More Verbal Panache Than Military Muscle

Letter From Paris

Twenty years have passed since Charles de Gaulle faded from the scene—for old soldiers, as is well-known, never die. No one can therefore say just how he would have responded to the present crisis in the Persian Gulf But if there is one thing, in this highly mobile situation, that can be said with a certain degree of accuracy, it is that the general's present-day successor, François Mitterrand, initially assumed an essentially Gaullist attitude, more marked by verbal panache than military muscle.

On August 2, when Saddam Hussein's Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, as on the fateful August 13, 1961, when the East Germans began erecting the Berlin Wall, most French cabinet ministers were away from Paris on summer vacations. Prime Minister Michel Rocard was off yachting in the Adriatic, while Jean-Pierre Chevénement, the minister of defense, was enjoying a tour of Tuscany. Not until August 9, a full week after the military occupation of Kuwait, did President Mitterrand, more determined than ever to direct his country's foreign and military policies, see fit to convene a small cabinet meeting at the Elyse'e Palace to discuss what should be done.

Two practical measures were finally decided on, in a belated effort to offset an impression of French irresolution—what the French aptly call a flottement (floating wobbliness). The first was the dispatch to a number of North African and...

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