France and the Bush Doctrine
February 11, 2003
Either youre with us, or
youre with the terrorists. This is the Bush
doctrine, and it is dangerous nonsense. Its 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. Bushs 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
Bushs 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, were told, because they have commercial ties to Iraq
that also motivate them to oppose our war. So maybe it isnt all
anti-American spite after all, but a sense of their own interests. But it
isnt permissible for the French to put French interests above
American interests. They are insubordinate members of the American
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 cant stand, its
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 its just that America Bushs 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 dont 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 arent always tender about other peoples
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
The French are often accused of
cynicism, and the country that begot La Rochefaucauld cant quite
escape the charge; cynicism has produced much of Frances wit,
wisdom, realism, and even energy. Its inseparable from the French
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 dont pretend to speak for anyone but themselves. If
thats cynicism, we need more of it.