French officials were prepared to provide as many as 15,000 troops for an invasion of Iraq before relations soured between the Bush administration and the French government over the timing of an attack, according to a new book published in France this week.
The book, "Chirac Contre Bush: L'Autre Guerre" ("Chirac vs. Bush: The Other War"), reports that a French general, Jean Patrick Gaviard, visited the Pentagon to meet with Central Command staff on Dec. 16, 2002 -- three months before the war began -- to discuss a French contribution of 10,000 to 15,000 troops and to negotiate landing and docking rights for French jets and ships.
French military officials were especially interested in joining in an attack, because they felt that not participating with the United States in a major war would leave French forces unprepared for future conflicts, according to Thomas Cantaloube, one of the authors. But the negotiations did not progress far before French President Jacques Chirac decided that the Americans were pushing too fast to short-circuit inspections by U.N. weapons inspectors.
Chirac, the book says, was prepared to join in an attack if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had not allowed inspectors into Iraq. "Up until December 2002, what everyone told us is that France thought Saddam Hussein was going to make a mistake and not allow inspections," Cantaloube said in an interview. After inspectors appeared to make progress in Iraq, Chirac's thinking changed, especially after polls in France showed vast opposition to an attack.
White House officials declined to comment.
The book is a detailed recounting of the deteriorating relationship between President Bush and Chirac by two journalists based in Washington and Paris for the newspaper Le Parisien. The journalists, Cantaloube and Henri Vernet, said they interviewed more than 50 military and diplomatic officials in both countries.
The book also discloses that French officials became convinced the United States had eavesdropped on Chirac's phone conversations after a U.S. official warned a French military official that "the relationship between your president and ours is irreparable on the personal level. You have to understand that President Bush knows exactly what President Chirac thinks of him."
Cantaloube said the threat was believable to French officials because Chirac has a habit of not using secure lines for phone calls, often just pulling out his cell phone to make impromptu calls. "Chirac is a compulsive phone dialer," he said.
Chirac knew Bush's father, former president George H.W. Bush, well, but that relationship actually proved to be a distraction for the current president, according to the book, which says that Bush was annoyed that Chirac kept mentioning his father at every occasion. For months, French diplomats asked Chirac not to refer to Bush's father when he met the president, but he kept doing it.
During one of Bush's first European trips, when the new president impressed other European leaders at a summit, Chirac excitedly pulled out his cell phone to call Bush's father to report that the new president had done a great job, the authors said.
"The father reported this to his son," Cantaloube said. "It was not very well received in the White House."