Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Bush to a French Official: "Tell the Syrians I am an Evil Unilateralist!"

An in-depth (sic) article on the partial healing of the French-American rift has been written by Sylvie Kauffmann and Natalie Nougayrède (as well as an article on the Iranian and Indian nuclear program) — and wouldn't you know that the rift was mainly America's fault?

It all boils down to French bashing, we learn from the very first paragraph, "an organized campaign" from Washington without, it is alleged, any real cause or basis. What goes unmentioned, in this article as well as in the French media in general when discussing this subject: the very real, and not at all unjustified, sense of betrayal on the Americans' part, especially given the fact that the Americans felt they were being deceived (worse, lied to) and this when they were going to war, i.e., putting their servicemen in harm's way — a war that a sizable minority of Frenchmen hoped the Americans would lose. And for all that, what also goes unmentioned is the fact that Americans in general do not either bash a scapegoat in particular (unlike France's America-bashing) and when they do so, it is of a rather low-key nature (renaming French fries, pouring Russian vodka down the drain during the Kremlin's Afghanistan invasion, jokes on Jay Leno and David Letterman).

In fact, while the French shake their heads at these (very) moderate expressions of disagreement and anger and complain about them in the most scandalized of tones, they fail to even acknowledge the fact that by being, in the final analysis, low-key, these symbolic gestures let the French get off easily. (Contrary to the regular ransacking of McDonald's outlets, there do not seem to have been many French people or French property harmed in the States.)

The rift also boils down to the Americans' tendency to see a bipolar world, the article states; those who are for us and those who are against us. Pray tell me, what does the French version amount to, if it isn't a bipolar world; those lucid beings who join in opposing the destructive Yanks on the one hand and, on the other, the Yanks in question and those poodles who follow them. The French bipolar view is another thing that is rarely delved into by the French media. By comparison with the scorn levelled at the poodles (the authors have no compunction in the matter-of-fact use of the expression "petits télégraphistes [de Bush]", a scornful dismissal of Spain's Aznar from 2003) and with the fury adressed to those who don't buy into (France's vision of) European unity, I find — strangely enough — America's vision far less caricatural. (Speaking of José Maria Aznar, here is an instance of France showing its vaunted European unity and leading by example.)

In-between, we find more inherent criticism of the Americans and praise of French opposition thereto, from the the description of Michel Barnier as a "more inoffensive" foreign minister than Dominique de Villepin, whom he replaced (suggesting that active opposition to Uncle Sam was, by its very nature, a good thing); to the justification of, and apology for, French diplomats' "horrified" reaction to Bush's vision of a greater Middle East; through the comment, so typical of the French: "The Americans were surprised by this loyalty" on the Lebanon crisis (as if the reactionary Americans were/are too stupid to realize how wise the French have been all the time).

Of course, the whole piece comes down to wise and lucid French operatives — and the occasional lucid American — doing their best — they are "encouraged" by (rare) instances of American lucidity — to try to overcome the differences.

Then, of course, there is the fact that the man who brought up the idea of the "freedom fries", North Carolina congressman Walter Jones, has disavowed the idea. He also seems to have become one of the most ardent critics of the Iraq war.

What does that mean? In the French mind, it means nothing less than this: "See? We were right all along. See? See? See?" If somebody agrees with the French, that only goes to show how wise he is. If somebody disagrees with the French, that only proves how dimwitted he is. The best option in that case is to wait — wait, wait, wait — until they see the light and their opinion changes; thus, French citizens may rest reassured: French policy is always right and, in the end, everybody will eventually come to see that France had only the best intentions all along.

You may recall that in his chat, Patrice Claude said that while yes, before the Iraqis were very anti-French, now he claims that they call France "a friend", implying that for reasonable people, Paris's friendship with Saddam Hussein is forgotten and forgiven. That is also what is expected of the Americans; if only they were reasonable (sigh) and didn't live in the past, they would put the Franco-American rift behind them…

That is how the French conveniently (albeit alas for them, blindedly) dismiss the opinions of those — from governments to individuals, from foreigners to fellow Frenchmen — who don't agree with their self-serving world view.

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