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U.S.: French See Attacks As Turning Point In World Affairs

  • Joel Blocker

Paris, 12 September 2001 (RFE/RL) -- French officials, analysts, and media commentators are describing yesterday's terrorist attacks in the United States as a turning point in international affairs that will affect the entire developed world.

French President Jacques Chirac cut short a visit to Brittany after hearing the news from New York and Washington. Last night, in a brief television address to the French people, he called the attacks "an appalling tragedy." Chirac said that never before has any country in the world been the target of attacks of such magnitude and violence.

He added: "What has happened in the United States concerns us all."

After consulting with Chirac last night, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin put France on the highest possible alert -- the same caution level that was invoked after terrorist attacks in France itself during the 1990s. Today, soldiers and reinforced police units are patrolling railroad stations, airports, and major arteries in and around Paris and other large cities. In remarks to reporters, Jospin also characterized the attacks in the United States as "unprecedented in their violence and seriousness."

One French commentator today said the gravity of yesterday's terrorist attacks will have important repercussions for French internal political affairs. Speaking on French radio (France Inter), commentator Bernard Guetta said that Chirac and Jospin -- likely opponents in next May's run-off presidential election -- will now have to work more closely together in countering the new terrorist threat to the West.

"Ouest France," the country's second-largest newspaper, writes in an editorial: "The United States is not the only target. We, too, are targeted -- as is Europe and all developed countries."

France's largest daily, "Le Figaro," titles its editorial "The New War." Its author, Jean de Belot, begins: "War -- a terrorist, blind, and suicidal war. A war in the very heart of the dominant empire, in cities symbolic of the system that rules over the world." He goes on: "Total, sophisticated, well-planned war that, in barely a few minutes, demonstrates the mad determination of the enemy and the incredible efficiency of the means at his disposal. At the same time, it attests to the extraordinary fragility of the world's foremost military, technological, and industrial power."

"War" is one of the three words that dominates the French press's extensive coverage of yesterday's events, which in some cases runs up to 15 pages. The other two words are "catastrophe" and "fear."

In the national daily "Liberation," managing editor Jacques Amalric writes in an editorial: "This barbarous folly far surpasses any fictional catastrophes. We've known since the Gulag, since Auschwitz, since Dresden, and Hiroshima, that reality sometimes is worse than the worst imagined scenario.... " He called yesterday's events a "spectacle of murderous and suicidal madness."

The mass-circulation "Parisien" daily superimposes the phrase "The World Is Afraid" over a color photograph of an exploding World Trade Center tower. Inside, the paper headlines pages two and three: "The Terrorists Humiliate America." Equally apocalyptic, the newspaper "Nice-Matin" writes of the "Twilight of Civilization." In both papers, and in several others, fear of future attacks is the overriding consideration.

The financial daily "Tribune" writes that, after yesterday, "everything has now changed" in the world. Its rival, "Les Echos," calls the events the first truly "international" terrorist attacks. In a commentary signed by Nicolas Beytout and entitled "The New International Disorder," the paper concludes: "George Bush, Senior, spoke of 'a new international order' at the end of the [1991] Gulf War. His son [U.S. President George W. Bush] today must face the challenge, along with all his allies, of the emergence of a new international disorder."

Several papers and media commentators underline the failure of U.S. security agencies to prevent yesterday's attacks. In a typical commentary, the mass-circulation "France-Soir" writes of "the bankruptcy of U.S. intelligence." The paper asks: "How could an operation of this scale, which needed months of preparation and training, [have] taken place without alerting any of the 13 agencies that make up the U.S. secret services [including the CIA, FBI, National Security Agency and military intelligence agencies], or those of its allies, to the danger?"

But if there was criticism of U.S. intelligence capabilities in the French media, there was little, if any, of its characteristic anti-Americanism. Interviewed on Radio France International today, French U.S.-affairs analyst Nicole Basharan explained this by saying: "In times of crisis, anti-Americanism is a luxury the French cannot afford."