on various occasions during World War II. It eventually included Americans, the other “Anglo-Saxons.” French diplomatic efforts in the postwar Middle East, other than the Suez debacle, seemed based on the belief that what was bad for the Anglo-Saxons was good for the French, regardless of the particulars of any event.

The author takes up the case of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who had been a thorn in the British side in Palestine before fleeing to the Nazis. He collaborated with them in recruiting Muslims in Bosnia and elsewhere to serve in the German military.

When it became clear that Germany had lost the war he fled to Switzerland, but the Swiss didn’t want him. Somehow he came under the custody of the French who housed this self-professed Nazi sympathizer in a villa in a Paris suburb complete with two secretaries and an Arab cook. One diplomat wrote that an alliance with the Mufti could calm the (anti-French) agitation in Syria and provoke (anti-British) crises in Palestine, Egypt, Iraq and Transjordan.

Amin al-Husseini evaded French security without much difficulty and using a false Syrian passport flew to Cairo. In Egypt he was visited by a number of admiring French dignitaries and eventually went to Syria where he continued his anti-British and anti-Zionist activities.

When the Ayatollah Khomeini flew into Paris in 1977 (no other country would give him a visa) he was lodged at Neauphle-le-Chateau, a suburb of Paris. There he received visitors, conducted interviews, was protected by armed bodyguards and most importantly had two telexes and six telephone lines enabling him to manipulate violence while remaining safely beyond the Shah’s reach.

Returning to Iran in triumph after the revolution he had engineered, he did so in a charted Air France plane, descending the steps supported by an Air France pilot. Since then the French oil company, Total, received some Iranian contracts; in 1981, the French Ambassador to Lebanon was shot dead by Iranian agents; in 1983, 58 French peacekeeping troops were killed in Beirut by suicide bombers; in 1984, the French Ambassador to Iran was taken hostage so that he could be exchanged for some jailed assassins; the list of killings and French humiliations seems interminable.

French relations with Saddam’s Iraq appear to have been equally convoluted and essentially self-defeating. Military sales to both Iraq and Iran seemed the motivating factor in French diplomacy, and it is noteworthy that in the U.N. food-for-oil scandal (the largest in recorded history) 11 Frenchmen have been implicated.

The author recognizes the democratic and humane values France stands for, but feels that the ingrown and effete Quai d’Orsay, cut off from both reality and French feeling, has dishonored them by pandering to extreme elements of Arab society.

He quotes the French diplomat Henri Fremont-Meurice as wondering “whether France had suddenly become blind and deaf, or whether it was led to sacrifice peace by the idea it had of its interests, or whether pride and disappointment at not being associated with diplomatic activity took priority over sober judgment.”

The author feels that the civil riots that have occurred throughout the country by Muslim immigrants is an indication of how misguided French foreign policy has been, and a harbinger of even more disastrous things to come. One hopes, without much conviction, that he paints too black a picture.

Sol Schindler is a retired Foreign Service Officer who writes and lectures on international affairs.

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