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 France and the Bush Doctrine 

February 11, 2003

“Either you’re with us, or you’re with the terrorists.” This is the Bush “doctrine,” and it is dangerous nonsense. It’s a piece of moral blackmail, designed to force the people of the whole world to choose between false alternatives. It means that if you refuse to play ball with America — George W. Bush’s America, that is — you deserve to be treated as a member of al-Qaeda.

Many people want no part of either; others — the French and Germans, for example — are willing to give the United States qualified support, but they draw the line at war on Iraq. They prefer not to put themselves at the mercy of Bush’s judgment. Who can blame them?

For months our blowhard patriots have been throwing vitriol at the recalcitrant Europeans, especially the French. The French, it seems, are ingrates who have forgotten that we saved their bacon in two world wars, plus the Cold War. They are petty, snobbish, envious of our wealth and power, humiliated by the loss of their own empire, and determined to frustrate us out of sheer spite. Furthermore, they think Jerry Lewis is a comic genius.

Oh, and they are also venal and cowardly, we’re told, because they have commercial ties to Iraq that also motivate them to oppose our war. So maybe it isn’t all anti-American spite after all, but a sense of their own interests. But it isn’t permissible for the French to put French interests above American interests. They are insubordinate members of the American Empire.

[Breaker quote: The supposed faults of the French]Well, that may be why we should listen to them. The French may not have much of an empire left, but they refuse to be an American colony. Since the days of Charles de Gaulle they have been prickly allies, insisting on going their own way and pursuing their own interests. They have enough self-respect to maintain their independence. They are proud to be French. And if there is one thing an American patriot can’t stand, it’s a French patriot.

Anti-American? When the terrorists struck on 9/11, a Parisian paper ran the headline “We are all Americans today.” That instant, generous sympathy spoke for most of Europe — the people who are now accused of hating America. Maybe it’s just that America — Bush’s America — has badly overtaxed their patience in the ensuing months.

The other day, one of our semiliterate conservatives accused the French of “appeasing Hitler.” Well, they did surrender to him — but only after losing 100,000 men in a few weeks of furious fighting. Cowards?

You can now make nasty generalizations about the French in polite society that would be called bigoted if you said them about anyone else. But even this is a sign of our grudging respect for them. They don’t see themselves as victims, but as responsible, civilized people with a matchless record of cultural achievement. That is exactly what they are, and that is how we think of them, even when we abuse them. They have too much dignity to be wounded by American sneers.

Anyway, nobody can out-sneer the French. They aren’t always tender about other people’s feelings, as I learned when dealing with a Parisian policeman, but this is largely because they put objective reality ahead of emotions and have limited patience with euphemisms. This is another reason why we should pay attention when they criticize us. They may be telling us something we need to hear about ourselves.

Tony Blair of Britain is said to be our “reliable ally”; but he may be a little too reliable. We sometimes need a good Dutch uncle to scold us. And since the Dutch are no longer producing uncles as they used to, we must cherish the French when they try to save us from our follies, even when they do so in their own interests. If they want no part of our war, we ought to be asking ourselves why.

The French are often accused of cynicism, and the country that begot La Rochefaucauld can’t quite escape the charge; cynicism has produced much of France’s wit, wisdom, realism, and even energy. It’s inseparable from the French genius.

But nothing can be more truly cynical than the Bush doctrine and the phony American “idealism” that treats doubters as enemies of the human race. The French don’t pretend to speak for anyone but themselves. If that’s cynicism, we need more of it.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2003 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
a division of Griffin Communications
This column may not be reprinted in print or
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