Jacques René Chirac, a champion of Europe and fierce opponent of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, has died. The former two-term president was 86.
Chirac spent half-a-century in the public eye. President of France and Paris mayor, he also served two terms as prime minister and represented his rural district in the French parliament for nearly 30 years.
For Americans, Chirac may be best remembered for his fierce opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 to oust Saddam Hussein. Speaking in a CNN interview on the eve of the war, Chirac said France was simply telling America the truth, as a friend should.
“I’m telling my American friends beware, be careful,” he said on the eve of the war. “Think it over seriously before you take action that is not necessary and that can be very dangerous, especially in the fight against international terrorism.”
Chirac, fluent in English, knew the United States well. During a summer study stint at Harvard as a young man, he worked flipping burgers at a Howard Johnson restaurant.
Though his opposition to the war provoked widespread hostility in the United States, he did not consider himself anti-American. Rather, Chirac was a champion of France and Europe, believing in a multi-polar world.
Political journalist Harold Hyman says Chirac thought he could sway George W. Bush because he had a good relationship with his father. “And it wasn’t the case,” said Hyman. “He was sort of like a jilted lover. He would have loved to have a great Franco-American relationship.”
In 1995, 50 years after World War II, Chirac became the first president to acknowledge his country’s collaboration with its German occupiers in deporting Jews — French and non-French — to death camps.
In an editorial, Le Figaro said Chirac is viewed as a unifying father figure by most French people today. Though the newspaper noted that part of the outpouring of affection for him may be due to nostalgia for a less divisive time.