By Dick Morris
February 27, 2003
Chirac is a man of the right. Elected by a coalition of Gaullists and neo-Gaullists, he has always cast himself as the adversary of socialism and the apostle of free markets. But, last year, Chirac faced a novel opponent - the extreme rightist LePen. Having defeated Socialist Lionel Jospin in the first round of the presidential elections, he won the votes of every Frenchman and woman to the left of Attila the Hun.
Now, by criticizing U.S. policy in Iraq, Chirac is stealing the position normally identified with his political opponents on the left. He understandably enjoys the support he got on the left in opposing LePen and would like to remain a man with friends on both sides of the political divide. When Chirac opposes American invasion of Iraq, he co-opts the issues of the left just as surely as Bill Clinton did in espousing welfare reform to steal the issues of the right.
Tony Blair, by contrast, makes his home on the left side of the United Kingdom political spectrum. As the leader of Britain's Labor Party, his opponents, the Conservatives, are far more likely to back U.S. military action against Iraq than are the members of his own party.
Blair has made a political career out of triangulating. He proved himself to British voters a decade ago by taming the left wing labor unions that dominated his party and, indeed, had given it their name. His tough stands against crime and support for tougher standards for schools closely paralleled the positions Clinton took in the United States to appeal to swing voters.
But Blair has never faced a more classic confrontation between the left and the right than he does at the moment. By decisively siding with his Conservative opponents, Blair is gambling that he can defang the Tories and win their supporters.
When Blair backs the demands of the right for tough measures against Saddam and Chirac supports the most left wing of his constituents by opposing American plans, each acquires political supporters who come right from the base of their political opponents.
Blair is now facing a drop in his popularity stemming from his backing for Bush. But, in the British parliamentary system, he is confident that his party colleagues won't rebel over Iraq. To overturn Blair on this issue would cost them their majority and lead to new elections with a divided Labor Party.
For his part, Chirac is accustomed to asserting a Gaullist independence from American policy. But to make the case from the left is unusual for him. Typically Gaullist policies echoed the conservative views of Charles de Gaulle's political base - advocating independent French nuclear weaponry and backing strong policies abroad. Now, suddenly Chirac switches sides and comes from the left to attack Bush policies in the Middle East.
Chirac has always clung to a majority by the skin of his political teeth. Before Socialist Jospin finished third and lost the chance to face the Gaullist in the runoff, he and Chirac were neck-and-neck in the opinion polls in a prospective second round. Now, by battling for the left against his traditional allies on the right, Chirac may acquire a traction among socialists and liberals that he has thus far lacked.
Whether Chirac's opposition
to American policies or Blair's support plays well or badly abroad,
each man's position is rooted in his own domestic political needs,
just like the politicians they are.