Friday, February 04, 2005

Jacques' Favorite Word

. . . reading this article today from the International Herald Tribune by a French magazine editor, I noted this phrase:

"personally, I do not hesitate to opt for the second approach, but on the condition that the modalities are carefully defined."

The writer was speaking about the changed dynamics in Iraq post-election, and what this means from a French and European foreign policy standpoint.

What stuck out is the term "modalities", and the fact that it's Chirac's favorite word, whether he's talking about Turkey's integration to the E.U., lifting Iraq sanctions, invading Afghanistan, U.N. arms inspectors, or agricultural subsidies. The French elites love the word.

Checking the diplo-speak dictionary:

modalities: The ceremonial forms, protocols, or conditions that surround formal agreements or negotiations.

There you have it. It's Chirac's, and the French political class' favorite word because it's all about the trappings of policy, not the content. It's the process of the process. You can talk about the "modalities," without having to talk about action, risk, morality, national interest, sacrifice, or money. The Ivory Coast can be in a shambles, but as long as those modalities are being discussed, all is well.

Somehow I don't think "modalities" is in Bush's speechwriter's (or Bush's) vocabulary.