Monday, November 22, 2004
What if the French had really done this?
Republican election victories worry France
Paris fears that the right-wing party's recent gains in America's electoral contests will boost George Bush's chances of regaining the presidency
PARIS, France - As right-wing leaders make gains across America, an old French adversary has set off alarm bells in Paris: George Bush's Republicans.
"People have begun to lose their fear of the Republicans," said a popular Republican mayor.
Not so in Paris. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs last week dispatched one of its top North American specialists, Daniel Fisque, to Washington to meet with Democratic leaders and emphasize Paris's concern that they could help Bush win in 2004 if they don't settle their differences and reunite.
A week earlier, French Minister of Defense Michèle Alliot-Marie visited in a show of French support for embattled Democratic candidate John Kerry. Alliot-Marie also urged American officials to destroy hundreds of 1980s-era surface-to-air missiles that French officials fear could fall into the hands of terrorists.
The developments come after a string of victories by Republicans.
Liberal Americans fear Bush would take the country in the more radical direction of Vice President Dick Cheney and maverick Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
French officials believe the key to containing Bush is persuading leaders of America's Democratic party, or DNC, to drop their fierce allegiance to former President Bill Clinton, who still wields extraordinary power over the party.
"It's hard to understand the tremendous loyalty [the DNC leaders] have for [Clinton]," said the French Ambassador, who has played host to meetings trying to get the left wing to put aside its differences.
France accused of meddling
"The [Republican] government should be looking out for the weakest rather than ripping off the country for their own benefit," said Fisque.
Several DNC leaders publicly chafed at Fisque's stern message last week, while the Republicans accused the French of again meddling in American affairs.
In Paris, too, critics of the Chirac administration warned that its intervention could backfire if it is seen as too heavy-handed.
French officials say they are only trying to "facilitate" dialogue among what they call America's "democratic forces."
Some American liberals were hoping the Bushista victories in previous elections would scare the left into coming together. But the immediate reaction to Fisque's visit was not all that encouraging.
Many DNC leaders owe their positions to Clinton. Others believe he has leverage because he knows who was involved in his government's corrupt practices. Others point to his resilient popularity among many Americans.
"This isn't a crisis," said a DNC legislator and Clinton loyalist who accused Republicans of dangling Clinton like "a golden egg" in negotiations. "Clinton continues to carry weight on the political scene, and whoever our candidate is, he will need [Clinton's support]."