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November 18, 2014

Former French prime minister decries military intervention

On Friday evening the University of Chicago’s Mandel Hall hosted Dominique de Villepin, the former prime minister of France. In his first public remarks in the U.S. since 2007, de Villepin discussed the failures of past foreign policies and suggested incorporating new global strategies in regards to ISIS. The University’s French Club and the Institute of Politics (IOP) organized the event.

De Villepin is known for his 2003 speech at the U.N. Security Council voicing French opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. He was against the invasion because of his belief that war only temporarily stabilizes countries.

In Mandel Hall, de Villepin stressed the importance of peaceful and strategic diplomacy done in accordance with international legal norms. He said that the United States and France are influential enough to encourage this type of diplomacy.

“There are no solutions without legitimacy, there are no solutions outside of legality.... I know that the United States and France are the key countries of this reinvention because of history, because of values...and because of shared spirit of freedom,” de Villepin said.

He attacked military action, saying that it works only to the extent of briefly stabilizing a country before it becomes tumultuous again, but it is almost always the first strategy that countries employ when conflict arises. He cited the wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq as prime examples.

“The interventions of the two last decades are always military successes, but always also political failures. Sure enough, all interventions have been military successes. The intervention in Afghanistan allowed in a few months in the winter 2001 to break al Qaeda’s command chain, the U.S. army conquered the whole of Iraq [including] Baghdad,” de Villepin said.

“But at the same time, we must face the fact of this whole paradox that these interventions all missed their political objective,” he added. “Afghanistan was not stabilized as the regime changed from the Taliban to the secular rule of Hamid Karzai.”

De Villepin wants politicians and diplomats to reform institutions that are in the midst of dangerous situations, to create more transparency in legislation, and to increase regional dialogue. He has encouraged countries to move away from direct military action to create more political stability.

Steve Edwards, the executive director of the IOP, led the question-and-answer forum in the last half hour of de Villepin’s talk. In response to students’ questions about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and methods of stabilization, de Villepin strongly suggested that the United States, France, and their partners must stabilize ISIS politically and attempt discussion with regional powers like Turkey, Iran, Russia, and Syria to disrupt funding to ISIS.

De Villepin also stressed the importance of having regional partners take the lead. “Instead of an American-led coalition, we should have regional coalition with the support of the Western countries,” de Villepin said.

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