French President François Hollande has criticized President Donald Trump for referring to the terrorist attacks that have plagued France in recent years as products of an open borders policy that militates against security.
“Take a look at what’s happening in Germany,” said President Trump, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “Take a look at what’s happened in France. Take a look at Nice and Paris. We fully understand that national security begins with border security.”
To this, President Hollande responded with some pique: “I think it’s never a good idea to show the least disapproval with respect to an ally. I wouldn’t do that to an ally and I would ask that the American president not do that with regard to France.”
This is a counsel of extreme forbearance. Never to publicly express the least disapproval or doubt about a policy, or a situation produced by a policy, pursued by an ally?
Where would that leave former French President Jacques Chirac, publicly attacking President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq as “unwarranted” and “unjustified” and expressing “great reservations” about his doctrine of pre-emption?
Where, for that matter, would it leave France’s uninhibited criticism of Israeli policies, like permitting Jews to live and build home in communities in the West Bank?
It was only in January that President Hollande said, “The two-state solution is threatened due to settlements, as well as terrorists who were always afraid of peace.”
Or again, as he declared in 2013, “France calls for the total and definitive end to settlement building because it compromises the two-state solution.”
With these statements, President Hollande not only displayed the “least disapproval” of a friendly country; he publicly criticized it. (Moreover, the Palestinian terrorist organizations do not “fear peace” –– they oppose it until Israel disappears, but that is another matter).
Hollande’s statement was not an exceptional piece of Gallic brusqueness. In 2009, Hollande’s predecessor, Nicholas Sarkozy, declared very publicly –– in an address to the Knesset in Jerusalem, no less –– “Peace cannot be achieved without a complete and immediate cessation of the settlements … Peace cannot be achieved without the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of two states and guaranteeing freedom of access to holy sites for all religions.”
In short, French presidents, past and present, have felt free to publicly criticize Jewish residence in the West Bank as responsible at least in part for the lack of peace. They have challenged the national unity of Israelis who oppose redividing Jerusalem.
Indeed, French officials have gone further. In 2001, without citing any policy in particular, the late French ambassador to Britain, Daniel Bernard, felt free to assert that “all the current troubles in the world are because of that shitty little country Israel.”
Bernard was neither apologetic nor sacked. Indeed, the French Foreign Ministry decried the “malevolent insinuations” that Bernard was anti-Semitic.
The broader question is not whether particular criticism in any given instance is correct or mistaken, but whether it can or should be expressed. Certainly, French leaders have often believed that it can and should.
Why, then, does Hollande take offense at Trump’s statement of the obvious –– that mass immigration to Europe from the Middle East has greatly enlarged the Muslim communities from which radical Muslim terrorists have sprung? This was not even an explicit criticism of French immigration and security policies, though it was certainly an implied one.
It was also well-based. The perpetrators of the January 2015 massacres at the headquarters of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo (12 murdered) and the Paris hyperkacher supermarket (4 murdered) were all children of Muslim immigrants.
The perpetrators of the November 2015 mass-casualty assaults in Paris (219 murdered) consisted of both foreign- and locally-born radical Muslims, including several who had fought in Syria and several who entered France amidst the flow of refugees from Muslim-majority countries.
The perpetrator of the July 2016 truck massacre in Nice (86 murdered) was an immigrant from Tunisia.
Clearly, identifying and preventing radical Muslims from entering a country is not a complete answer –– a perfectly moderate Muslim with no past terrorist associations can immigrate, only to radicalize later, like the Nice perpetrator –– but it is surely a vital element of any responsible effort to protect that country.
Trump has promised no less and the record as it stands already in the US –– according to a 2016 report by the Senate Subcommittee on Immigration and the National Interest, 380 out of 580 people convicted in terror cases since 9/11 were foreign-born –– obliges him to act on this imperative.
Of course, if French leaders want to adopt a policy of desisting from all public criticism of allies, both the US and Israel will undoubtedly be pleased. In the meantime, everyone, include President Hollande, must roll with the punches.