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One would have thought that the initial animosity to the French on account of their opposition to the U.S. war on Iraq would have died out by now. But in fact it has increased among the war partisans: they have begun blaming the French for the postwar problems that the United States faces in Iraq. They believe, or say they believe, that if the French had not stirred up other countries to oppose the war, the world would have united behind Bush's crusade and everything would have turned out successfully. Of course, the notion that the French could single-handedly turn the world against the United States credits them with preternatural power. (One supposes that only preternatural power could trump super-superpower power.)

The French, in short, have become the scapegoat for America's problems. Blaming the French enables the war partisans to avoid admitting that they were in any way wrong in their support for the excursion in Mesopotamia. For the leaders of the war party — the neoconservatives — Francophobia serves not so much to protect any guilt-prone psyches as to protect their concrete political interests, by serving to distract public attention away from their misdeeds: Don't blame the neocons, blame the French. Furthermore, Francophobia serves to bolster support for the ongoing occupation of Iraq despite the troubles plaguing that operation. For the United States to pull out would be to surrender to the French position — it would acknowledge that the French were right about the dangers of a war on Iraq. C'est impossible!

Tom Friedman of the New York Times is one prominent reporter who has already established himself as a Francophobe. But more recently Ralph Peters has gotten a much more hostile piece into print in the New York Post. (One would actually expect no less from that neocon paper.) It's titled "No Neutral Ground" (September 24).

Peters refers to France as one of America's "ugliest enemies." And he calls President Chirac "a moral pygmy whose lack of scruples is, fortunately, balanced by a lack of courage and power." But Peters is not simply attacking French government officials or the French nation-state; he's attacking the French as a whole.

To Peters, France represents the evil opposite of the United States. Take a deep breath:

There is no clearer example in the world of the struggle between the inhumanity of the past and America's vision of a free, ennobling future than the rift between Washington and Paris. As we attempt to bring desperately needed solutions to the dilemmas of the 21st century, France clings not merely to the 20th century, but to the 19th century model of European great-power politics.

France believes that a handful of "statesmen" should decide the fate of the world behind closed doors, just as it was done in Europe between the Congress of Vienna and the fateful Comedy of Versailles. And France should have veto power over any deal it doesn't like, of course.

France has never stood for human freedom — that's a lie the size of Saudi Arabia — but for France's own freedom to exploit the poor of its former colonies. Where on earth did French troops fight for liberty in our lifetimes?

They didn't even fight to free themselves. The only myth greater than that of the French resistance is the myth of French charm.

According to Peters, the French are not opposing the United States because of any conflict between the two states' respective national interests. Rather, their opposition results from their innate maliciousness: "French opposition to us has fallen into the realm of the reflexive and irrational. They hate us because we're us." Yes, France hates the United States for the same reasons that the militant Muslims hate the United States — because the United States is so good. Once again we see that bad folks simply hate good folks.

The irony here is that all of this French-bashing is the polar opposite of reality. French opposition to the war meshed with the view of the vast majority of the people of the world. It was the United States that was undemocratic in its efforts to coerce and bribe governments to support the war against the opinion of their peoples.

Raising the ante, Peters wants to punish France in order to advance "freedom." He wants to "make an example of France for the benefit of those countries that actively strive to frustrate our efforts to spread human rights and freedom." The concept of punishing countries that refuse to follow Washington's direction and calling that "freedom" seems Orwellian, but Peters appears too overwrought to see it.

From the way Peters talks about what should happen to the French, a reasonable man must wonder whether he is actually calling for Washington to attack them physically. He says they "need to have their treachery shoved down their throats" and concludes with the phrase: "First Baghdad, then Paris." Well, the United States bombed Baghdad; does Peters mean that the United States should do the same to Paris?


Time to advance into a taboo area. We know it is perfectly acceptable to paint the French people in the most negative light possible and talk in quite violent terms of punishing them. But let us imagine that an American journalist applied the same kind of language not against the French but instead against the Jews. Such language would be universally condemned as a hate crime. In fact no one could express such a view in a mainstream publication in the Western world. In some Western democratic countries, such language applied to Jews would lead to a jail sentence. Much more tepid language is conventionally regarded as anti-Semitic, even when applied just to Israel and not to Jews as a collectivity. Even the criticism of neoconservatives is castigated as anti-Semitism.

And it is the same people who hammer the French who become so outraged when any criticism is directed toward Jews or Israel. It all represents the height of hypocrisy. But it is so commonplace that no respectable man even notices — or, at least, none dares admit he notices.

October 9, 2003

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