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Published: Sunday, 11/21/2004

Chirac won't be getting invites any time soon

WASHINGTON - Oh, Jacques. Jacques. Jacques. What poor timing you have!

Here comes the French president, Jacques Chirac, telling the BBC that President Bush's war in Iraq has made the world "more dangerous." That followed a newspaper interview in which he said that "with America as it is these days," it is doubtful that Britain or any other country could be an honest broker between the United States and Europe.

This sally comes forth just as Mr. Bush is putting together his new foreign-policy team, one even more personally loyal to him than the old, and preparing to head to Europe to try to mend fences, the way any good ol' boy from Texas would do.

One shudders to think of the first post-election meeting between the two men now. "Well, Jacques, I heard you've been dissing me again." "Mais oui, Georges. Duh."

Mr. Chirac's point is that Islamic fundamentalists have even more reason to go on terrorist rampages because Mr. Bush attacked Iraq, which had no proven connection to al-Qaeda.

He is not completely alone in that thinking, but to make the point as undiplomatically as he has done just after Mr. Bush has won re-election shows an amazing arrogance. And just hours after Mr. Bush held out a sort of olive branch (well, OK, a wilted one) toward Europe, Mr. Chirac's comments are a stunning indication that the "one world" dream that the country indulged in after the fall of communism really is a fantasy.

Condoleezza Rice, a loyal backbencher for many years in both Bush administrations, will need all her skills and all the help she can get because she is taking on a thankless job as secretary of state. It is now clear that Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are running foreign policy; it remains to be seen how effective she will be.

Meanwhile, the global problems are mounting and are immensely discouraging.

Outgoing Colin Powell said that relations with China, for example, are better than they have been in some time. But that is not saying much - tomorrow's China will be an economic behemoth with a far larger work force, more natural resources, and, increasingly, technological prowess that rivals the United States'. The United States is the only superpower now, but not for long. China and the United States have not in modern times seen eye to eye. Why is that likely to change?

And there is Russia's Vladimir Putin, insisting that his country is going to deploy new nuclear missile systems better than anything the United States or any other country has. Now that's something for the remorseless Chechen rebels to conspire to get their hands on.

Iran, certainly no friend of the United States and an archenemy of Iraq, reportedly already has or is trying to attain everything it needs for a nuclear bomb. That would put the turbulent Middle East in even more turmoil and danger. Even with Yasser Arafat's passing, Middle East peace seems no closer despite Mr. Bush's hope for a Palestinian state during the next four years.

North Korea also is on the verge of becoming a nuclear power. And even if it's true that pictures of cruel dictator Kim Jong Il are being removed from public places to indicate that his star is no longer rising, that is far from enough to give the United States cause for a sigh of relief. The administration has been all over the map on North Korea - in the next four years, we could either be at war with it, too, or coddling it to try to secure an ally in what is becoming uncharted territory for the United States in Southeast Asia. Again.

Mr. Bush has made it crystal-clear that he will not tolerate divisive internal dissent in the next four years. He insists he doesn't want to be surrounded by "yes" men and women. But that's not entirely true.

He wants to be surrounded by people loyal to him, with whom he is comfortable and in whom he has confidence to carry out broad tenets he says are now a mandate from the people. He means that he will do whatever he thinks needs to be done to fight terrorism, whether the rest of the world agrees. He doesn't want any naysaying from anybody.

A smarter, less smug man than Mr. Chirac would have figured this out and figured out a way to talk to Mr. Bush and work with him. Here's betting we've got a bumpy ride ahead on the foreign-relations front and that there won't be a state dinner for the French president anytime soon, unless the name of the guest of honor is not Mr. Chirac.



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