Diplomacy, à la Douste
In May I published a brief article on Philippe Douste-Blazy, the current Minister of Foreign Affairs, where I spoke of his opposition to a proposed law banning Armenian holocaust denial. Such laws are both demeaning and totalitarian and should be opposed, but Douste-Blazy's reasons centered on his reluctance to displease Turkey, not on the unsoundness of the law.
Yesterday, he was featured again (and ridiculed) at many French websites after he extolled the virtues of Iran, during a meeting in Beirut with the Iranian Foreign Minister. This article is from Nouvel Observateur:
Manuchehr Mottaki, the Iranian Foreign Minister and his French counterpart, Philippe Douste-Blazy, began meeting on Monday night in Beirut to discuss the Lebanese crisis.
The leader of Iranian diplomacy had previously indicated that the meeting would take place in the Lebanese capital. Questioned early in the evening by Reuters, Quai d'Orsay (the French Foreign Ministry) was not able to immediately confirm the information coming out of Beirut, saying only that the Iranian Foreign Minister had expressed the desire to meet his French counterpart.
Mottaki, whose government is one of the main backers of the Hezbollah Shiites at war with Israel, had arrived during the day in the Lebanese capital, as did the French minister. In Beirut the French minister openly expressed his advocacy of meetings with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
"In the region, there is, of course, a country such as Iran, a great country, a great people and a great civilization, that is respected and that is a stabilizing force in the region," he had stated during a press conference.
Before leaving Paris for Beirut, Philippe Douste-Blazy had been quoted as saying to Le Figaro that Iran was among the countries "that count in the region...Contacts with the authorities in Tehran should not be discouraged."
One French-language Jewish website, the UPJF (Union of Jewish Managers and Professionals) painted him as a pathetic figure, whose faux pas make Dan Quayle's look like examples of oratory precision.
Still youthful-looking, slight of build, almost timid, Douste would seem incapable of hurting a fly...But let's come back to earth. Leaving aside the flies, mentioned above, that the "gentle" minister would be incapable of harming, he has just done considerable harm to an already besieged State of Israel, who did not need salt poured on its wounds.
Why, one might ask, should we bother with the words of such a bland fellow? Because, bland though he may be, any Foreign Minister, especially French, has a power to do diplomatic damage, a power that it would be foolhardy to underestimate.
Furthermore, it is clear that, since he was gratified with the portfolio of Foreign Affairs, Douste has not exactly excelled in producing outstanding results in foreign policy.
He is, however, famous for his gaffes, that are whispered about among the initiated (1).
This time, it's a completely different thing. At best it's irresponsibility, at worst, the cynicism of reason of State.
(1) Here are some of the gaffes cited by UPJF which I will summarize:
He confused Taiwan with Thailand and Croatia with Kosovo and he speaks no foreign language, not even English.
Jacques Chirac has an employee with a tape-recorder follow him around in order to keep a record of his foul-ups.
Last September at a holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Douste-Blazy stopped in front of a map enumerating the Jewish communities in all the European countries before and after the Second World War. The dialogue went as follows:
Douste - There were no Jews killed in England?
Official - But, Mr. Minister, England was never occupied by the Nazis.
Douste (stubborn) - But, weren't there Jews expelled from England?
After an airplane tragedy in 2005 in Martinique, Douste-Blazy wanted to go to Fort-de-France immediately. He had to be reminded that the Antilles are not foreign territory.
When he first took office in 2005, French diplomats lived in terror of his gaffes. In September when he visited Gaza, he announced, to the astonishment of the Israeli press, that Israel was ready to hire young Palestinians, while in reality, work permits are only granted to married men over 35, a policy that has been followed for ten years.