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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 March, 2003, 12:18 GMT
France faces war on sidelines
Hugh Schofield
By Hugh Schofield

Protester gets anti-war face paint
Opinion polls show massive support for Mr Chirac
France awoke on Tuesday torn between two emotions.

A proud sense of righteous indignation, on the one hand.

But on the other, a fearful recognition that - in the world of human reality as opposed to the sphere of moral abstractions - control of events has slipped entirely from its grasp.

Being typecast as the whipping-boy of the pro-US camp has deepened the feeling of outrage at the imminent invasion of Iraq.

Mr Bush is encouraging all those who - in a world of fanatics - do not fear to use blind terror
Former Arts Minister, Jack Lang
Jack Lang, the former Socialist arts minister who now chairs the National Assembly's foreign affairs committee, was characteristically trenchant Tuesday morning:

"More than ever before President Bush proves himself to be blinded by his messianic fundamentalism.

"By deliberately violating international law, Mr Bush is encouraging all those who - in a world of fanatics - do not fear to use blind terror and violence," he said.


You can hear the same opinions on a thousand radio talk-shows.

The verdict is almost universal: by unilaterally declaring war on Iraq, Mr Bush and his "poodle" Tony Blair have shown their contempt for the United Nations.

As war approaches the French cannot avoid the conclusion that their diplomacy has failed
Might and greed have triumphed over the international order, hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis will lose their lives, terrorism will be back with a vengeance and the Middle East turned upside-down - say the pundits.

But three cheers for Jacques Chirac - they add - for showing it is possible to stand up to the bully-boys!

President Chirac's ratings have shot through the roof in the last days, after he made clear he meant to carry his opposition to the US to its conclusion.

According to a poll in the Catholic magazine, Le Pelerin, a whopping 86% of the public support the president in his showdown with the US.

Astonishingly his popularity is even higher among left-wing voters - 94% of Communists for example - than among voters for his own conservative Union for a Popular Majority (UMP) party.

But beneath this suffocating consensus, there are also the glimmers of doubt.

Because as war approaches, the French cannot avoid the conclusion that their diplomacy has failed.

Post-war order

Poster at anti-war demonstration in Toulouse
France feels it has occupied the moral high ground
Worse, as the focus shifts away from the United Nations and down to the battlefields of Iraq, France's voice will become increasingly irrelevant.

We have grown used to asking at every twist in this year-long build-up, "What will the French say?" because what the French said truly mattered.

But that obsession with the French position, which has of course flattered the French themselves, will gradually peter out.

From now on the talk will be of offensives and surrenders, death and victory, destruction and the hope of re-building.

In none of this will France have a word to say.

Camped on its moral high ground, it may take solace in the consistency of its opposition to war. And there will always be many around the world who applaud what it did.

But France has never liked being left out of the international equation.

In the new post-war order, it may have to get used to it.

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