Kouchner's appointment and the Iraq war

By Stephen Pollard
May 24, 2007

Oliver Kamm has an interesting post here about Bernard Kouchner's position on the Iraq war. Bizarrely, it has been reported that he was an advocate of war. Actually, it's not that bizarre given that the report of Kouchner's views is by one Neil Clark, for whom the word idiot was clearly coined.

I was an advocate of the war. I remain of the view that it was the right thing to do. I say that merely to give context to the rest of this post. In the run up to the war, just before it started but in that period when it was clearly imminent, I chaired a conference in Vienna (nothing to do with politics or foreign affairs - it was a gathering of heart surgeons). The keynote speaker at that conference was Bernard Kouchner, wearing his hats as a former French health minister and founder of MSF. His speech, on human rights, healthcare, and the obligations owed by those with power to alleviate the suffering of those without it, was utterly compelling. He was scheduled to speak for 45 minutes. After well over 90 minutes he drew breath; no one in the hall was eager for him to stop.

Afterwards, I was lucky enough to have dinner with him. As an advocate of military action I was used to having to defend my position in an almost entirely hostile Europe. But neither before or since was my view subjected to a more rigorous or piercing cross-examination than it was by M Kouchner, who had the table eating out of his hands like the commanding figure he is. He spent the entire dinner arguing - passionately - against the war, in private as in public.

But his position on Saddam was unambiguous: the man was an evil and dangerous dictator and had to be removed. My difference with him was that I did not - do not, still - think there was any other way beyond military action. Unlike some opponents of the war. however, Kouchner's opposition included not an ounce of knee-jerk anti-Western or anti-Americanism. It was based on a legitimate, albeit in my view wrong, calculation about the best way to bring about the removal of Saddam.

Kouchner's appointment is far from perfect from some points of view - he is a fanatical Eurofederalist, for instance. But in terms of bringing France back into the fold of decent, moral and humanitarian foreign policy, it is a wondrous move.


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