Everyone knew that there was not much love lost between France's President Nicolas Sarkozy and the armed forces. But the resignation of Army Chief of Staff General Bruno Cuche on Tuesday has sent shock waves throughout political, media and military circles in France.
Officially Cuche resigned in the wake of a dramatic incident during a military open day on Sunday when a sergeant accidentally charged his rifle with real bullets rather than blanks and injured 17 people, mostly women and children.
But the media and defense circuits have been abuzz saying the real reason for Cuche's resignation, the first by an Army Chief of Staff in a quarter of a century - the last was General Jean Delaunay in March 1983, in protest at the cuts in military spending – is in reaction to a sharp comment made by President Nicolas Sarkozy after the shooting incident when he said, pointing a finger at the 60-year old General: “You are just amateurs. You are not professionals.”
It was a comment that most observers say was out of line and has served only to inflame the growing crisis of confidence between the presidency and the armed forces.
In a statement issued July 2 the General says his resignation was “to completely assume my responsibilities.” His move is nevertheless being interpreted in France as a signal of extreme anger at Sarkozy's comment.
The French press agency AFP cites people who know Cuche well saying “he could not accept being treated as an incompetent by the president. He felt insulted, hurt.”
Another person says “This is a spectacular, and this time non-anonymous (a reference to the anonymous letter against the Defense White Paper signed by a group of French generals and admirals calling themselves “Surcouf” which I wrote about in a June 30 post) gesture to protest against the contempt in which he and the Army are held by those in power.”
Spectacular, particularly when Sarkozy is sending more French troops to Afghanistan.
Cuche could have stepped down late last year when he underwent a second operation for a brain tumor. He chose to stay put until, he thought then, he would retire at the end of August. He is being replaced by his deputy, General Elrick Irastorza.
photo credit: French ministry of defense