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[casi] Merci For the French Correction

A very interesting article.... Worth reading.


Merci For the French Correction

By Justin Vaisse (Washington Post)
Saturday, February 15, 2003; Page A33

As a Frenchman, I have certainly learned a lot about
my country in recent weeks.

"How dare the French forget," read a headline in the
New York Post on Monday, on a page with a photograph
of a military cemetery in Normandy.

I apologize for being so ungrateful. It's just that I
learned in school that France and Britain declared war
on Nazi Germany in September 1939, while the United
States was enacting isolationist laws, and that
America entered the war two years later, only after
Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. But now I see that was
just Gallic propaganda. How could I have believed it?

I now know what really happened: Franklin D. Roosevelt
felt that a country with more than 300 kinds of cheese
was worth liberating, and for the love of France he
came to our rescue. Joseph Stalin came to the same
conclusion, but -- fortunately for us -- he was slower
and had to stop in Berlin.

Meanwhile, Lafayette and Rochambeau were a different
story altogether: They apparently came here not to
help Americans gain their independence but merely to
execute the crass realpolitik maneuvers of Louis XVI.

I have also been interested to learn that my
hesitation in endorsing war in Iraq is mainly a
product of my nostalgia for France's past glory. As
Thomas Friedman writes in the New York Times, being
weak after being powerful is a terrible thing. Perhaps
he is right. I had been deluded into thinking that my
doubts about military intervention in Iraq had
something to do with fears of civilian casualties, the
use of weapons of mass destruction, increasing
terrorism or Middle East instability. But apparently
we French are really just longing for the time of
Napoleon or Louis XIV.

In those good old days, we could unilaterally invade a
Muslim Arab country, say Egypt or Algeria, and create
a regional mess just because we felt like it. Now,
because we can't do that anymore, we try to bother the
United States. The fact that war is opposed by large
majorities in most other countries around the world,
which have no such nostalgia complexes, must be pure

Another thing I had failed to appreciate was how
isolated we French are. It's painful to admit, but
only 73 percent of the French people oppose a war
without a second U.N. resolution. We definitely cannot
pretend we speak for the rest of the world, as war is
opposed by 82 percent of the European Union (84
percent of Brits), and in other parts of the world,
let's say South America, it's more in the range of 90
percent. So we should shut up. And we should also
admit that our isolation makes us insignificant,
though I still can't understand why publications such
as the Weekly Standard keep talking about us so much.
Maybe it has something to do with our food.

Now that I have admitted everything, I should own up
to the true motivation of our foreign policy: We are
protecting commercial interests, especially oil. For
the harsh truth, just check out the International
Monetary Fund's Web site:

>From 2000 to 2001, our exports to Iraq jumped from
0.12 percent to 0.2 percent of our total exports!
Never mind that we'll never realize our oil contracts
with Iraq or get our debt repaid so long as Saddam
Hussein stays in power, and don't believe anyone who
tells you that a truly mercantilist France would help
America attack Iraq and share the spoils afterward.
Some even make the bizarre claim that if America
wanted to enhance its oil interests, it would join
France and oppose the war in the United Nations so as
to keep oil flowing from Iraq at current levels
(America is the first buyer of Iraqi oil). But not too
much oil, as this would lower the price to a point
where it would be bad for Texas producers and Alaska
drilling. But I take that as typically far-fetched
Gallic perfidy.

My situation is now very difficult: When I talk to my
former French friends on the phone, they claim they
oppose the war for the same reasons about 40 percent
of Americans do. They claim that they find their own
arguments expounded in American newspapers by American
statesmen; namely, that war would help Osama bin Laden
recruit new followers, that war would trigger more
terrorist attacks at home and abroad, that containment
can work, and that it would be hard to impose
stability -- let alone democracy -- on Iraq,
especially when you look at Afghanistan.

But I don't listen to them anymore. After all, they're
French. I know better. I have become an American.

Justin Vaisse is a visiting fellow at the Center on
the U.S. and France at the Brookings Institution.

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