The Mystery of the French hostages, part 4: Jimmy Carter on the Seine
As I wrote on October 4, two journalists, George Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, and their Syrian driver, Mohammed al Joundi, were kidnapped in Iraq and have been held hostage since August 20. On Friday, October 1,
Didier Julia, a member of the UMP (Chirac’s party) went to Syria to negotiate their release, after several other initiatives that included French Muslim leaders had failed. Laurent Gbagbo, the president of Côte d’Ivoire, had lent him his private aircraft to fly to Syrian capital. Julia confirmed rumors that he and his collaborator Philippe Brett had been in Damascus. Brett apparently then went to meet with the hostage takers, and, when a highly-publicized press conference (where the hostages were to be released) started, Brett didn’t show up. Instead, Brett phoned saying he was with the hostages but “there was a delay”. No hostages — or Brett — at all.
As Le Monde confirmed, the French government was involved with Julia’s mission. To make things worse, the news conference fiasco took place the same day that two women hostages were released — Italian women, and Italy’s part of the Coalition. Later, on October 5, I theorized on
Why is this mystery important?
This is important because appeasement-and-negotiation is the cornerstone of French foreign policy. Or as the French would rather put it, “French is the language of diplomacy”. There was colossal shock and disappointment felt by the general public when the hostages failed to materialize at Friday’s press conference, which was broadcast live on TV — while at the same time, the Italian hostages were released, and Italy’s a member of the Coalition in Iraq. The catch phrase is “La diplomatie est dans le bleu” (diplomacy‘s in the blue — it has failed). The repercussions of this failure will be felt for months, not only within the UMP (Chirac’s party), but in all the political parties. The ramifications on French-American relations are yet to be ascertained.
I don’t believe this hostage crisis will change the French as much as the Iranian hostage crisis changed American politics during the Carter administration, though.
While there was much speculation that the hostages were under Syrian control, French officials met with a Sunni Muslin group, hoping to establish a “thread of contact”, to no avail. The portraits of the three hostages continued to hang from Paris City Hall.
Nothing had been heard of regarding the three hostages. France2 news kept count of how many days the three men had been held hostage, much like the American networks kept count of how many days the American hostages were kept by the Iranians back during the Carter administration. That was, until yesterday, when the headlines changed to: Otages: chauffeur syrien libéré, Mohammed Al-Joundi retrouvé à Fallouja, or as we say here in Jersey, Marines rescue Syrian driver captured in August with French journalists:
Marines sweeping through Fallujah as part of a major U.S. offensive against insurgents located Mohammed al-Joundi, the U.S. military said, but there was no sign of journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot.
A portrait of al-Joundi that had hung from the facade of Paris City Hall for nearly three months was taken down Friday. Portraits of Chesnot and Malbrunot remained.
I remember reading Ken Follett’s book on how Ross Perot rescued two of his corporate employees from an Iranian prison when Perot realized that the Carter administration’s efforts were futile — and Perot’s success was a huge public relations disaster for the Carter administration. Now Chirac’s administration is in a similar situation, only worse: the loathed Marines – not a group of private individuals hired for that specific purpose — were the ones to free the hostage. (To their credit, the French media, which has done more that its share of erasing all evidence of American successes, including the role of Americans in winning WWII, have mentioned the Americans; but then, it’s kind of hard to avoid that, at least for now.) It could be worse,though: the Marines might have freed the two French hostages. It is bad enough, though, that Chesnot and Malbrunot have been missing for 86 days.