How to be the subject of a formal disavowal from your own ministry: a bad week in French foreign policy

A certain idea of French foreign policy is in crisis. On one hand, a serious (non-dickhead) terrorist threat to French interests – like Areva’s uranium mines – in Niger and Mali just isn’t going away, and the French military is semi-permanently involved. Jean-Dominique Merchet has an excellent post on the failed operation to rescue the two hostages and especially on the fact that several of the apparent kidnappers were in Nigerien police uniform…and they fired at the French helicopters. Whether this was a case of insurgents masquerading as police, rogue police cooperating with insurgents, real police acting as fake ones for some twisted reason, or a disastrous friendly-fire incident is far from clear.

Further south, in Cote d’Ivoire, the political crisis grinds on with a steadily increasing background level of violence. The many, many French citizens present have been officially advised to leave. Well, perhaps that’s what Foreign Minister Michéle Alliot-Marie meant to say – instead she advised them to return “en metropole”, thus giving the unhelpful impression she regards the place as a French colony. Oddly enough, former foreign minister and multiple-scandal case Roland Dumas, who is now one of Laurent Gbagbo’s lawyers, described it as “the jewel of French colonialism” in an interview with Le Monde. He went on to say that the water supply belonged to Bouygues, the oil to Total, and the port to Bolloré. Which is true. Typically, he left open whether he thinks this is a good thing or whether behaving as if the country was still a French colony might be a little irresponsible.

And not only did the Tunisian president, dictator, and friend of France end up fleeing, he was apparently refused entry to France. Actually, I monitored air movements over Corsica at the time thanks to this lot and I couldn’t find the plane (registration TS-IOO) – I rather suspect that even if he did apparently stop for fuel in Italy, he went straight east from there. The timings tend to support this. This was after Alliot-Marie, whose reputation as a safe pair of hands is looking dicey, had gone so far as to offer Ben Ali the assistance of the French police in dealing with the crowds. Seriously. In fact, looking at the exact wording, she may have meant some sort of low-key training team giving lessons on policing by consent, but the timing couldn’t have been less appropriate. Anyway, the minister ended up being formally disavowed by her own ministry.

What seems to be clear is that not only are there problems, but there is also an entirely unhelpful smell of imperial arrogance wafting about.

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