Human Rights,  International

In defense of Bernard Kouchner

Guest post by Andrew Murphy

Humanitarian. Physician. Internationalist. Politican. Those are just some words to describe Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister. However if we are to believe French journalist Pierre Péan, other adjectives should be used to describe Kouchner. Does Péan’s smear campaign have a leg to stand on? Of course not!

Those familiar with the European Left know Kouchner is the closest thing to a real statesman on the Continent: the founder of Médecins Sans Frontières, a man who much to his personal peril has been on the barricades defending internationalism in places like Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Kenya, Somalia, Rwanda, Sudan, Nigeria, Vietnam, the Balkans, and Central America for four decades.

However, in the eyes of what passes for the Left today, Kouchner committed the ultimate sin: he recognized in 2003 the need to eliminate Saddam Hussein. Although it should be noted that Kouchner’s Le Monde article was titled “Neither War nor Saddam” and favored a UN solution to the Iraq ordeal, never the mind. When he joined the center-right Sarkozy government, the French Socialist party expelled him.

This explains why the recent allegations by Pierre Péan are being reproduced, recycled and touted by websites like Huffington Post, Lenin’s Tomb and elsewhere with glee. Péan claims that Kouchner as co-owner of IMEDIA and African Steps used his position as foreign minister to help make his companies more profitable by dealing with corrupt government in Gabon and Congo. “What I find reproachful is that Kouchner has cultivated an image of an immaculate knight whose behavior is firmly rooted on ethics,” Péan told IPS. “But this image does not fit his business dealings.” Péan also claims that Kouchner did not do enough in Kosovo to stop the killing of Albanians and protected former Rwandan president Paul Kagame.

Any dealings Kouchner had as a consultant with his companies ended when he became Foreign Minister. Furthermore, Péan is a little off in his math. He claims Kouchner earned over $6 million between 2004-2007 as a consultant to countries like Gabon and Congo. In reality, Kouchner earned less then $7,779 a month as a consultant. Likewise, Kouchner was a consultant on health care. Considering that both Gabon and the Congo have horrible health care delivery systems, it’s no shock that Kouchner’s organization would be in those countries.

Péan writes in his new book, Le monde selon K, that Kouchner represents “anti-France” and is a “cosmopolitan”. Say what? A prominent French leftist who believes in solidarity and internationalism is a “cosmopolitan”. Well let’s get the rope and find the nearest sour apple tree.

Another allegation is that Kouchner was partisan during the Balkan conflict, supporting the Albanians in Kosovo and trying to frame the Serbs as fascists during his role as UN Special Representative Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK). Kouchner in his role repeatedly condemned violence, whether it was Serb on Albanian. Kouchner is passionate about Serbia joining the EU. He was a good friend of the late Serbian Prime Minister, Zoran Djindjic. Likewise Kouchner supported the Serbian Momcilio Trajkovic’s idea to split Kosovo into three cantons and help protect the 30,000 Serbs living in Kosovo. Finally Kouchner has been up front and honest that his UN mission made bad assumptions when they first came to Kosovo. In an interview with the Red Cross, when asked about any regrets, he told Jean-François Berger:

“Of course. First, because we did not realize immediately that the protection of the Serbs was an integral part of our mission when we came to assist the Kosovar Albanians. For that, we would have needed a very different system of law and order from the one we had envisaged. We were wrong to expect an immediate restoration of the Albanian judicial system.”

Péan shows his pettiness by trying to refight the Rwanda massacres between the Tutsis and Hutus. Péan knows Kouchner was a vocal critic of the massacres in Rwanda and condemned the French-loving Hutus for their actions. Somehow, Kouchner is “anti-French” because he had the temerity to call out French allies for their bestial treatment of the Tutsis in Rwanda. (More here.)

The cover of Le monde selon K, interestingly enough, shows George Bush and Kouchner together. One can’t help but wonder: if Kouchner had just been a good boy and followed most of the French Left into knee-jerk anti-Americanism in 2003, would this book be on the market?