- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Addressing a gathering of some 200 French ambassadors gathered at the Elysee Palace last Monday, President Nicolas Sarkozy stressed the urgency of what he called “The first challenge” facing the West: How to prevent a confrontation with Islam.

“The threats we face today — terrorism, proliferation, crime — know no borders, warned the French president.

“There’s no point in waffling: this confrontation is being called for by extremist groups such as al Qaeda that dream of establishing a caliphate from Indonesia to Nigeria, rejecting all openness, all modernity, every hint of diversity,” said Mr. Sarkozy. “If these forces were to achieve their sinister objective, it is certain that the 21st century would be even worse than the last one, itself marked by merciless confrontation between ideologies.”

It would be wrong, said Mr. Sarkozy to underestimate the threat of a confrontation between Islam and the West. Citing the affair of the Danish newspaper cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad that stirred violent protests from London to Jakarta, the French president said it should be seen as “a forewarning.” All countries, he said, including those of the Muslim world, are now under threat of criminal attack similar to the attacks on New York, Bali, Madrid, Bombay, Istanbul, London and Casablanca. “Think of what would happen tomorrow if terrorists were to use nuclear, biological or chemical materials.”

Preventing a confrontation between Islam and the West will require encouragement and aiding the forces of moderation and modernity in Muslim countries “to enable an open and tolerant Islam — an Islam that accepts diversity as an enrichment — to prevail.”

But there is no miracle solution, said Mr. Sarkozy. Preventing a confrontation between Islam and the West involves helping Muslim countries gain access to the energy of the future, nuclear power, said the French president. However, this must be done “in compliance with the treaties and in full cooperation with the countries that have already mastered this technology.”

Otherwise, Mr. Sarkozy asked his ambassadors, how can we explain to a billion Muslims worldwide that they aren’t entitled to civilian nuclear energy once they no longer have oil and gas? “Then we will be creating conditions for poverty, underdevelopment, and consequently, the explosion of terrorism.”

Echoing the voices of numerous Middle East observers, Mr. Sarkozy reiterated that preventing an Islam vs. Western confrontation entails dealing with the crises in the Middle East. “Just five years ago, there was only one crisis in the region. Within five years, that number has grown to four.”

On Iraq France cannot remain indifferent. The fact that “history has proved us right does not absolve us of the need to assess the consequences,” said Mr. Sarkozy, referring to France’s opposition to the war, adding that “the only possible solution is a political solution.”

“It is now clear that the unilateral use of force leads to failure,” said the French president, who described Iraq as “a nation that is falling apart in a merciless civil war.”

The confrontation between Shia and Sunni Muslims, warned Mr. Sarkozy, “has the potential to touch off a conflagration in the entire Middle East; terrorist groups setting up permanent bases, gaining experience before attacking new targets across the entire world; a world economy vulnerable to the slightest spark in the oil fields.”

Regarding the fourth crisis, Iran, which Mr. Sarkozy described as “no doubt the most serious weighing on the international order today,” the French president clearly said “an Iran with nuclear weapons is unacceptable.” Increasing sanctions on Iran was the only approach “from facing a disastrous alternative: an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran.”

In response to the risk of an Islam vs. Western confrontation, Mr. Sarkozy referred to his plan for a Mediterranean Union, an idea he first floated on the day he was elected president.

Finally, he reiterated the friendship between the United States and France was as important today as it has been over the last two centuries. However, he said, “Allied does not mean aligned.” He went on to criticize Washington, saying, “The United States was unable to resist the temptation to resort to the unilateral use of force and is unfortunately not demonstrating, when it comes to protecting the environment, the “leadership” capacity it claims in other areas. When one claims the mantle of leadership, one must assume it in every area.”

Mr. Sarkozy may believe the Iraqi problem can be solved politically. However, that did not prevent President Bush requesting from Congress an additional $50 billion to fund the war in Iraq. The request comes on top of $460 billion, allocated to the defense budget in fiscal 2008 and $147 billion agreed to in a pending supplement bill to fund the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Reading between the dollar signs, that would mean no quick end to the war.

Claude Salhani is editor of the Middle East Times.

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