PARIS - Jacques Chirac, admired and scorned during
12 years as president of France, leaves a legacy as mixed and ambiguous as the
As widely expected, the French leader announced Sunday that he will not seek
a third term in presidential elections in six weeks. In a televised address,
Chirac said he would find new ways to serve his country after leaving office:
"Serving France, and serving peace, is what I have committed my whole life to."
Though he did not say as much, the announcement was an implicit
acknowledgment that low popularity, age ！ he is 74 ！ and Nicolas Sarkozy, his
conservative colleague-cum-rival as hugely ambitious as Chirac once was, have
finally overtaken him.
Most on the French right Chirac once dominated and in the party founded for
his re-election in 2002 have swung behind Sarkozy before the April-May two-round
presidential vote, leaving Chirac with no political base for another run.
But Chirac has pulled surprises in the past and he kept France guessing as
long as possible about whether he will run again ！ seemingly to avoid becoming a
lame duck too soon.
On France, Chirac made less of a mark than Gen. Charles de Gaulle, his role
model, or his immediate predecessor, Socialist Francois Mitterrand.
Internationally, the repercussions of Chirac's defiant "Non!" to the war on
Iraq, which forced President Bush to invade in 2003 without United Nations
backing, still echo.
So, too, does another "Non!" of the Chirac era ！ that of French voters who
rejected Europe's drive toward greater integration in 2005.
Some accused the French leader of derailing European ambitions, since it was
he who put the issue to a referendum. For many, it is among the biggest
blemishes on the record of a statesman who occasionally seemed to be more
concerned about problems abroad than at home.
Chirac's acknowledgment of the French state's guilt in the Nazi extermination
of Jews in World War II was historic. But economically, few French say they are
better off than they were in 1995, when crowds splashed in Paris fountains to
celebrate Chirac's come-from-behind election win.
In his address, Chirac urged France to believe in itself.
"We have so many trump cards," he said. "We must not fear the world's
evolution. This new world, we must embrace it. We must continue to put our mark
Still, many are eager to see him go. After four decades in politics, Chirac
had become uninspiring scenery ！ present but barely noticed.
Protected by presidential immunity, Chirac always avoided corruption
investigations that brought down others in his entourage. Former aide
Jean-Francois Probst described Chirac as "a charming liar." Back in civilian
life, Chirac risks being targeted by investigating judges.
For some critics, Chirac's greatest failure was his lack of bold change and
leadership for a country struggling to maintain its place in an increasingly
competitive, globalized world. Instead, Chirac sometimes seemed determined to
upset as few people as possible, charting a middle course of timid reform and
backing down in the face of street protests.
His first term was hamstrung by his disastrous decision to call parliamentary
elections in 1997. The Socialists won, forcing Chirac into uncomfortable
power-sharing. His second term was tarnished from the start: Many, including his
opponents on the left, voted for Chirac simply to keep out the other run-off
candidate ！ far-right nationalist leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.
Without Chirac, France will almost certainly get its first leader born after
World War II ！ most likely Sarkozy, 52, Socialist Segolene Royal, 53, or even
long-shot centrist Francois Bayrou, 55.
It's a reflection on Chirac's reign that Sarkozy ！ even though he comes from
the same political camp ！ has largely built his campaign around promises that he
will break with policies of the Chirac years, as if offering continuity would
only guarantee electoral defeat.
Chirac sometimes let ill-temper and haughtiness trip up his diplomacy. He
savaged Eastern European nations that backed Bush on Iraq, saying, "They missed
a good opportunity to keep quiet."
"Profoundly shocked," he walked out of an EU summit in 2006 when a fellow
Frenchman spoke English. Unapologetic, he later said: "You cannot base a future
world on just one language, just one culture."
Chirac's opposition to the U.S.-led war on Iraq ！ he said U.N. weapons
inspectors should get more time to disarm Saddam Hussein peacefully ！ led to a
brief surge in his popularity and added bite to his arguments that multilateral,
multipolar decision-making ！ not American might ！ should govern international
"War is always a last resort. It is always proof of failure. It is always the
worst of solutions, because it brings death and misery," Chirac said a week
before U.S.-led coalition forces invaded Iraq.